If it’s Good Enough for the Council, Why isn’t it Good Enough for the Awards Programs?

Peppercom was one of the founding members of the Council of PR Firms (www.prfirms.org). In those early days, the Council was often criticized as being a "big agency" mouthpiece. I never felt that way, but I did understand the sentiment.

The Council retrofitted its structure, created tiered sections and now reflects the interests of small, medium and large sized agencies. Critically, the Council also tiered its membership fee structure. So, for example, Weber Shandwick pays a significantly higher fee then, say, a firm that only bills $5 million on an annualized basis.

So, why don’t PR Week, The Holmes Report, PR News and the various and sundry other industry trade media follow the same approach with their awards programs?

PR Week, for example, just announced its 2009 awards competition and lauded the fact that "…a record-setting 957 entries…" were received last year. What they fail to mention, though, is that a disproportionate percentage of those entries came from the largest agencies. Nor do they mention that large agencies almost always receive the most nominations and the most awards.Pr20weekaward

This is simply unfair. Large agencies have the wherewithal to devote the time and resources to compete for the awards. Indeed, quite a few have dedicated resources just to manage their array of submissions.

How level a playing field do we have when a Burson or Fleishman can submit 50, 60 or more entries while a small or mid-sized firm can only afford one or two? The answer is simple: the media should adopt the Council’s tiered pricing program. Large agencies should pay considerably more per submission tha
n do medium or smaller sized firms. Fair market pricing would dramatically level the playing field and make the awards programs less of a big agency feast and more of a true industry competition.

11 thoughts on “If it’s Good Enough for the Council, Why isn’t it Good Enough for the Awards Programs?

  1. Great points, lunch boy’s friend. Check out Erica Iacono’s opinion piece in last week’s PR Week. It’s all about the ‘cobbler’s kid’ phenomenon in public relations (namely, that too few PR firms do a really good job of marketing themselves). She suggests she would never buy shoes from a cobbler who didn’t make them for his own kids. I’d like to think the best clients realize the best agencies are in a for profit business and need to market their goods and services the same way a client organization does.

  2. Work will always trump awards, so I agree with you, Lunchboy. That said, clients come and clients go. One must remember to treat one’s agency as a key client. Winning awards is key to ongoing industry awareness and recognition. Awareness and recognition, in turn, beget prospective business. It’s all part of the bigger picture. And, with tough economic times ahead, agencies will need to replace those clients who trim or slash budgets. Awards are part of overall marketing (and, that’s why the industry trades owe it to agencies large and small to level the playing field).

  3. agreed – it’s a double edged sword. you can get an award for one campaign for a client while leaving another client whose campaigns may not be yielding the same results feeling neglected. do you offer those neglected clients a discount?
    we hear this all the time from clients and prospects in advertising and pr.
    ‘the agency is more focused on their reel and building their portfolio then they are servicing their clients.’
    for whatever reason, most clients would prefer that you focus on their business then promoting the work you do for/with them.
    it would be interesting to poll clients on this topic to get their response. they pay us to promote their products and/or services; not the reverse.

  4. That was “lunchboy’s friend” not the real lunchboy, Rep.
    I do agree with some of what “my friend” has offered though.
    I also see your point about the imbalance.
    However, I still feel stongly that there is too much emphasis put on awards. I understand how they can help bolster Stacy’s resume (i hope her employer isn’t reading this blog), and it could help Peppercom move the needle in new business pitches. But, I also think that if an agency has a great new pitch (but zero awards), a prospect isn’t necessarily going to side with another firm that has won awards just because they’ve done it before. That is about as vanilla as you can get.
    Keeping your clients happy is priority numero uno – we all know that. If that includes a Silver Anvil at the end of a year, all the better…but I’m still siding with the strength references and word-of-mouth offer to the new business dance.

  5. Lunchboy: You are correct. Peppercom has won both small and mid-sized agency of the year. I’m talking about the scores of other categories such as ‘best product launch of the year,’ etc. That’s where the imbalance exists.

  6. steve, pepper.com won small agency of the year, no? so they do have a category that fits the size of agency…
    for campaigns it comes down the ideas… granted the percentages weigh in the big agencies favor. such is life unfortunately. the media as a whole is always going to pay attention to the big guys to cater to their readership. that said, if you have an issue with nominations, you should take the judges – your peers – to task. they are the ones with the vote, no?

  7. Interesting post, RepMan–and I couldn’t agree more. I also think there should be separate corporate awards and pricing for those in-house folks who don’t have large enough budgets for agency support. My department has two former agency pros, myself included, who are familiar with the awards process. So, we decided to enter one of our campaigns last year. We came “close” to getting a nomination–or so they say–but not close enough to compete with the Fleishman and Burson machines.
    Many corporate communications departments put out stellar work with very limited resources. To your point, I think these awards would help establish credibility among their internal audiences…and they look good on the resume!

  8. Or how about just a limit in general. It’s always funny when one large agency has three of five finalist spots. If any agency wants to submit more than one for a category, they go in through the client side, especially if the client is paying. Just a thought.

  9. I appreciate the thought, Lunchboy. Awards are critical to establishing credibility, especially for small or newly-created firms. Our first Silver Anvil put Peppercom on the map. It’s my belief that The Holmes Report, PR Week, etc., should base the awards’ submission fees on agency billings. Why should Hill & Knowlton get away with paying the same fee as The Dick & Jane Agency? It’s absurd when one thinks about it. Sadly, the media properties rely on these awards programs for revenues and they need the 60-plus submissions they receive from the big agencies. If the fees were scaled, the large firms would submit fewer entries, leading to a more level playing field for the industry but, alas, less revenue for PR News and their lot. So, why, Lunchboy, aren’t more people discussing this obvious inequity?

  10. Why not boycott the awards all together then? Have all of the small and mid-sized agencies join your revolt. Tall task for sure, but at least three things will happen: the publishers and editors at PR Week and the like will notice that only a few agencies are winning, attending the events and filling their pockets with submission money. They will be forced to make a change. And, I guess a by-product would be that you’re able to concentrate your efforts on continued momentum for your clients’ campaigns and keep your best ideas close to the vest.
    Sure, awards are great and it’s a boost for morale when one is won…but really, why are they needed? I don’t see them doing much for actually winning new business.
    It’s my humble opinion that word of mouth and client references offer the most amount of interest/prestige/leads amongst marketers and communicators.
    But, again, my specialty is recommending tasty lunches…