Due diligence on business awards – how do you know it’s a level playing field?

One of the ways we keep our results so healthy is by making sure we don’t take on a business awards entry if we don’t think it will make the shortlist.

But how do we make this assessment? And what research goes into the awards that we recommend to clients?

Before I get into the detail of what makes a good set of awards, a note about the fundamental first question you need to ask yourself. Winning an award will only be of value if the people you are trying to impress rate the award you win. If your intended audience is skeptical of their value, if they think awards are won by the people with the biggest sponsorship budget, then you will be wasting your time and should look for a different marketing activity to target them with.

But if you’ve made this assessment and your intended audience – whether prospective clients or your own staff – will value an award win, then here’s how we make that call.

I often describe entering awards as like playing a game. And like any game, it’s almost impossible to win if you don’t know the rules. It would also be pretty tricky to win if the rules kept changing., or there was a way to circumvent them.

We are precious about the awards we recommend our clients should enter. Not because there are any guarantees with the ones we suggest, but because we need to be sure there’s a level playing field and that our client will get a fair shot based entirely on their entry.

So what do we look for when assessing business awards?

Good quality business awards

Our starting point for assessing any set of business awards is the process. How many stages are there? Is the process clear on the website?

If the process isn’t clear from the awards website we make a call to the organisers and have a chat. This gives us valuable other information too, like the likelihood of there being a deadline extension, but our focus is on how they decide who makes the shortlist and who wins.

If you’re looking at a set of awards run by a professional body or trade magazine it’s highly likely you’ll be entering a fair and robust process – but it’s still worth checking. We came across one set of awards run by a magazine which assessed entries before presenting the independent judging panel with a long list, from which they judged a shortlist and chose the winners.

It might not be the case, but this felt like an opportunity for someone with a vested interest to, for example, put their client with the large advertising spend on the long list and exclude another brand which doesn’t spend anything with them, regardless of the quality of the entry. For me this process was too opaque and we recommended the client stay away from the set of awards.

Awards scoring mechanisms

There’s a variety of ways that awards can be scored, so be sure to ask if it’s not clear from the website. Some score every entry in the first instance, then score those on the shortlist again.

It’s common for awards organisers to ask judges to score individually and add up the marks, but also for awards to have judging days where a consensus has to be reached.

Some will weight points, with more weight given to a second round of judging – likely to be a presentation of some sort.

Others still have a simple voting mechanism, where the award entry with the most votes wins. Take a look at my previous article about beauty contests here on LinkedIn. I’m not a fan of this structure for lots of reasons, not least because I don’t think popularity and the ability to harness a social media following/friends and family is the same as quality.

Judges who are qualified to make an assessment

It’s an honour to be asked to judge a good-quality set of awards and can be viewed as an endorsement of your expertise in that sector. But some judges can also buy their place on a judging panel. Why would you do that? Well, for exposure, a guaranteed place at the awards ceremony, an insight into the process perhaps if you’re considering entering in future years, and for links back to your website. It’s not automatically a bad thing, but you need to be aware if that’s the case.

Good quality judging panels have recognisable industry figures with the requisite knowledge and experience to make a judgement on your entry. You can often check out the judging panel on the awards website. If it isn’t published that’s another question to ask when you call the organisers.

Clear criteria

If you don’t know how you will be judged how can you create a winning entry? Good quality sets of business awards set out clearly the criteria for individual categories, giving you a real sense of the benchmark you need to meet and areas you need to present in order to make the grade.

It’s not necessary to show how scores are allocated per criteria, although some awards do this and it’s very helpful, but being clear on what the particular set of awards considers good to look like helps everyone.

What do you look for in a good quality set of awards? Have you ever chosen not to enter some, or entered and had an experience you want to share? Feel free to comment or get in touch for a talk about what would make a good quality set of business awards for you.