To the casual observer, it seems New Zealand is overrun with awards programmes that either directly or indirectly cover the technology sector. Therefore, your company is not short of opportunities to gain recognition. But with so many options, how do you choose whether to enter or not? Theoretically, this choice should be the easiest part, but you should ask yourself two questions first:
• What are you hoping to achieve from entering, apart from winning?
• Once you have entered, how are you going to handle the process of meeting the entry, judging and (hopefully) winners’ requirements?
You might be entering to gain recognition amongst peers, to be noticed by potential clients, to showcase the quality of your work with existing clients, to gain the attraction of investors, or lift the morale of your team to show them that they are working for an award-winning company.
Whilst winning a ‘People’s Choice’ award could boost your team morale, it probably wouldn’t resonate as highly with your peers as being recognised by a credible industry judging panel. Similarly, if you are positioning yourself to offshore investors, there is credibility and value in taking out some major local awards as well. If you are not “world famous in New Zealand” it is a lot harder for the rest of the world to take you seriously.
Having taken the decision to enter, you now need to carefully plan your entry. Sadly, this is where the majority stumble. Over the years I have been involved in many award programmes — as an entrant, organiser and judge. I believe this has given me a holistic view and one that allows a good insight into the workings of an awards programme.
The job of judging is both thankless and rewarding. In most cases, judges give up their own time to complete the process. As they are relatively time poor in the first place, you need to make their job easier, not harder. The first step in any judging process is to assess whether an entrant has met the entry criteria. It’s amazing how many entrants fail at this first hurdle by not answering the question asked, being late with their entry or not staying within the writing guidelines. Either they have not read the entry criteria properly or they have not put enough time into planning or writing their entry.
Many companies fail to understand that whilst they may have developed a world-beating solution, if they cannot articulate this in a way that meets the entry criteria it can’t possibly be judged in a favourable light.
Each judge probably has a slightly different process for the next stage of judging. Mine is to divide the entries into three piles: Those that clearly hit the mark, the maybes; and the ones that are definitely out of the running and receive no further consideration. From here you slowly whittle your way down to arrive at the appropriate number of finalists and ultimately a winner. Often the latter stages may be considered and discussed by other judges, as well as requiring additional information from entrants.
As an entrant, you need to give yourself the best chance of success. I would strongly recommend engaging an expert third party to write your entry; they will view things in a way that is much more similar to the way a judge would, are more likely to draw out the uniqueness of your product whilst meeting the entry guidelines.
Plan your entry like a military operation; understand what the deadlines are and plan to have your entry completed a good 48 hours before the final submission time. Read all the entry requirements up front as you may need to attend other judging sessions, have the judges visit your premises or provide additional information in the second round.
Finally, keep your sights on the end game. It is a bit like the Olympics, in that making the finals can do just as much to advance your career as taking out the gold medal. If you have done your homework up front, then you can leverage your success accordingly; if you don’t succeed the first time around then keep entering. Nobody but a handful of staff in your company and those that judged your entry will ever know that you entered in the first place.
Try to get some feedback as to why you weren’t successful and then have another go next year. If you enter for the right reasons and put the best entry forward that you possibly can — your day in the sun will come. In the meantime, you should have learned a bit more about the best way to pitch your company and have some prepared ‘on message’ marketing material that you can re-purpose from your entry.
Disclosure: Bob Pinchin is the former CEO of IDG Communications when the Computerworld Excellence Awards were launched and his company Swaytech runs the NZ Hi-Tech Awards.
Bob Pinchin is the director of Sway.tech, a specialist communications house for technology companies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org