Winning corporate awards, part II: award types and how to get started

Navigate the reputation race with strategic insight, while avoiding the bumps.

Jul 11, 2023

Corporate awards come in all shapes and sizes. Now that you’ve read our “6 Reasons Why Corporate Awards are Essential to Your Marketing Mix,” let's cover how awards differ and what it takes to ultimately win an award.

Which awards really matter?

Awards can be industry-based (such as the Banking Technology Awards, which honors excellence in financial services tech), nationally focused (such as Inc. magazine’s Inc. 5000, which measures the fastest growing companies in America), or locally focused (such as Crain’s Chicago Fast 50, which also measures business momentum, but at a local level). Beyond revenue growth, you can find award programs that focus on any number of specific areas, including these – just for starters:

  • Innovation 

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Product design or impact

  • Executive leadership 

  • Operational excellence

  • Best workplaces

  • Corporate social responsibility

Narrowing down the field 

When it comes to choosing which awards to target, consider local awards as a good starting point – especially if your own clients are local too. National awards mean heightened competition, but don’t sell yourself short. Many of our clients have won national awards because they had a good story and some metrics to back it up.  Lastly, don’t forget to identify awards specific to your industry. If you do things differently or better than your competitors, you’ll catch the attention of the judges.

Paid vs. earned awards

While some awards require nominal entry fees (up to a few hundred dollars), the most reputable awards are all earned. This means that winners are chosen based on revenue, survey results, customer feedback, or expert review. The upside: these tend to be highly credible awards and are great reputation builders. The downside: you are never assured a spot on these lists.  

Paid awards programs charge a fee to automatically include your company on a list. An example of this is CIO Review, which publishes “Top Vendor” lists in every tech category imaginable. Programs like this are more like advertisements and can cost thousands of dollars. But they pack a punch: they usually offer a content package that includes company, product, and/or executive profiles and they can help boost your SEO results.

The upside: as long as you pay, you’re assured a spot on these lists. The downside: They carry less credibility than earned awards.  Though paid awards are best used in conjunction with earned awards, they can be used to kickstart a budding awards program and spark awareness for your business. 

The process: what to expect

A good awards program takes time. It includes the following steps:

  1. Researching the awards landscape to identify deadlines and qualifications

  2. Completing the application process and verifications

  3. Building and executing a communications plan if you win

Some awards are straightforward. The popular Inc. 5000 award, for example, requires three years of revenue figures that are verified by a certified accounting or legal representative of your company. But to qualify, nominees have to reach certain revenue milestones and must be privately held U.S.-based companies. 

Others, such as Chicago Innovation Awards, ask for a narrative that explains an innovative solution your company has taken to market, why that solution was needed, and the value the solution delivers. From deciding which solution to nominate to collecting the background information, writing the narrative, and reviewing it with stakeholders, this type of nomination can easily take days to complete.

Coveted “Best Places to Work” awards can be some of the heaviest in terms of effort. Often sponsored by a national or local publication working in conjunction with a third-party research firm, your employees may need to respond in a detailed survey. The research firm evaluates the survey results and scores companies accordingly.  These award entries are also often most successful when they are a joint effort between marketing and HR for data collection, execution, and for building off of survey results to improve the employee experience.

Depending on the package, you may get a standard survey and high-level results free of charge or for a nominal entry fee, while custom survey questions and detailed results are available for a higher fee, but often come with valuable employee feedback that your team can use for implementing culture and benefits improvements. 

Best workplaces awards are a fantastic way to tap into employee sentiment about your company. For companies that are new to employee surveys, we recommend budgeting for the full survey results. You’ll get deep insights into high- and low-performing areas so you can establish benchmarks, set goals, and build programs to improve performance. 

Celebrating your award

Typically, you’ll get advanced notice that you’ve earned an award.  Did you make the cut?  Congratulations! This is truly one of the most exciting emails to receive.

It’s time to celebrate – and brag. Your communications plan should include the following:

  • A notification to employees. Their hard work greatly contributed to this success. An email or web conference will do, but why not make this into a culture builder? Host a celebratory luncheon or happy hour – even if virtual. Consider a give-away too, like gift cards or a branded corporate gift, as a way to say “thank you.” 

  • Communications to stakeholders. Partners, investors, and customers should hear from you about your award. Why? It will reaffirm their choice to be a part of your journey. Be sure to acknowledge their contributions to your win. 

  • Press release. Announce your news proudly and boldly in a press release. If the award is big enough, promote it to your local and industry trade media.

  • All things digital and social.  You’ll likely have an opportunity to purchase award logo rights to use in marketing collateral and advertising. Plaster this logo on your website, corporate presentation, brochures, email signature, and on your socials, too. 

It’s time to get started

If you haven’t tried an awards program yet, you could start by identifying and submitting two to four nominations in a year, including a mix of simple and more complex nomination forms. Do your research in advance. Know the qualifications; look at past winners to see how your nomination would compare; and understand the required effort. If you think you stand a chance, and you can invest the time, then go for it! 

Get help if you need it

If your marketing department is strapped for time, or if you don’t have a marketing department, we can help. In fact, in the past four months, we’ve won clients a total of seven local, national and industry awards – all of them earned. No matter the outcome, you’ll “win” by the insight and clarity you’ll gain about your company during the process.

So what are you waiting for? If you’ve been thinking about ways to differentiate your company, it’s time to pursue awards.

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