Dirty Pool

November 16 - awards I've had the opportunity to judge everything from the Silver Anvils and CIPRAs to the PR Week and Big Apple industry awards. And, while I'm honored to be asked, I have to tell you something: the industry awards programs are badly broken.

They're broken in one, fundamental way: big agencies are allowed to submit as many entries per category as they choose. They pay the same amount per entry as does a small, two-person start-up. And, that's unfair.

Let me cite specifics. I'm currently judging the 'digital/social media' category for one of these awards' programs. If you can believe it, there are no fewer than 75 separate entries for one award! To begin with, that's absurd. Who wants to pay serious money for a one-in-75 chance?

But, here's the real issue. Right alongside 11 (yes, 11!) entries from the world's largest public relations firm is one from a start-up I've never heard of. And, a panel that includes me, and probably four or five other time-pressured judges, has to choose the best. What are the odds the start-up will win?

I've actually tallied up the entries. Of the 75 in total, no fewer than 37 come from the top 10 agencies. Talk about unfair competition! Nearly 50 percent of the digital/social media category entries come from four or five PR firms.

So, here's a question to the powers that be at these awards' shows: why don't you price the entry fees by the size of the agency? Instead of charging every agency $375 per submission, why not charge the Webers, Fleishmans and Ketchums double or triple the fee? They're probably a hundred times larger than some of the other competitors.

If the media properties did so, it would lessen the deluge from the largest firms, level the playing field and, probably, raise even more money for their cash-starved coffers.

I'm amazed more small and midsized agencies don't complain about this obvious inequity. It's dirty pool.

7 thoughts on “Dirty Pool

  1. I applaud your approach, Derek. As someone who has judged all the major awards programs, I can assure you Edelman is unique in the large agency world with its one entry per category approach. As I mentioned in the original blog, one of your largest competitors submitted 11 separate entries in a single category. That’s obscene. And, I’ve attended any number of awards shows in which four of the five finalists in a given category are, indeed, from the very same agency. Good luck to you and Edelman as well.

  2. Steve — Edelman generally only submits one entry per category. We avoid competing with ourselves and between our clients.
    Our approach is to put forward the program most likely (based on nucances of whatever award program it is) to be nominated in that category.
    On some, rare, occassions we do submit two client programs in the same category, it is because we/our clients feel that both deserve to be nominated.
    I certainly haven’t studied the award programs, but I suspect we’ll find that few agencies have multiple nominations in the same category.
    Good luck to Peppercom in this yr’s award seasons

  3. I agree and have been complaining about this in Los Angeles myself. I don’t think that the Holmes Report agrees. Big agencies can afford to enter more and have way more money to spend to make a great campaign impression than small ones.
    The Holmes Report Blog: Steve Cody Wants the Big Agencies to Subsidize His Award Entries http://bit.ly/6Wr5y6

  4. An excellent suggestion Greg. Or, as I suggested in the original blog, these programs can simply follow the lead of the Council of PR Firms, which has tiered pricing based upon an agency’s billings. It’s simple and it’s fair.

  5. Thanks Julie. The awards’ programs should follow the lead of the NCAA. They have divisions separating the large, medium and smaller-sized schools. It obviously would be unfair to pit Florida against Colby College, for example (with no offense intended towards you Colby types). Same thing holds true in PR. Put the big agencies and their multiple entries in one category, the medium-sized ones like P’com in another and the boutiques in a third. It’s disheartening to sit at these awards’ show, watch a slide pop up on the screen listing four finalists and see one, large agency with three of the four nominated programs. Leveling the playing field makes more sense than ever considering the recession.

  6. To help reduce the number of entries in a particular category, yet increase revenues for the organization, why not stagger the entry fees? First entry could be $375, then double that amount for the second entry and triple for the third. Submitting multiple eentries may increase an agency’s chances of winning, but they will certainly have to pay the price. Perhaps the increase will help deter the practice.

  7. Steve – could not agree with you more… In addition to the excellent points you make, I also find that more and more awards are being “manufactured” by organizations as a key way to increase revenue. However, the more awards there are, the less valuable they become.