There’s nothing worse than a half-empty room at any event, but when you’re running an awards ceremony, it’s more important than ever to have a room bursting with enthusiastic (and nervous!) people. And, that means, enticing more people to enter your awards program in the first place.
As a seasoned awards writer who has written winning entries for clients across Europe and the UK, I recently posed this question on LinkedIn: “What stops you entering awards?”
The responses were numerous and varied. For some, it was modesty. Others, the cost barrier. For others, trust and transparency in the awards program itself. There were so many interesting responses that I thought I’d share some tips for awards program managers on what you can do to attract more entrants and make your awards program more welcoming.
How to attract more entrants to your awards program
1. Be clear about costs
Entering awards is a costly business. There’s the time and resource spent preparing the entry, tickets, travel and hotel expenses, and the downtime from the business. Unsurprisingly, many businesses find the expense of awards hard to justify when weighed against other marketing activities. As there’s an element of risk in the initial investment – you aren’t guaranteed a place on the shortlist after all – many firms prefer to focus their marketing investment elsewhere.
Making all of the costs easily accessible on your website is the best way to get around this. Include costs of entry, ticket prices and any other investment that might be needed. (I have strong views about awards which charge you for a certificate/trophy/badge for your website and they are not positive.)
2. Be transparent and honest
Be open about your judging panels and process to overcome a common objection to entering awards – the perception that there isn’t a level playing field.
Gareth Everson of Connectably commented on my original LinkedInpost: “There’s a real perception that awards in general, ethical or otherwise, are ‘pay to play’ type activities. “And the award goes to Table 9, managing to sell their gala awards ticket allocation for the third year running…” There are some real sceptics out there..”
To counter this, I point out that acquiring a reputation for giving awards out to the biggest sponsor, the main advertiser in your publication, or the person who plays golf with your CEO is a shortcut to fewer entries. As soon as word gets out that you have to ‘pay to play’ as Gareth puts it, entry numbers will reduce, which means ticket sales will reduce, which both add up to smaller profit. As the vast majority of awards are run on a commercial basis, it’s unwise to operate this way in the medium term.
The UK’s Awards Trust Mark is an accreditation scheme set up by an awards writing agency, and provides a way for programs to prove they have transparent processes so entrants can be certain they are entering a level playing field.
3. Don’t make it complex or daunting to enter
Awards are often a long way down on the to-do list, so the more complex the entry requirements, the more opportunity there is for people to rule themselves out of entering.
From filming videos to answering 18 questions and sourcing testimonials from all and sundry, many people feel like they haven’t got enough hours in the day to make a start.
From my awards writing experience, it can take around three days to put together an average award entry. This includes the research, gathering information, writing several drafts, cross-checking data, editing to get it under the word count and securing sign-off from everyone involved. That said, if you make it to the shortlist, the rewards can be staggering so it really can pay dividends to put in the effort.
We love the kind of awards which clearly set out their entry requirements, making it far easier for us to advise clients and to establish the correct format for the entry we’re putting together. It’s not uncommon for us to put together an entry following the guidelines set out on the awards website and then log on to the system and find that a 50-word summary is also required and that the 1,000 words should be broken down into specific headings. When people are already boggled by what they need to do to enter, hiding (unintentionally I’m sure) some of the details on the entry system doesn’t help, especially if you’ve left submitting your entry until 10 minutes before the deadline!
4. Establish your credibility
If people are going to go through the effort of entering, they want to win an award that means something.
Your credibility will come from a robust process, but also from a high-quality judging panel. You can build on it further by showcasing previous winners and highlighting the benefits they gained from collecting their award.
In an industry tarnished by perceptions about honesty, you can never do too much to prove that your awards have value.
5. Provide value beyond the win
Many of our small business clients tell us there’s value in simply going through the process of entering an award because they are forced to scrutinise their business to figure out the story they want to tell. We highlight the data they should be collecting which will prove their impact and help them view their story from different angles.
But not every company will spare the time to go through that process in the off-chance of winning an award. So, what value can your awards program offer to every company or organisation that enters? This could be valuable feedback from industry judges or perhaps a networking event where entrants can meet other ambitious businesses, regardless of whether they make it to the shortlist.
In the end, more people will choose to enter an awards program as part of their marketing strategy if there are guaranteed benefits or value. If you’re looking to increase the number of entrants to your program, be sure to consider the above. Your entrants will thank you for it.
Louise Turner is chief wordsmith at Awards Writers, a specialist award entry consultancy based in the UK which has averaged 8 out of every 10 awards making it on to a shortlist since 2012. She is also the author of Glory – The Magic Formula for Winning More Business Awards.