And the winner is…

I’ve had this post brewing for a while, but there has never seemed a good time to post it.  It could look churlish if we’ve not won something, or ungrateful if we have.  But we’ve not got any submissions in at the moment, so I’m putting my head over the parapet.

(I should be clear at the outset, these are *my* views, not the considered position of my employer.  But that’s OK, I’m over needing to ‘fit in’ all the time!).

I feel like a heretic, but I loathe “industry awards”.  Over the last couple of years I’ve started to talk about it a bit, and have found a few kindred spirits.  But now I’m having a public chat about it, so let’s see if there’s any more!

Over the years, I’ve written a fair few award submissions, attended a fair few swanky award dinners, won a few and even judged a few.  But my heart has never really been in it.

Initially, I just thought it was my inner anarchist making itself known.  But I’ve been reflecting on what’s underlying the sentiment.  I think it’s because I see glitzy awards as actually *damaging* our brand and reputation with customers.  Counter-intuitive huh.

Whenever I see proclamations about an organisation being “award winning”, I wince.  I wonder whether day to day customer service or product quality really is like – and whether it lives up to the award submission.  I’m not really trusting that the judgment process marries up with real life experience.  I’m sure we’ve all seen some where we know there’s a bloomin’ enormous reality gap.  Every time an organisation over claims how good it is, another piece of trust with the customer dies.

My cynicism about the judging process comes from direct experience – on both sides of the fence.  Over the years I’ve written award submissions that only select the best aspects of the project, and was silent about anything that wasn’t great.  You don’t win (conventional awards) by saying what’s not worked.  And I’ve seen busy lauded industry-experts toss their judging packs to their PA to do because they haven’t the time (I’ll not be drawn on who though).

One day, when I’ve time on my hands, I fancy doing a little data mashup of published KPI stats and number of awards won, and see if there’s any correlation or not.  My hypothesis, is that the propensity to win awards is more strongly correlated with the Comms team’s efforts (or the spend with professional submission writers), than it is quality of service.

Awards are lead generation for the events industry.  Does anyone ever *not* get shortlisted?  Of course not, the organisers have got to sell those tables at the swanky ceremony.  It’s all about sales.  Tell me, has anyone ever won despite not attending the ceremony??

The counter-argument comes back that it’s good to recognise the achievements of staff who work hard on projects.  Please don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of celebrating successes. I’m just not convinced that gala-dinners, perspex plaques and paid-for “congratulations” advertising pages in the trade-press are really the thing.  It’s just a bit, well, hollow.  And as for the ‘digital litter’ that is an array of logos on the bottom of the website… I reserve a special level of grump when they turn up on email footers.  Last year I stumbled upon an email footer with no less than NINE award logos.  Really? Thou protesteth too much.

The awards that I’m interested in, don’t come with any of those trappings.  I’d be really interested in awards decided by crowdsourced feedback from customers – the people who really experience our services.  Or feedback from staff – real people delivering the service day to day.   Show me your customer testimonials on Google and I might be a bit more impressed.  Someday soon, someone will do a “trip advisor” for housing… That’s the kind of award I’d be more interested in winning.

Or on a different tack, how about some “real learning” awards.  Awards for sharing the best mistakes, lessons learned and shared.  I’m sure we learn as much from from ‘Worst Practice’ as ‘Best Practice’.  The #MyWorstPractice Confessional at last year’s #HouseParty indicated there’s masses we can learn from stuff that goes wrong.  So instead of burying it, let’s own it, share it and save others falling down the same bear traps.  Maybe I’ll get round to building the confessionals website for this year’s session!


{ 2 comments… add one }
  • June Girvin April 1, 2015, 8:35 pm

    I have some sympathy with your views. I’m not much for industry awards although, like you, I have in the past submitted a few, won one (many, many years ago), but I’ve never been a judge. I waver between thinking it’s nice for younger, less world weary folk who have a few years of really believing they are meaningful, to that same sense of feeling they may well be harmful to credibility and are shallow and demonstrate self-interest.

    Nevertheless, I feel a sense of pride when our students get shortlisted for awards and I do support them to attend the relevant ceremony – they love it and enjoy it and I can’t quite bring myself to rain on their parade.

    It’s a dilemma. And one I am quite uncomfortable with.

  • Nick Hill April 1, 2015, 9:54 pm

    Great Post Jayne and you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    An event has 10 categories, each category has 10 plus finalists with the winner announced on the night and do the finalists get entry for free because without them, there would be no event? No chance! £150 and more for 3 course chicken dinner and half a bottle of plonk and then there’s the corporate sponsorship. Rife in the days of E-Gov funding pouring out of Central Gov but in these times of austerity, very much out of place !!!!

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