Author: Huw Jones
Published: 1st August 2016

AwardsWe’ve entered a few awards in our time and done quite well. However our experiences of awards have been mixed and we’ve now decided to be much more selective about which awards we enter.

This decision is not sour grapes because we’ve never won (although we haven’t) but based on our understanding of the reason that most awards exist in the first place – to make money.

In the arena of financial services there are a number of media companies that produce trade publications. You know the sort of thing, weekly editions full of industry news. You may even of heard of a few: Money Marketing, New Model Adviser, Professional Adviser. The list goes on.

These trade publications must be profitable (as they’re still being published weekly). They’re paying their financial journalists, other staff and printing and distribution costs and posting the finished product out free to financial services professionals across the land. So where do they get their income from to make a profit if they give their product away for free? The answer is advertising.

So let’s be clear: the role of these publications is to sell advertising space at a profit. After all they are businesses and businesses must make a profit (or they’ll go out of business) and they have no income from their product sales.

That will explain the pages and pages of adverts. Many of these companies also run “Industry” awards. Usually with a with a glittering ceremony at a swanky central London hotel.

With this back drop in mind I’d like to describe two awards we have entered. The first was run by a trade publication. there was an application form where we needed to describe various aspects of our business and the obligatory “why do you think you should win?” question. We then found out we were shortlisted.

This meant attending an interview in the City of London with half a dozen industry personalities (including the editor of the publication). All vastly experienced and with a significant financial services pedigree. This was a very scary experience and by far the most valuable of the whole process. I was grilled various aspects of our business but most of the questions related to products and sales rather than clients and service.

Following the interviews it was announced we were shortlisted. How exciting! We might win an award. We were going on a trip to London for the dinner and ceremony at a famous park lane hotel, hosted by an well known Mancunian comedian. But then the price of winning an award started to hit home.

If we won we could use a “winner” logo on our website and emails – for a not inconsiderable fee. If we didn’t win there were similar fees for runners up or finalist logos. Then there was the cost of the ceremony – a single ticket cost £340 (and this didn’t include any wine!). Now I don’t eat in central London very often but £340 for a three course meal for one is quite steep. Call after call from the ceremony organisers asking if we were taking a table, they could do a deal on half a table. They offered no discount on the single seat at the table. Throughout I just felt like I was being sold to.

After the awards, the publication was awash with the obligatory pictures of all the award winners receiving gongs from sponsors and the northern comedian – along side adverts from those same sponsors

The whole thing (with the exception of the interview) seemed to be an exercise in making money.

Contrast that with another award we entered, this one run by a professional body. It was significantly more demanding – a three stage process. The first was an initial application and having been shortlisted we were then required to provide detailed information (and I mean really detailed) about the business, our financial planning proposition and our clients. Having made the final three, the last stage was to attend an interview with 3 leading lights of the financial planning profession. Whilst this was also a very scary hour of my life it was a fantastic experience. I left with tips, advice and ideas on how to make the business better and looking back I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The awards ceremony was actually tagged onto the end of a dinner I was already attending for no additional fee. There were no logos to purchase and sponsors or advertisers to keep happy. We didn’t win but cam a close third.

The following year we entered again (with exactly the same fantastic experience ) but this time came second.

There’s no fairy tail ending though. Our business had moved on so much we weren’t able to enter for a third year (we’d have won it obviously!)

So now our stance on awards is a bit clearer. We only want to enter awards where the experience of entering will be both valuable and enjoyable for our team – and where winning doesn’t feel like it’s dependent on taking a table at the ceremony and splashing the cash on some logos.