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Keys to Starting and Running a Top Awards Program

A SIPA member emailed me last week to tell about their success with the awards program they run. (He/she wanted to remain anonymous.) No less than a U.S. senator from Nebraska called the awards program “prestigious” and sent out a special press release congratulating the Nebraska company on its award.

After talking about the many benefits of their awards program—good publicity, building customer loyalty, greater visibility, and even some personal feel-good vignettes—the SIPA member wrote, “I guess the bottom line for publishers to remember is we have a platform to get to acknowledge excellence and make people feel good about their daily lives for them and their families, and their legacy.”

Many SIPA members run excellent awards programs: Ragan CommunicationsColumbia BooksAccess Intelligence and Chartwell, to name just a few. And, of course, SIPA has our own SIPAwards, now in their 41st year.

The SIPAwards remain the industry’s top program for honoring specialized publishers. We’ve given them a refresh this year to increase their gravitas, keep up with the times and spotlight the winners more. So you’ll see new categories like Best Team on a Project or Event, and Best Infographic, categories honoring trends like video, podcasts, social media and data use, and then, of course, the standards for newsletters, articles, marketing and investigative reporting. Others that got fewer entries have been consolidated.

Here are some other keys to running a successful awards program:

Choose a good foundation. Use an awards system and process that saves you time, makes you look good, and, most importantly, is easy for every participant in your program.

Take time to plan an accurate and appropriate program calendar. Timing is critical for all awards programs. If your call for entry is too short, you may lose out on potential applicants. If you plan your gala near a holiday, no one will show up. Don’t approximate timelines; take the time to plan things out carefully.

Create a great awards website. Your awards website is one of the most important parts of your program and should be a big focus in the preparation of your call for entry. Ours is here. In creating an informative and easily navigable site you can guarantee that any visitor’s questions will be answered, and that they can become familiar with your program’s legacy and credibility within the industry.

Link your program to the core values of the organization. Whether you’re just getting started or are a seasoned veteran, step back and ask yourself: Is your program aligning with the goals and values your organization is trying to promote? A successful awards program will be focused on what the organization is all about and create an opportunity for others in the industry to showcase their similar interests.

Attract and promote a high-caliber panel of judges. Cynopsis did this for their Short Form Video Festival awards, and we do this as well for the SIPAwards. It makes winning much more special. Jurors for Cynopsis included film executives from Vox Media, IFC, People/Entertainment Weekly and Meredith. For SIPA we get many presidents of member companies and experts in their niches.

Price reasonably and incentivize early entries. If you can get your entry to us by Friday Feb. 28, the cost per entry is the lowest price. Getting early entries also helps you relax; there’s that tendency in so many of us to do the things at the last minute.

Create varied categories. What are the latest trends in the industry? What would you like to see examples of? More categories will get more entries, if you’ve done your homework and know what people are doing.

Put on an awards gala. An awards gala is a great way to celebrate all the finalists and winners in your program. It’s also the perfect way to recognize every participant in the program, from the entrants to the judges to the program managers. Splash your brand around the gala and include your sponsors, too, if you have them. It’s a win-win-win! The SIPAward Luncheon Gala will be June 2.

Analyze the program each year. When your program is over it’s tempting to sit back, feel good and chill, but it’s important not to just take a break from things until the next awards season comes. Every program should analyze their data in order to understand what worked and what didn’t and how they can use that information to make next years’ awards even better.