3 powerful in-depth steps to planning successful Awards

All articles | Strategy
Published Sep 01, 2015 | Written by Jeremy Knight

You are here because you may be considering setting up Awards for your organisation. I have written this post especially for you. Working on over twenty Awards during my time as a magazine publisher has given me a certain insight. And I hope to share that insight with you here with over 200 tips.

Organising successful Awards is about ownership and process. Somebody needs to project manage the entire procedure. They must ensure delivery of key elements within a tight schedule. And they will need to think on their feet and find solutions to problems as they occur.

To succeed, you must ensure there is a market for your event. Awards are ten a penny. If your idea lacks clarity, you are unlikely to generate the entries you need to succeed.
Integrity is critical. The Awards criteria, Judging panel, and Partners must stand up to scrutiny. Awards are competitive. There can be no chance of suspicion that entrants are receiving preferential treatment. No hint of a fault in the process. These considerations can be the difference between a one-off and annual event.

The most time-consuming aspect is the man hours compiling the longlists and shortlists. Not work for people with no experience and knowledge of your market.

Do you have deep knowledge, know key influencers, or have a meaningful profile in your market? If not then you might not be ready to run successful Awards.

Do you have years of experience? Can you call on principal luminaries in your market? Do you have a strong, authoritative profile? Then Awards can be profitable, enhance your standing and extend your reach.

In a downturn, it pays to keep an eye on the longer-term and plan for growth when the upturn comes. Awards can help identify the next generation of leaders and winners. Winners who inspire us with their ingenuity and skill, and give us hope and confidence in the future.

In better times, Awards help to set benchmarks of excellence. They create annual celebrations of achievement and endeavour, shared with peers, friends and colleagues.

It is important to understand the motivation of entrants and sponsors. Successful Awards need a real commitment from both parties. If you are not in a position to meet their needs you have a problem.

Entrants are lured by the oxygen of positive PR, and winning has value across many levels. But do you own the routes to market that will help broadcast their achievement? And if not, how can you provide them with this exposure?

Media partnerships and tie-ups with industry bodies can be vital if you are not a media owner. Without this motivation for entrants, you are unlikely to generate interest from sponsors.

Sponsors need publicity too. But they also want to be associated with, and support the best players in their target market. They want to get close to finalists and become their business partners.

Helping oil these wheels becomes a critical part of gaining their support. To be clear here, the entrants and the sponsors are your only source of revenue.

Step One - PLAN (Month 12 to 9)

Presenting AwardsBe mindful of industry cycles that may influence the timing of your Awards. Once you have decided where to hold the event, establish venue availability.

You need to know the size of your entrant market. The number of Awards and criteria. Identify Judges and Partners. Define the entry process. And establish who will lead the project. Then decide on responsibilities for research, content, marketing, sales and logistics. Suppliers need identifying, and marketing channels agreed.

How are Awards perceived in the target country? You will need insight into the mores of the region. And knowledge of what defines ‘successful Award's’ in other industries in that area.

Sponsorship packages need creating. You need to test your proposition as early as possible. Aim to sell at least 30% of packages during the planning step.

If there is a niche in the market for your Awards, you will see this initial uptake, especially for the top Awards. Your reputation for excellence and a strong push on ‘first mover advantage’ will help.

Identify fundamentals

Establish who is going to ‘own’ the Awards

    Are you the right person to own these Awards and do you have the time?

    If not, do you have the right person in your organisation?

Decide responsibilities

  • Which responsibilities will you take on if any?
  • Do you have the people on your team who can deliver each element?
  • When/where the Awards will be held?
  • What other industry events are in this region over the year?
  • What evidence of Awards in other industries can you identify in this region?
  • At what time of day do they take place?
  • What geography will your Awards cover?
  • Where is the most central location or ‘natural centre’ for your community?
  • At what level do you need to pitch the Awards – black tie, business casual?
  • Are your ideal venues available at your perfect time?
  • Could you bolt your Awards onto an existing event?
  • Could you increase delegate numbers at your conference in this way?
  • Should the Awards be free to enter or should they be paid for?

What are your principal motivations for launching Awards?

  • Defensive
  • Profit
  • Brand extension
  • Positioning
  • Editorial content
  • Customer development

16 pointers for your initial research

What other Awards take place in your industry, anywhere across the globe?

  1. What are the criteria
  2. Were they sponsored and by whom?
  3. Who was shortlisted?
  4. Interview winners and shortlists about the value of those Awards
  5. Were there ways in which participants thought the Awards could be improved?
  6. What other events take place in your industry in your chosen locations?
  7. What other industry Awards are held at your chosen locations and what are their ticket prices?
  8. What are the local attitudes towards Awards in your selected location?
  9. What are the social mores around timing, dress code and presentation?
  10. What does a cross section of your target market have to say about the idea of Awards?
  11. Where is the ‘natural centre’ for your community in the chosen region?
  12. What data exists around the target market?
  13. Who are the luminaries and leaders in your industry and can you approach them as Judges?
  14. If possible ascertain if they have previously been Judges and what was their experience
  15. Who might be appropriate to approach as Advisory board members?
  16. Is there an Association in the region with appropriate standing and profile to be a partner?

Defining your Awards

Determine the number of Awards and what they are

  • Consider 10 – 16, too many can be boring and you may lose your audience
  • Do they cover the full spectrum of excellence in your market?
  • Does each of them reflect a genuine competitive environment?
  • Will a winner of an Award derive enough value to merit the effort of entering?
  • Have you asked your audience what matters to them?

Your first draft of Awards and criteria

  • Produce a first draft for internal discussion and stress testing
  • Produce more than you need and then compress
  • Solicit input from a trusted supplier or potential sponsor

Who should enter, where are they, and how many of them are there?

  • Your Awards need to be broad enough to encompass all disciplines
  • Where will guests stay if they are not from same City?
  • Do you know all potential entrants and if not, how do you get to them?

Define the process and timetable

  • Do you have a recognised editorial authority and resource in this market?
  • Does that resource have the capacity to spend time on Awards?
  • Consider outsourcing longlist/shortlist process if answer is ‘no.'
  • Open to Close for entries should be between two and four months (four months in a first year as generating entries will be harder)
  • Allow nominations as well as self-nominations
  • Make sure you have a very concise, clear and formulaic entry form
  • Ideally develop an online entry process

Define the entry rules

Here is an example of potential entry rules:

  1. To enter you will need to submit a written presentation that answers the criteria for the category you are entering
  2. The nomination should be clear and easy for the judging panel to read
  3. Entering more than one category is allowed
  4. The finalised nomination form must be signed by the person responsible for submitting the nomination
  5. All submissions are acknowledged on receipt
  6. The closing date for nominations is XXX
  7. Our judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into
  8. Winners will be announced at the awards gala dinner on XXX held at the XXX
  9. Award winners are authorised to state in advertising/promotional activity and on their branded documents that they are winners but this must include the category and the year in which the Award was won.
  10. Winners may request a copy of the Award logo from the organiser
  11. The shortlist committee and the panel of judges welcome all relevant materials that act in support of an entry and help the judges arrive at their final decision. Examples of these might include: press cuttings; letters or personal recommendations from employers, colleagues or peers; published papers; or Awards you have previously won
  12. For the purposes of publicity and the use on the night of the awards ceremony, we require a high-quality photograph of the nominee, provided as a 300 dpi high-resolution jpeg sent via email to XXX@xxx.com

Identify and approach Judges

 Who are the luminaries and leaders in your industry?

  • Ideal candidate could be a recently retired grandee
  • Have they previously been Judges and what was their experience?
  • Who is going to Chair the Judges and extend the invitations?
  • Does your selection of Judges represent the full spectrum of your industry?
  • This opportunity should be attractive to them for networking/kudos
  • Invite them on to a top table at the Awards
  • Ideally no more than 8 Judges as it becomes unwieldy if more as they all want their say
  • Allow for the fact that 1 or 2 Judges might not make the Judging day
  • If your Awards cover a broad geography consider paying for travel and hotel

 Identify Advisory Board if appropriate

  • You can then nominate entries from their networks
  • They will help set criteria for each Award
  • They will help with the final stages of longlist to shortlist
  • Select from a cross-section of advisors, suppliers and successful players

Identify a Business School (or other) partner if appropriate (assumes the Awards press necessary buttons for the school)

  • They will help compile a longlist and shortlist subject to agreed criteria saving you a lot of time
  • Endorses and adds credibility to your Awards
  • Identify, approach and secure an Industry Association if appropriate
  • Lends endorsement
  • Will deliver increased entrants/tickets & table sales
  • Carry their logo on promotional materials
  • Invite onto the Judging Panel
  • Invite onto top table at the event
  • Typically they require about 20% of profit in my experience
  • Agree on sources of data to drive entries
  • What data do you already have?
  • What else is out there and can you get it?

Finalise the Awards and their criteria and agree timetable with all partners

  • Avoid Award ‘creep’ - the temptation to get too niche
  • Minimum of four criterion per Award

Marketing and Communications

  1. Create a name, brand and logo
    1. The name should be explicit and simple
    2. Create an identity through a logo and colour palate for the Awards
    3. Purchase domain names
    4. Consider headed paper if using direct mail
  2. Develop a marketing strategy for entries and ticket sales
  3. Design Awards entry form/promotional brochure and print if appropriate
  4. Define and design Awards microsite
    1. Overview
    2. The Awards and criteria
    3. The Judges (and Advisory Board if appropriate)
    4. Sponsors & Partners
    5. Enter or nominate
    6. The venue, format and book a table/place
    7. Contact
    8. Make provision for a ‘Shortlist’ pageIdentify potential media partners and compile a press listCompile launch press release

Compile Awards database (for marketing and execution) including

  • Sponsors
  • Partners
  • Targeted entrants
  • NomineesGuests (Judges, Advisory Board, Association, etc.)

Sponsorship: there are certain key considerations when it comes to the matter of sponsorship.

  • What do similar Award packages retail for in the region?
  • Are you pitching your Awards at the top end or towards the middle of the range?
  • Devise Headline, Award, Champagne reception and periphery packages + prices.
  • Make sure the contract and payment terms comply with local norms.
  • Identify types of sponsor and key targets in each group.
  • Build Sponsor database (and incorporate into marketing database)
  • Test proposition and sell 30% of sponsor opportunities

Sponsorship packages could include for example:

  • Sole sponsorship of an Award
  • Presentation of the award by a senior director from your company
  • Company profile in the Awards Dinner programme
  • Branding on the Awards website and link to own website
  • Full page advertisement in the Awards Dinner programme
  • Acknowledgement of your involvement in post-event editorial
  • Branding with organiser and other Award sponsors around the stage set
  • Free table at the Awards Dinner
  • First option to renew sponsorship in the subsequent year
  • Free access to photographs taken at the Awards Dinner
  • Exhibition stand in the reception area
  • Distribution of a corporate gift on the night

Supplier/venue search and event schedule

  • Conduct initial search and identify three potential sites securing 1st options
  • Research and secure quotes from AV/Stage/Production suppliers
  • Negotiate terms and pencil booking

Step Two – EXECUTE (Month 8 to 5)

winning an award

The second step involves launching the Awards. It involves driving entries through effective marketing and partnerships. Here you are closing most remaining sponsorship sales. Producing the longlist. Extracting the shortlist. And making sure the production metrics are right.

The quality of entries will be one of the key factors that define your Awards. The more entries there are, the better your shortlist of Finalists. And the more likely you are to convert table sales in the third step.

Driving enough quality entries depends on the strength of your offering. It relies on the true value of your database. It involves the impact of your marketing, and the effectiveness of your Partnerships.

If you can tick those boxes, you will generate more entries than you need for the shortlists. If you run ten Awards with a shortlists of five, you will be selecting fifty finalists from a much larger list.

You do need to consider the potential universe for each Award. If the Award is for a company, and there are only ten companies in the field, you will need to get them all to enter. Or you may need to rethink that Award.

Launch the Awards and drive entries

  • Consider creating an email newsletter keeping interested parties up to date with news
  • Secure editorial and place ads with your media partners
  • Promote fact that earlier table bookings will be closer to the stage/centre
  • Generate testimonials from key individuals on ‘what a good idea’ the Awards are
  • Consider giving sponsorship to key media partner for editorial drive on entries
  • Encourage Sponsors to suggest nominations
  • Ongoing email campaign
  • Telephone campaign to key targets
  • Acknowledge entries with thanks and best wishes for making the shortlist

Through your channels to market

  • What publications/newsletters/websites/marketing channels do you have?
  • Press release to the trade press
  • What press operates in your space, and are you a connected?
  • Put out a first call for entries and nominations
  • Via email (and direct mail if appropriate)
  • Consider targeted direct mail brochure/entry form (expensive but effective)
  • Launch microsite with download PDF entry form or better, develop online entry
  • Enlist help of Judges (and Advisory Board if appropriate) to push to their networks

Closing sponsorship

You should aim to close another 60% of sponsorship during this period

  • Have you got prospects against all opportunities – if not consider a fine tune
  • Consider allowing sponsor to get their name into Award title
  • Expect at least 50% payment on signature
  • Have you got insurance in place
  • Deliver first stages of sponsorship benefits

 Producing the long list

  • Ensure that all entries are uniform and easy to navigate
  • Chair of Judges to oversee the long list process
  • Divide the labour across your resource. This process can be very time intense
  • Make sure that your resource understand the context of what they are doing
  • Don’t forget that your process may need to stand up to scrutiny
  • Score each of the parameters against the criterion
  • It's hard to prescribe a process without the detail and likely to be bespoke

Extracting the shortlist

  • Chair Advisory Board meeting for final shortlist if appropriate
  • Exclude ‘competitors’ from sight of sensitive entries
  • Alternatively pull together long list team for a day and Chair to oversee selection
  • Base this on scoring and commentary from the long list team
  • Compile and dispatch Judging packs

Getting the production metrics right

  • - Having identified possible venues conduct site visit – know the challenges!
  • - Ensure room height is in proportion to length and width (ideal minimum 15 ft)
  • - Spec out an initial run through of the graphical elements, theme and set in situ
  • - Check out adequate access for equipment
  • - Always ensure you are talking with operational staff, not sales people at this juncture
  • - As a rule of thumb assume you will lose 25% of floor space for your set up
  • - If you told that capacity is 800 think 600
  • - Check for adequate power supply
  • - Ensure there is rigging in the room or you will have to pay on top and is unsightly
  • - Enough tenancy - If evening event, 8 AM set up and a minimum 3-hour derig
I strongly recommend the use of a production company (I would recommend Lipfriend Rodd having worked with them on many Awards in the past).

However, (based loosely on 600 guests/12 awards) if you chose to do it all yourself plan resource for:

  • Producer/Director (overall responsibility and direction on the da
  • Designer (Graphics on stage, set and signage)
  • Production Manager (all logistical marshalling on set-up, event and derig)
  • Set up and derig team (dependent on spec)
  • 5/6 host staff and reception
  • Audio, Lightboard, Follow spots, Projection, Graphics and Camera’s – 8
  • Ensure this is the right venue for your audience – location, facilities, etc.


Step Three – DELIVER (Month 4 to 1)

Private Equity AwardsThe final step is Judging and announcing the finalists. Now you move the main focus from driving entries to generating table and ticket sales. You focus on producing on-site collateral and staging the event.

Having driven enough entries, you now have a strong shortlist for Judges to deliberate.

As soon as the verdict is out you will make the announcement across all platforms.

By this juncture, you should be mopping up the last sponsorship opportunities. And focusing on delivering pre-event sponsorship benefits.

You will be compiling the Programme for the event. Include write-ups on the finalists. Logos and profiles of the Sponsors. Profiles on the Judges and other Partners if appropriate.

Decide who is going to be on each table. It is unlikely you will issue badges. Each guest will have their table number displayed on boards at the entry to the event.

Communicating matters like timings, hotels, dress code, etc. is also important.

By now you need to know who is doing what within the organisation and address any shortfall in the resource.

You will have booked your Compere. Selected and briefed your speaker. Acquired all shortlist company logos. Compiled all shortlist and winner slides and ordered your trophies.

Judging the Awards

Plan the Judging day around whether or not you will have presentations. But be warned, presentations can be a very impractical and I would advise maximum 4 Awards/20 interviews if this is deemed necessary.

  • It is vital that Judges are sent packs at least two weeks beforehand.
  • A successful day is dependent on confident chairing of the Panel 
  • Your day can turn out to be a long and laborious process if not tightly managed

Here is a suggested structure you might consider for a ten Award event:

08.00 – 10.30: First 3 Awards/10 entries - average five minutes each

10.30 – 10.35: Coffee & comfort break

10.35 – 13.05: Awards 4 – 6

13.05 – 14.00: Lunch & Photoshoot

14.00 - 17.20: Awards 7 – 10

You may not need all the Judges all the time (Helpful with Judges pushed for time).

In the case where a conflict arises ask the Judge to leave the room (anticipate this and provide facilities).

Announcing the finalists

The first action should be a personal letter (or email) from the Judges Chair congratulating the finalist and enclosing details.

After these have been delivered you will need to arrange for:

  • A press release
  • Announcement on the microsite
  • Wider email or via Awards newsletter
  • In your editorial

Selling tables and tickets

  • Have you got a telesales resource?
  • Sell benefits of unique industry gathering and positive accomplishment and profile
  • Endeavour to sell tables (10 or 12 places) rather than single places (maybe at a small discount to single place rate)
  • Sell benefits of position of table as earlier the better
  • Encourage them to invite suppliers and clients to celebrate their success

Producing collateral

  • Programme for the night
  • Menu cards (sponsored)
  • Signage on stage and across the venue
  • Place cards and table maps

Critical considerations on the day

  • Compere - a well-known journalist or TV presenter, who is looking after them?
  • Awards presented on stage by sponsor (no speeches from sponsor – just announce)
  • Short acceptance speaches from the winners
  • Award slides – criteria/shortlist/and the winner is (sponsors/winners logos)
  • Where are your Trophies?

Now it all depends on what you've done up to this point. Now you are ready to raise the curtain and usher in your guests.

Are you ready?

I hope you have found value in this post. Did I miss anything. What has your experience been, I would love to get your feedback.

And if you are going to run those Awards, have you considered how you are going to capture that content to repupose across your digital platforms. You can find out more about doing exactly that with our guide to planning and commisioning video. 

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Published by Jeremy Knight September 1, 2015
Jeremy Knight