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The Barnacle

Unveiling the Power of Marketing Awards: How Recognition Transforms Client Success Stories!

“Two weeks to enter our digital design awards!”

That’s the subject line of the latest email advertising an awards competition that 2 Fish Company has regularly participated in over the past decade. “This contest honors the power of design to enhance online and interactive experiences. It’s a great opportunity to be recognized by clients, managers, colleagues, and the entire community.” The competition in question is Graphic Design USA’s Digital Design Awards, one of many competitions the publication runs annual

Graphic Design USA (also known as GD: USA) is one of a few remaining trade publications that cater specifically to graphic designers; Communication Arts is the other notable long-time publication with a print edition. “Gain worldwide recognition for your work by entering the most prestigious juried competitions in visual communications” is the headline on their Competitions page.

But who is recognizing whom?

“…the new global benchmark for creativity…”

Or so the Cannes Lions Awards would have you believe. Billing itself as a “career-defining” moment, the Lions Awards ostensibly help you share your work with your peers and enjoy recognition. But what does that mean for your clients?

I’ve been an American Advertising Awards judge for more than fifteen years. The process is pretty routine now. In December or early January, I’m contacted by a few American Advertising Federation clubs that need judges for their ADDY awards (the short form of the name, you know, like the Oscars®). We used to drive or fly to the city the club was in and then spend a weekend judging work submitted by professionals and students in anticipation of the awards ceremony in late February. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to Baltimore, Cedar Rapids, and Fort Wayne, amongst other locations. These days, most judging is done online.

What’s the attraction of being a judge? The ability to see the creative generated in other markets, meet other practitioners without fear of stolen clients and enjoy a weekend away from home. It has also provided tremendous networking opportunities.

But what’s in it for the client?

“If chosen, winning places you in the highest ranks of your profession.”

In 2005, GD: USA recognized me as “One to Watch,” most likely for my work with my colleagues at Cull Group. How’d I get noticed? We cleaned up at the West Michigan ADDY awards that year and received awards from Print and Communication Arts as well. That’s when Baltimore called to see if I’d be interested in judging their awards. Recruiters soon started calling, wondering if I wanted to move to Cincinnati, Dallas, San Francisco, or Kalamazoo to work for other agencies. I chose Kalamazoo, but that’s a different story.

The awards brought recognition not only to the agency but also to me. Doors, once closed, were suddenly open. Options were plentiful. The awards, it seems, benefitted me directly. They benefitted the other agencies looking for their next creative hire.

And they most certainly benefit the organizations and publications that run them.

“How to maximize revenue with awards program entry fees.”

GD: USA is a free publication to the industry that generates revenue from advertising and awards. Most Ad Clubs run in the red until ADDY season rolls around, where they make most of their income for the year. The rest of the time, they’re producing content and convening members for little to no cost, including bringing in speakers.

Awards are part of a business model and are often designed to provide revenue where there isn’t any. “An awards program can be a great marketing and outreach tool for your business or organisation. But have you ever thought of your program as another possible revenue source? One of the best ways to create revenue from your awards program is to charge entry fees for the privilege of entry into your program,” writes Lindsay Nash on the Award Force blog.

Now, it makes sense that award programs cost money. And it makes sense to profit from that program if not simply to ensure its continuance. But if anyone can run an awards program and profit, who’s to say what the value of awards is?

In a 2021 article on Forbes.com, Avi Dan, a contributing writer for the publication, starts to address the issue. “Agencies Are Questioning Just Who The Real Winners Are In The Business Of Advertising Awards” addresses how some agencies have begun to “use awards instead of gross income figures as a proxy of their own performance.”

So, if awards are used for revenue generation and agency valuation, is there any value to the client? Often, it seems like the client is the forgotten entity in the process of entering and winning awards. Indeed, Business.com’s article “Do Awards Really Do Anything for Your Company?” lists five significant benefits for the company or agency:

  1. Awards help your business build credibility.
  2. Awards give your business an edge.
  3. Awards boost employee morale.
  4. Awards attract talent to your business.
  5. Awards get your business free publicity.

But it doesn’t say anything about the client. And let’s be clear: if not for the client, there would be no work to win awards.

Who should awards benefit?

Here at 2 Fish Company, we’ve always kept the client in mind when we’ve submitted work to awards competitions. First, we ask if they’re comfortable with us submitting their work. For instance, the work may still be under an NDA, so double-checking helps. Next, we make sure that the client is listed in the personnel that did the creative being submitted. They participated in the development of the work and paid for it, so they should get recognition as well. If there is a ceremony and we’re planning to attend, we invite the client. Finally, no matter what, we ensure the client has a copy of the certificate or plaque to tell the story of the win in their context.

We think it’s pretty clear that everyone should benefit.