At the awards ceremony: The frustration (and virtues) of awards competition

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One of the best ways to become an insider is to build relationships at client focused associations.

The annual Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA) Housing Design Awards gala has been something of a personal tradition for me and Vivian. I won the contract to publish the association’s internal newsletter in 1991, a couple of years before we married — so it has been a “date night” for us since the beginning of our relationship.

RND Construction's Roy Nandrom won eight awards, including two in the prestige category
RND Construction’s Roy Nandrom won eight awards, including two in the prestige category

This puts me in a rather unique place among the 500 plus guests at the convention centre evening as I’m neither an award contestant, sponsor, judge, awards committee member or association employee. Certainly, it isn’t my business to enter the awards as a contestant, and while of course I report on the results, I don’t have anything to do with making them happen.

Each year, however, some things are reasonably predictable. A few successful business owners will pluck off many of the awards, there will be a few significant newcomer surprises, and a fair number of finalist entries will eat their dinner, wait for their category to be called, and discover they need to leave empty-handed.

It must be frustrating for those in the latter category.  Although the basic entry fee isn’t outrageous ($75.00) there is an additional $150 fee if you are a finalist. You also need to be a member in good standing in the association (fees are several hundred dollars at minimum) and if you want to be at the event in person to enjoy the glory or walk away in frustration, you will need to pay another $150. It adds up.

The story for winners, of course, is somewhat different. Sure, some of the winners earned upwards of eight trophies (and entered in several more) but the overall cost of perhaps $500 an entry becomes insignificant when compared to the publicity/recognition value they achieve. Multiple trophies certainly provide third-party validation of your achievements and only help your brand.

Of course, there are fake awards programs, where you pay to play, literally. In other words, you’ll almost certainly “win” if you pay the fee and you can purport to be an “award-winning” organization. Companies rightfully buy into these schemes based purely on marketing budget considerations, but I think they lose in the long-term, because at best they are deluding themselves, and at worst, are engaging in a misrepresentation exercise.

The GOHBA awards, like other legitimate awards competitions (including the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Marketing Communications Awards, provide a legitimate challenge to prove you really deserve your recognition. In this context, allowing that many awards programs will allow you to review the judging scoring criteria after the winners are announced, even losing can have value, for the learning experience and opportunity to improve.

In other words, if your marketing budget is limited, and you have a sense you can win the legitimate competitions, it makes sense to enter. If all goes well, you’ll leave the gala banquet smiling and with recognition that translates to profitable new and repeat business.

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