A systemic problem with a ready-made answer


Every spring, I think of three things:

– Flora, Fauna and Merryweather (inside joke for you Disney cartoon aficionados)

– The Chicago Cubs futile pursuit of a World Series title

– The travesty that is the PR industry awards programs

I was reminded of the latter when a friend posted a FB pic of her happily judging the Silver Anvil awards. After complimenting her on her provocative, new eyeglasses, I asked if the categories she judged were, once again, dominated by entries from two or three large agencies.

She replied with a resounding “Yes!” and went on to add that one category she judged contained 18 entries, 15 of which came from global powerhouses.

That’s par for the course, whether the awards’ sponsor is the PRSA (@PRSA), PR Week (@PRWeekUS), The Holmes Report (@holmesreport) or PR News (@prnews).

The categories are ALWAYS dominated by the aircraft carriers because each program charges the same price for a single entry (typically in the neighborhood of $895 a pop).

That sort of loot is a mere drop in the bucket for, say, an Edelman, FH or Weber Shandwick. And so, they flood each, and every, category with five, six or more entries.

But, that same $895 puts a real dent in a midsized agency’s annual marketing budget.  As a result, firms such as mine are limited to only submitting three or four entries to each program. And for most small firms, the cost is simply prohibitive to submit anything at all.

The end result is an uneven playing field that favors the big guys at the expense of the small (something that would absolutely burn the Bern).

I’m not suggesting the judges aren’t completely objective in their assessments of each entry, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if, say, Ketchum has submitted eight entries while Burson has sent six, and all 14 are in the very same category, the odds are pretty good one of them will win.

Indeed, I’ve attended countless awards shows in which three of the five finalists were all from the same agency. That’s criminal.

But, it could be easily adjusted with tiered pricing:

– Charge small firms $100 per entry

– Make Peppercomm-type midsized agencies pay $500

– And continue to force the big boats to fork over $895

The result would be far more entries from a wider cross section of agencies. Ah, but that will never happen.

Why? Economics, that’s why. The industry organizations and media properties make a mint on the money pouring in from the large agencies. And once a large agency is told it has 27 finalists in the big show, they’ll go ahead and purchase 15 tables at a cool $10,000 a pop. That’s big, big bucks for a small trade publication.

As for the big agencies, they live, eat and breathe winning awards, and will stock their lobbies with enough faux gold and silver trophies to make the guards at Fort Knox jealous.

And, so, like the daffodils in spring, the PR industry awards programs have the same look, smell and taste of the year before.

It’s really a shame that, say, the PR Council doesn’t step-in and suggest changes to the broken awards’ system. In fact, they’d be best qualified to do so since the Council charges fees based upon the billings of a member agency.

I hope to live long enough to see this systemic problem fixed. I also hope to live to see the Cubbies finally win a World Series. Alas, I fear I’ll be pushing up daisies before either occurs.



One thought on “A systemic problem with a ready-made answer

  1. Hear, hear. I like the tiered pricing idea.

    Or, at the very least, could the trade pubs/awards organizers announce something along the lines of, “Congrats to ‘Global Powerhouse PR Firm’ on its Three Silver Anvils. Out of 27 entries, you and your teams should be proud knowing that you’re taking home the Anvil 11 percent of the time!”