How would you like to get the following email from a judge in one of your awards and/or recognition programs?
“Thanks for the honor of being selected as a CODiE judge again this year and for the over-the-top, amazing swag box that arrived yesterday! Every single item is amazing and is already or will shortly be used. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.”
Jenny Baranowski, managing director, CODiE Awards, for SIIA, was overjoyed to see that email and many others like it. The company behind that swag box is Cambium Learning Group. They partnered with SIIA’s long-running CODiE Awards to give Ed Tech category judges “a sense of real pride in being part of the awards process and that their expertise was valued as educators and as professionals,” John Jorgenson (pictured here), CMO for Cambium Learning Group and an SIIA Education board member, told me recently.
With Cambium being a long-time supporter of the CODiE Awards, Jorgenson approached Baranowski earlier this year to do something special during such a tough time for everyone. “It would be cool if we could design something branded as being part of the CODiE Awards for the volunteer judges,” he told her, “where they could be proud of their identity as an expert reviewer. Cambium really values our relationship with SIIA and really values the CODiE Awards. Nominees go through a rigorous process and so winning a CODiE is a big deal. It means something.”
Cambium had experience in the swag world before, having launched a new brand In November 2020 and creating swag boxes for their shared services team. “They just loved them,” Jorgenson reported. “We like to support awards that really recognize quality products that are making a difference,” he told Baranowski.
Jorgenson was “not looking to make it all about a sponsorship per se.” He wanted to “focus more on the judges and honoring their volunteerism and time dedicated to the awards, while also providing a reminder that they are part of a meaningful community that they take pride in being part of.”
Included among the swag items were many CODiE-tattooed products including: socks, a peek-a-boo pouch, a bluetooth speaker, pens, water bottle and moleskin notebook. There was also a card that gave a definition of the word “judge” and said, “Thank you for providing your expertise and helping shape the future of education and the growing world of ed tech as a whole.” The whole box was CODiE-branded. Judges were clearly moved.
“This is the kind of sponsorship that I care more about. People don’t remember the logos on the bags they get at the shows and things like that,” Jorgenson said. “That’s just kind of throwing money at things and trying to get your logo in front of people to raise brand awareness. I’m much more interested in forging relationships with organizations and people that are fighting the same fight we are, believe the same things we believe, and are trying to make an impact—which is what we’re trying to do. I’d rather support those relationships.”
Of course, Cambium wants value. Any sponsor would. But Jorgenson said that he has faith that these actions “will lead to expanded relationships and opportunities for everyone… I think it’s a great story, because it really isn’t about us, or even about SIIA. It’s about the judges and the CODiE Awards; what the CODiE Awards stand for and why they’re important.”
Baranowski could not be more pleased with how everything turned out. It’s the classic win-win-win situation. “The judges are the backbone of the CODiE Awards. They mean everything to the program and to the nominees. To be able to work with long-time partner and collaborator Cambium Learning Group to enhance the judging experience, especially coming off 2020 where teachers and administrators already had overflowing plates, was everything.
“Receiving wonderful emails from participants expressing their gratitude for the judging process and the unexpected swag box made my year,” she continued. “It enhanced the CODiE brand and community in a great way and being able to share that feedback with Cambium showed that thinking outside of the sponsorship box can be really rewarding. I’m very grateful to Cambium for sharing this vision and helping support the community in a really fun way. Now the challenge is, how do we top it in 2022?”
Jorgenson was clearly touched by the emails from the judges.
“Jenny forwarded some notes and comments that she received from the judges, and they were just really grateful, excited and proud,” said Jorgenson, “so that made all of us here feel good. This whole COVID-19 thing just continues to play out in front of us, and nobody knows what’s going to happen next, of course. But we’re absolutely committed to the SIIA organization and will certainly be involved in the CODiEs going forward. Hopefully we’ll do something next year that kind of ups the ante a little bit.”
That should have everyone flashing a winning smile.