Rewards and relationships: Making the connection

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Montfort Hospital construction

Yesterday afternoon, the General Contractors Association of Ottawa announced three recipients of it new Project Awards Program.  We were there (representing Ottawa Construction News), as were representatives from the Ottawa Construction Association’s Construction Comment magazine.

ElliDon received the Don Chutter Meritorious Achievement Award for work on the Montfort Hospital redevelopment and expansionPCL Constructors received the Project Achievement Award of Excellence  (above $15 million) for the Museum of Nature and Aecon received the Award of Excellence award for its work on the Ottawa Paramedics Communications Centre.

We of course will highlight these awards and achievements much more extensively in Ottawa Construction News than here, because, after all, this blog has a much wider geographical focus.  The issue I will focus on now is the powerful correlation between awards and marketing success, coupled with a bit of caution.  Can any good idea be overdone?

Clearly, awards recognition, either by independent judging, popular vote, or a hybrid of both approaches creates two key results for the recipients:  visibility and credibility.  Both are rather useful in marketing.  As well, entering awards competitions is usually a low risk/high reward equation.  If the entry fees are modest and you don’t really suffer any negative publicity by “not winning” then it seems to be a no-brainer to submit your entries when you can — and if you are going to enter one of these competitions, take the effort to create a really serious and thoughtful entry (especially if the competition is rather small).

These are the positives of awards participation.  Two negatives come to mind.  One, is if you are already the biggest or largest “player” in the market and upstarts are entering careful, thoughtful and, frankly better entries.  You have three choices.  You can boycott the awards, saying by your absence that you don’t intend to be judged or compared against the competitors.  You can go all-out and hope that at least some of your entries in different categories win.  Or, perhaps pragmatically, you can accept that the awards won’t do much good (and could do some harm) for your business, so you selectively enter in one or two categories where you really have done the best work (presumably with few other entries) and maybe you can win in these.

The other negative is the budget/vanity/phony award aspect of awards competitions.  Some awards ceremonies are major revenue generators for industry associations with gala dineners and events.  These can be fun, but if you are paying several hundred dollars per palte and inviting all of your staff (and how can you decide NOT to invite someone) with their spouses, the costs can be rather high –all bask in some egotistical glow if you are lucky enough to win.

The paid award programs are another issue.  I won’t name any specific organization (following my policy not to describe individual businesses or organizations negatively), but I know of at least one which surveys companies in a variety of categories, lets them know who has “won” but ensures they cannot use the survey results and “win” in any marketing materials without paying a hefty marketing fee.  Of course, categories can be skewered and arranged to ensure the companies will for certain win if they pay enough money.

Some businesses really like this type of award.  They pay the fee, receive the prize and put the results into their overall marketing budget.  Since everything is predicbatlbe,e they can “plan” their victory — and, yes, consumers and the media believe in the award’s authenticity in part because the media won’t bite the advertising hand that feeds it — and I suspect if you dared be critical of these so-called awards programs, you would be talking to a lawyer sooner than later.

So, here is my take on awards:

If you are a smaller business which is doing exemplary work, enter all of the free or low-cost awards competitions (relevant to your business) you can think about — and take care to make your entries as powerful, thoughtful and effective as you can (while complying of course with judging specifications). You have little to lose and everything to gain.

If your business is an extensive marketer especially in the business-to-consumer space, consider the merits of the “pay to win” awaards schemes. I don’t like them personally, but see how they can be cost effective if you are already a solid marketer.  I wouldn’t buy into these awards because of an awards organization’s own marketing, however, on a knee-jerk basis.  These “pay to win” awards make sense primarily if you are already using a variety of marketing channels with good measuring and assessing tools.

If your business dominates the market, but your work isn’t really leading edge, use the awards programs in your area of influence/knowledge with caution but care. Generally, the awards balance your other strengths with the initiatives of upstarts, and often the upstarts win.  (Not always, of course — in the case of the GCAO Awards, the three largest general contractors received the awards for their work.)

If you are an association, group or even a a business, consider introducing your own awards program. We of course have our Best Construction Blog competition, for which entries are due January 31.  Your chances of winning — and the value of your recognition — will depend largely on the criteria I’ve described.  The fact that the award has no entry fee and is based on work you’ve already done should make it easy and rational to enter.  So why not do it (or nominate the site of a friend, colleague or client).

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