How to win awards

Best at being better than your competitor? A bit secretly pleased with the way things are going? It might be time for you to turn your talents to winning an award.

The pros of entering

Obviously, the free PR that comes with winning an award is a big bonus. But how well will it fit in with your marketing aims?

National awards often have a media partner - the Dell Small Business Excellence Award has the Daily Mail, the National Business Awards couples up with the Telegraph - which will give at least a page or two to the winner and the finalists. You can reasonably hope for a bit of coverage in national papers, but local papers are the ones who'll really pick you up. Make the most of sponsors' websites, who'll all have a section dedicated to the awards - handily upping your SEO too - by linking to the coverage from your own website.

On a regional awards level, don't expect national media attention, but if you get in touch with local papers they could be keen to feature the story somewhere among their pages - nearer the front if you live in a quiet area.

Industry accolades can fast-track your route to a robust reputation as a small business if you do anything B2B. STG Aerospace, a 12-person company that competes with global billion-dollar companies for work in the aerospace safety sector, won the prestigious industry Crystal-Cabin Award. "Being written up in the same paragraph as the biggest players in the industry gives us real credibility," says marketing director Thomas Cowper Johnson.

As any publicity you get works to the award organisers' favour, they'll often push their own media contacts on your behalf. So make sure you cooperate with organisers and rub them up the right way, and make yourself a friend of their PR company to maximise what you can get out of winning.

The fruits of media relationships last much longer than just the initial PR flourish, too. After being named The British Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year 2008, Barbara Cox, co-founder and CEO of healthy meal delivery service Nutrichef, says she has regularly been asked to give comment or act as a spokesperson on healthy eating and entrepreneurship for a variety of media outlets.

And all those mentions of your company's name and achievement add up - some winners of The Queen's Award for Enterprise have reported increased turnover of up to 30% after winning. If you do win, splash the award logo across your website and marketing material. It always looks impressive.

The awards ceremony can open up impressive networking opportunities too. For a start, you've got 300 other business people and journalists attending a night such as the Fast Growth Business Awards, or even a whopping 1,900 for the UK IT Industry Awards.

Henriette Svensen, PR manager for the National Business Awards, explains seating arrangements are contrived so that a small business nominee will be on the same table as, say, the CEO of Rolls Royce or Marks & Spencer. "And we try to keep it relevant to their industry to maximise opportunity," she says.

Being officially patted on the back as a business also bolsters staff morale quicker than a team-building exercise ever can. "It gives everyone in the company a huge boost," says Chris Scarth, commercial director of Prime Principle, a small business providing an online assessment tool for the education market that has won almost a dozen awards. "It's recognising the guys that work with you and work so hard to make it a success, not just the two directors."

Cash rewards and prizes never go astray either. While smaller regional awards and industry awards may offer an accolade in name only (well worth checking this out before), national awards pay well - the HSBC Startup Stars national winner gets a £25,000 cheque plus £5,000 worth of Google advertising.

Awards organised by other businesses are likely to flog their own wares rather than or as a supplement to just handing over cash - the Dell Small Business Excellence Award gives £25,000 worth of Dell technology and services, and the Nectar Small Business Awards gives £2,000 plus 50,000 Nectar points. So make sure what they're giving could actually help you before you spend hours on your application.

Is it worth it?

The problem is, winning an award ain't cheap.

Business awards are money-making schemes. The organisers usually charge you to attend the ceremony - even the smaller and more niche ones. As an idea, the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber Business Awards come in at £71.10 + VAT per ticket, and the Nursery World Awards are £166.75 per person or £2001 for a table of 12.

National awards aren't vastly different. The Startups Awards are a relatively cost-efficient £1,200 for a table of 10, while a table at the National Business Awards is between £1,300 + VAT and £2,205 + VAT, depending on what level of indulgence you go for, with individual tickets at £180 + VAT (although finalists are given a complimentary place at their category sponsor's table should they want it).

Add to the ticket costs travel to and from the ceremony, plus overnight accommodation (the after-party is always where the best networking opportunities surface), and you're looking at at least several hundred pounds.

Bear in mind it's unlikely you're going to win unless you do attend. No award organiser is going to admit this, but it's not the Oscars - you can hardly have someone else collecting a prize on your business' behalf.

If the cost seems hefty, you could always double the evening up as client entertainment. Organisers don't usually mind whether you bring clients or staff but check just in case. Be cautious of hurting any members of staff's feelings if you choose not to take them.

Think about what you could get out of attending. If you can identify enough networking and PR opportunities just from being there, it could be a worthwhile deduction from the marketing budget.

After all, a £120 ticket equates to only a couple of hundred leaflets at the printers. And we're guessing that if you've got to the finals, you're the kind of ambitious business owner who'll want to maximise the potential of all those networking and PR opportunities.


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