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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Winning awards

The Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association has co-ordinated annual design awards for 25 years. In recent years, the awards ceremonies have been at the National Gallery of Canada -- an appropriate high-culture venue for this event. Hundreds of members attend, and with sponsorships and admission tickets, the event raises significant funds for the association. The awards competition also provides members a special opportunity to showcase their best work, and receive positive recognition and publicity.

You could tell who the winners would be in certain categories in the Greater Ottawa Carleton Home Builders Association (GOHBA) Housing Design Awards last night, well before the official ceremonies, and without any inside knowledge or cheating. When one company enters five projects -- and only that company enters -- within the category, the results are, well, somewhat predictable.

Of course, from the company's perspective, this makes absolutely logical marketing sense. They're pretty sure to win the trophy (judged by an independent judging panel) and can take home the publicity value, recognition, and enhanced client relationships which go with winning the awards.

Paradoxically, in other categories, where there are several potential competitors, including the region's largest builders and renovators, you could see surprisingly few entries -- and the largest home builders didn't even enter the competition. Why? They have much to lose and very little to gain -- if they enter, and cannot win the number of awards equal or greater than their size and 'clout', they appear as less-than-stellar in design and public marketing standings. As it is, one well established but not overly large designer and builder/renovator walked away with more awards than I've seen in years. Another renovator, sitting at our table, who had won several awards in previous years but didn't win a single trophy this time, said: "The judges like a certain style, and that style (and designer) will win."

Maybe. Could be, the winning designer's work is simply the best this year.

I'll of course write a comprehensive story and we'll publish many pictures in our local publications describing the winners, the success, and the special recognition (through a custom recognition award ) to the region's largest builder, who didn't enter any designs this year. This blog entry will focus, however, on the marketing process and why these competitions can be useful resources in your marketing tool-kit, with some do's and don'ts.

  • Enter the competition, and put your best efforts forward, if you are a smaller or otherwise unrecognized builder or renovator. The costs of entry are far less than the publicity rewards you will receive if you win, and you have little to lose other than your time and modest entry fees if you lose.
  • If you have a highly specialized niche and the rules allow, 'stack' your entries in categories so that you will almost certainly win the category. Your entry costs are higher, but your odds of success are great enough.
  • Use and exploit all the marketing potential of the competition -- share the news with your clients, employees, and community.
  • Enter if your reputation will suffer by entering and losing. Painfully, this is most likely to apply if you are really big and a generalist -- You could try stacking the categories as described above, but then you would be seen as a big operation bullying the contest and trying to rig it. It is simply best to stay away.
  • Enter half-heartedly, or carelessly. You need to give your best to these competitions, if you don't, you are not helping your reputation (or employee morale) and you are just wasting your employees' energies in the process.
Competitions and awards are probably one of the most effective and creative ways a smaller business or one just arriving on the scene can acquire credibility, reputation, and strength. So, yes, you should enter if you are satisfied you can follow the do's outlined above, and avoid the don'ts.

P.S. These observations apply to legitimate awards, through reputable organizations, where entry fees are modest and support valid industry organizations and causes. Some awards are actually money-grabs for commercial organizations, with truly high marketing fees/costs. I think these awards are dishonest, but acknowledge that many businesses enter them, and use their "winning recognition" in marketing materials effectively. These "awards recognition" businesses, of course, are simply taking advantage of the public perception of the award's validity. If you need to pay tens of thousands of dollars in rights fees and marketing materials to announce your success, however, maybe you could use that money to improve your product/service or value more effectively and wisely.

A special note: You should consider nominating your own business or your suppliers/clients in the Ontario Construction Report's Readers' Choice Awards. There are no entry fees for these awards, and you of course will gain all the publicity and marketing advantages of winning them if you are successful. See the nomination form here.

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