Value of Awards and Recognition
Several years ago I found myself hiking down a steep mountain trail trying to keep
up with a well-known chief editor of a national magazine group. He was 6’6” and had a
stride like a gazelle. My top speed was still hobbit-like by comparison. I was
trying to hold pace to continue our conversation, which I started as a discussion
about the value of his magazine having a ‘Best of Show’ award platform, which
would both delight his readers and promote my trade show.
He didn’t think so… at least not right away. But as it often does happen, someone else soon after got excited about the concept, and launched the ‘Best of __Show’ to add to their existing ‘Editors Choice’ and ‘Gear of The Year’ award lineups.
Recently, I’ve noticed a flurry of recognitions and awards, bordering on the strange,
hitting the airwaves from esoteric gaming software sites to top ten lists for such
things as ‘best you’ve never heard of’ or ’20 under 30’ recognitions to spur
awareness of young leaders on the rise.
Even the vaunted Academy of Motion Picture Arts has come into the global spotlight for potential mismanagement of the holy grail of entertainment awards, the Oscars. I suppose the price of greatness is withering scrutiny and high expectations of fairness.
I was fortunate to attend the Grammys Awards in 2012. It was the most flawless event production I’ve ever witnessed. The Grammys excelled on many fronts; nominations, clarity of purpose, global audience engagement, cutting edge event technology and A/V quality throughout the event.
But what is the big deal about awards and recognitions and why are they such big business?
Awards are a way of getting multiple returns for a central organization or a group of
peers looking to stand out. The awardee wins and gets publicity and kudos publicly
aired, which is great for everything from attracting a mate to turning a job interview
into a paycheck. The awarder, however, also benefits by taking a leadership stance
and using a robust methodology to weed through many potential candidates to arrive at the
top choice for any given category of award, whether objectively measurable or not
This is not a critique of such attempts to own something unique that brings value
and celebration to an underserved group in any market; on the contrary, I think this
is the kind of content that, when thoughtfully created and executed, can help
differentiate events as well as publications and other community gatherings.
Several years ago I had the good fortune to be asked on a judging panel for a
European technology platform called (at the time) the ‘Bluetooth Innovation World
Cup’. Now it’s called the WT Innovation World Cup (Wearable Technologies). I was
surprised by just how thorough and meticulous the organizers of the awards were about the process. The quality of the submissions, the judging panel scoring methodology and the winnowing process using robust data from scoresheets all came together to select the finalists for the very best uses of near-field technology for sports.
This really got me thinking. A lot. How does one come up with a judging/nominating platform from scratch? If an event doesn’t already have a robust awards program, how does an event professional create it?
Well despite the mind-boggling depth and breadth of measurement criteria the WT group put in place, I’ve also launched an awards platform from the ground up. In fact, I’m doing it again at a show in a few weeks. Here are the fundamentals, and the keys to growing it into a substantial win/win/win situation for your show, your customers and your marketplace at large.
- Find Your Niche (one that isn’t occupied by awards already in close proximity; in my case, a safe spot is recognizing diversity actions in a slow to change passion-driven market)
- Develop a Criteria list (it can be short! Make a scorecard that lists Out-Of-The Box thinking, Impact, Regional excellence, Reputation, Social Media strength, Creativity, or other objective or subjective business success measures)
- Circle up a strong advisory/judging group – this is an important element and individuals should be chosen with reputation, diversity and audience reach in mind.
- Invest in a strong first presentation of the award(s) – no impression is more impressionistic than the first!
- Capture and Share – images, video, interview or survey results and testimonials in the aftermath.
- Iterate – this is often underplayed; take the time to thoroughly review all aspects of the Award platform and put in place concrete changes for improvement next time around
Aren’t we just spoiling our kids and our markets by creating awards for every possible mediocre achievement? This is a good question which is somewhat appropriately answered by the question ‘why are you creating an awards platform to begin with?’
If you are thinking an awards platform will become a profit center for your business, you are not going to win. Not that an awards program can’t become a profit center. But it should never be the primary goal. People will find out your true motives and you will not be able to recruit a very strong group of judges. People want to participate in a cause that isn’t just placing money in someone else’s wallet.
Recognition of unique qualities, approaches to problem-solving, new solutions and emerging potential are just a few of the resonant topics to celebrate. At some point there will be saturation in a market for innovation and product differentiation, but these topics can all stand the test of time. Problems in business arrive at a quickened pace and technology drives change forever faster.
A growing platform for recognition is Crowdsourced recognition. Of course the ‘People’s Choice’ awards have been around a long time, but event professionals can tap into the power of the community with a clean online platform (SurveyMonkey, Judgify, Google Poll, etc…) where ballots can’t be stuffed. At trade shows, crowdsourced voting can happen even without technology, as long as a system can be deployed to manage the voting attendees to prevent error and cheating.
I recently attended the ICAST/IFTD show in Orlando, where the voting system was simple paper ballots on clipboards. They checked badges at the entrance to a secure area. Each item had discrete codes to remove handwriting mistakes. This was a well-managed process, even in an industry not exactly growing or integrating with much tech-innovation these days.
You don’t have to start Fancy. You just have to start!
And so I did… at the recent Outdoor Retailer trade show, I had the honor of giving the award for Inclusivity Leadership in the Outdoor Industry to Jose Gonzalez, leader of Latino Outdoors who has exploded on the national scene bringing light and energy to the push for inclusion of the most dynamic and growing population of future outdoorists in the country. Rue and James were both right there in the ranking, but Jose edged them out and there is only one plaque. But maybe he will take a different approach, and make it a shared honor, or quarterly award to share across the year, or make it for groups or whatever he envisions forward (with the help of our merry band of instigators).
That is the entire point of diversifying one’s industry, or team, or way of thinking… take what is good and great from many different pathways, and come up with even more creative solutions for the future, together.
Congratulations Jose, and to all who dare to launch awards and recognition. It’s a sign of leadership; careful now!