Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Akama Davies: Is this the death of industry awards?

Akama Davies is Director, Global Solutions and Innovation at Xaxis, and NDA’s new monthly columnist.

Awards, long a cornerstone of how successful an agency is doing, is increasingly challenged in relevance, prestige, and ROI. With the industry reeling from the economic shockwaves caused by the COVID19 pandemic and awards season looming, this year, arguably more than last year, or any other, poses difficult questions to the validity of industry accolades.

I’ve been fortunate to experienced awards through several lenses, both as a judge and an entrant, from winning highs to award night disappointment. Throughout this time, I heard many industry peers take on the material benefit of industry awards – or lack thereof.

Why do awards ‘still’ matter?

As many businesses during the pandemic need to create cost efficiencies and therefore only focus on essential expenditure, award budgets come high on cut costs. Especially as many people increasingly grappled with the so-called ‘commercialisation’ of award ceremonies. Added to this, all Gala style events were canceled due to the pandemic. It felt like the award experience was a relic – a snapshot of what the industry was but not where it was going in the new normal.

However, upon deeper scrutiny of what awards actually provide entrants and winners, this perspective is somewhat one dimensional.

Success > Survival

In challenging times awards provide much-needed opportunities to pause and celebrate successes over just survival. Allowing us to step outside our firefighting bubbles and celebrate the best and brightest our industry has to offer. Writing award entries doesn’t have to be either difficult or time-consuming, but it does take focus and planning, promoting collaboration and crisp communication.

The exercise itself forces the business to reflect and express their value succinctly as the nature and standard of award submissions require accuracy, brevity, and clarity. Presenting what you and your organization do best that’s innovative and unique.

Do it for our people

Awards create career breakthroughs. They provide unique platforms to showcase the talent and work independently without specific barriers caused by internal dynamics. This is the case for the shortlists as well as winners.

The ability to test ourselves against the best with an impartial adjudicator providing objective feedback can only help us improve. It forces us to look from a different perspective and compare ourselves with competitors across multiple aspects from strategy to technology, innovation, inclusion, service, and talent. Awards help us think of how we could be doing things differently and better.

By incentivising and including the wider team, it encourages everyone to get behind the process. Generating momentum as being shortlisted always puts smiles on people’s faces and reinforces the importance of quality output and solid teamwork.

Do it for our clients

A famous client is a happy client. Awards not only allow us to benchmark work for ourselves but also for our clients. A winning entry should have client-centricity in every component. Winners should demonstrate their transformative impact on a client’s desired outcomes over and above target campaign KPIs.

Moreover, a submission requires a high-level of tailored storytelling and factual detail treasured by our clients. From a purely practical standpoint, the exercise of writing awards creates excellent case studies that can be used to inspire new testing opportunities and win business from our clients with the added confidence of positive results.

The coverage and buzz that awards can create around your offerings help get front of mind for new and existing clients alike. I’ve personally employed this approach when launching performance products to significant effect, with the added credibility helping to secure new business by setting us apart from the competition.

Change the narrative

With this in mind, we need to change the narrative of awards to be viewed as an investment, not the end result. Therefore, we must always consider what our desired objectives are from the awards process.

Asking ourselves: What am I trying to achieve by winning? How will I measure the impact? What is the award’s reputation? Who has won it before, what did it do for them? What’s the relevance of this award? Does it fit my broader strategy? Do others care about it? Will I care about it in 10 years?
All these questions need to be answered before selecting the award to enter, let alone investing the time and money into submission.

The reason the challenge to the validity of awards has arisen is that far too often, people habitually enter awards without doing the upfront diligence and post-event analysis – win or lose.

We simply feel the emotion of the result and move on.

We then compound this mistake with copy-paste entries into multiple categories as part of a volume strategy. On a pay-per-submission fee, award organizers are naturally willing to accept despite many of us trading in our crushed velvet tuxedos (yes, I do own one) for tracksuit bottoms. Awards for me are not about the Gala nights or fancy dinners; they are about vital recognition of success. As awards, both external and internal, provide brighter pathways for our clients, our work, and our people.