Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Not Waste Time with PR Award Competitions!
My colleagues in the industry will hate me for this, but it needs to be stated in without any degree of moderation: the PR industry awards are a waste of time and money and should be avoided.
Now, I am not stating this because my vines have cultivated a bumper crop of sour grapes. I’ve participated successfully in these competitions and my work snagged a few trophies. I’ve also had the responsibility (not privilege) of judging a few awards competitions. Having received PR awards and having determined which folks should receive them, I cannot help but feel they are of no value.
The reason for this negativity is twofold. First, there is an egregious glut of awards being handed out. The PR industry rivals the entertainment world for the mass quantity of honors it bestows on itself. Many of the national trade groups have annual awards, and the regional chapters of these groups have their own local awards. Likewise, many of the trade media have their own award competitions (though truth be told, those awards exist primarily as a major revenue enhancement scheme for the publishers – they can make some fast bucks on the entry fees – rather than as a genuinely sincere celebration of PR excellence).
Even within the individual award competitions, there are an absurdly high number of categories for the trophy chase. The PRSA’s Silver Anvils, arguably the most respected of the industry’s honors, has 16 different categories. But within each category are anywhere from two-to-six subcategories. For example, the Marketing Consumer Products Award has individual prizes going for best achievement in the Healthcare, Technology, Food & Beverage, Packaged Goods, Non-Packaged Goods and “Other” industries (the latter is a lump-‘em-together of “categories not elsewhere defined,” according to the PRSA).
But that’s just the Silver Anvils – the Bronze Anvils have 50 different categories and subcategories. What’s the difference in the awards? Well, according to the PRSA’s web site, the “Silver Anvil Awards recognize complete programs incorporating sound research, planning, execution and evaluation” while the Bronze Anvil Awards “recognize outstanding public relations tactics, the individual items or components of programs or campaigns.” And anyone who thinks that’s logical obviously had an anvil (silver, bronze or whatever metallic nature) dropped on their head.
The second problem is something that few award givers in the PR universe are willing to acknowledge: none of these awards competition carry any clout beyond their respective organizing committees. Outside of the industry, PR awards are meaningless to the point of being thoroughly ignored. One individual responsible for an annual PR award presentation (who will not be identified here) used to boast fantastically that judging that particular award competition was “an honor.” Strangely, that person had a bitch of a time trying to get anyone from the industry to embrace that “honor” and the judging was mostly done in-house.
I’ve done a search of national media and I have yet to locate a single news story about the results of a PR industry award. The only genuine mainstream media coverage I could locate on a PR industry award presentation came from the weekly (and relatively unimportant) New York Observer on March 13, 2006, when it covered the PR Week Awards with the decidedly unflattering headline “Publicists Lauded for Flackery; PR Gods Get Freedom From Press” (the rest of the article was equally snarky).
Even if you bring the awards directly to the gathering point of the major national media, they won’t pay attention. PR News, for example, hosts several of its awards (it has five different award competitions) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. – yet, to date, none of their awards ever received any national press coverage.
And that’s just for the awards. There are also at least four different groups in the industry offering their own PR Hall of Fame. No further comment required on that!
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book “The New PR” will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
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Since I disagreed so vehemently with Lesson 1-12-07, thought it only fair to say how right on you are with this one. Many years ago a mentor set me straight on awards. Awards are like hemorrhoids, he said, sooner or later every asshole gets one.
Is mom proud when you win a Silver Anvil? Awards are profit centers for the orgnizations running the silly contests - and they the same organizations and publications that are in the business of bestowing credibility on this bullshit business. Given the number of awards and the number of categories, annual entry fees run into the tens of thousands of dollars. But the big firms boycott the awards at their peril. You don't want to piss off Julia or Paul, do you?
Thanks, Bill. I love that analogy too much.
Observor, from my experience I've seen many big firms pay no heed to those silly awards without retribution of any kind. I've also seen awards go to those big firms simply because they're the big firms (and not because the did anything that was even vaguely award-worthy). Actually, I forgot to tell my mother that my work won the Silver Anvil -- it shows you how much that honor meant to me!
Phil, I guess it depends on how you define "big." I don't think I've ever seen a list of award winners or runner-ups that didn't include BM, FH, Edleman, APCO, Shanwick, H&K and most of the rest. PRWeek actually asks the big firms to "sponsor" individual awards, whatever that means. And, remember, if you're "finalist" in some of these contests, you need to buy at least one table at the awards ceremony.
Amen, Phil. People enter these things becasue they are desperate for affirmation that they are not getting in their own work place or personal life. A much more valuable award would come from your employer in the form of a raise, promotion, etc or from your client in the form of a "job well done" email. To me these are much more important than industry awards and who the heck has the time to put one of those award submissions together (and who is getting billed for it?) anyway?