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The Prize Behind the Prize: How Entering—and Winning—Industry Awards Pays off Bigger Than You Think

While Hollywood may have rolled up its red carpet for the year, award season is year-round for the IT industry. The Inc 500 Awards in September; the InfoWorld Technology Awards in January; the SIA Peter Yessne Staffing Innovator Awards in March—and hundreds of local, regional and national awards in between. At any given moment, it seems there is an honor being bestowed upon a company or CIO.

But how much gold is behind all that glimmer?

If you’ve never entered an awards competition, here’s a little secret: they are worth their weight in gold. And not just for the winners. The application process itself provides a rare opportunity for self-examination, articulation and even growth in cases where feedback is provided.

The ROI of Applying: Before, During and After

“There’s a cool factor to winning awards that can galvanize a company,” observes Jeff Miller, Founder and Managing Director of EdgeLink, a boutique technology staffing firm who recently earned a spot on Oregon Business Magazine’s “100 Best Places to Work in Oregon” for the fourth consecutive year. “It’s a chance for everyone to rally around the company—which is great for morale—and the application process raises questions that opens the door for people to talk.”

In the “100 Best Places to Work in Oregon” competition, applicants are scored on individual categories—and provided with those scores regardless of whether or not they make the list. This makes the application process itself valuable to the entrants for whom it serves as an objective measure of their professional caliber, particularly in comparison to their peers. “We’ve actually formed a task committee to determine how we can get better scores,” said Miller.

For staffing companies, there are multiple dimensions to pursuing awards. Expressing interest in nominating a client for an award is a flattering act of recognition in and of itself. Should the client take you up on it—and win—they are sure to be deeply thankful and you will always have that to your credit. A good thing to remember is that awards also include rankings and lists such as IT Companies to Watch for and Top 100 CIOs. These are on par with awards, sometimes easier to win since they go to more than one entrant and especially numerous in the local category—all of which are a bonus for small- to mid-sized companies.

Whether you clinch an award for yourself or a client, the visibility that follows is priceless. Immediately there is media exposure with trade press covering the event as well as your profile featured on the award association’s site. Networking opportunities ensue. Your own announcements of the win to clients, prospects and associates provide an ideal series of touch points.

The industry recognition and third-party validation endow you with the kind of credibility you simply cannot access on your own—not only vis a vis clients, but internally as well. From recruiting efforts to a source of pride amongst your current staff and a competitive edge, an industry award pays off immediately, handsomely and for a long time to come.

The Artful Application

While it pays to have outstanding work and impressive metrics, there’s a science to applying for awards. Here are step-by-step insights to help you ace the process:

  • Identify the awards your company has the strongest chance of winning. For example, if you’re a staffing firm, a logical aim would be categories such as Employer of Choice or Best Place to Work. If you’re known for your executive leadership, focus on individual recognition such as the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards or local 40 Under 40 lists.
  • Research all local, regional, national, client and partner award opportunities. Will a reputation for customer satisfaction in providing Web-based music technology give you a leg up on the competition? If you look far enough, you can find an award for it. Keep in mind that the more specifically you target your search to fit your strong suit, the better your chance of winning—and of then leveraging that win to your advantage within your silo of expertise. As you explore, don’t overlook client organization awards and partner awards from companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.
  • Create a spreadsheet outlining the award association’s name and URL, the award name and description, the possible categories, the cost, the general rules and the deadline. An ounce of organization here is worth a pound of execution later on.
  • Determine which you are most likely to win. Choose your battle, and choose it wisely! Make sure you weigh the likelihood of winning against the cost of entering. With some awards, the entrance fee is considerable—often times in the hundreds of dollars.
  • Schedule the time necessary to complete the application. This is important—do not assume your work will speak for itself. Along with basic information questions, you will almost always be prompted to provide essay-style answers. These are likely to be open-ended questions, so run with it: Tell the story and romance the reader. The mere exercise of articulating why you deserve to win—in what are often tight word-counts—is invaluable training alone.
  • Track responses. Mark your calendar with the dates the awards are issued, and keep an eye on the award association’s Web site for PR announcements.
  • Promote your win. This is key! Promote it on your Web site and via press release, social media, and e-newsletters to clients and candidates. Update boilerplate content and include it in e-mail signatures. This is a golden opportunity to catch your clients’ attention and distinguish yourself with prospects. Here is an example of how EdgeLink leverages awards to succinctly differentiate the company. The following is an About Us section from a press release:

About EdgeLink
EdgeLink is a boutique technology staffing firm with offices in Portland, Oregon, and Denver, Colorado. EdgeLink recruits the industry’s best mid- to executive-level technology professionals on a contract, contract-to-hire and direct-hire basis. Since the company’s inception in 2003, EdgeLink has earned recognition as the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine four years in a row: 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007. In addition, EdgeLink was recently named to Inavero’s inaugural 2010 Best of Staffing List presented by CareerBuilder to recognize exceptional client service in the staffing industry. EdgeLink also received the Inavero Platinum Service Excellence Award in 2009; and the Portland Business Journal named the company one of the Top 25 Technology providers in 2009, one of the Top 25 Staffing Firms in 2008, 2006 and 2005, and one of the Fastest Growing Private 100 in 2009 and 2007. To learn more, please visit www.edgelink.com.

If you don’t win on first try, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback and apply again next time—I know of one executive who applied for an Ernst & Young award three years in a row before he was a finalist!

Getting Started

Do some research with your local publications, partners, clients and trade associations to unearth awards. Here are a few to consider as you begin your search:

Local/Regional:

National:

For Your Clients:

Leslie Vickrey

About Leslie Vickrey

Leslie Vickrey is president and founder of ClearEdge Marketing, an agency specializing in outsourced marketing solutions for IT services firms. After beginning her career in marketing for well-known companies such as McDonald’s Corporation and Junior Achievement, Vickrey quickly found a niche in the technology services industry, where she has worked for the past 12 years managing marketing operations or providing consulting services for companies such as Spherion, TAC Worldwide, Harvey Nash, TechServe Alliance, ZeroChaos and Technisource.