Collect Testimonials, Not Awards

by | Jan 12, 2016 | 0 comments

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Everyone loves awards don’t they. I suspect they’re something really deep seated in our minds, things that go right back to our childhood. The western education system is typically based around grading and ranking people based on their work, often with extra awards for those coming top of the class. At the same time, this was happening outside of the classroom too. Just look at school sports day, full of events that ranked people against each other and declared who the winners were. My school even had a special award for the winner of the most races, pretentiously named in Latin the Vitor Ludorum.

Move then into the world of work, and an entire industry has sprung up around all of this. Especially if you’re working in the fields of marketing, PR, communications or digital, there are tons of different awards you can win for your work or the work of your team. People get really, really into them too, agencies proudly displaying their awards on their website online and in their offices offline.

The thing is, awards are very often completely pointless, and even the enemy of agility.

To look first at how they’re pointless, you just need to notice two things. First, they’re often a money making scheme. The company running the awards charges sponsors to have their brands associated with the award, charges nominees to attend the awards ceremony itself, even sometimes charging nominees just to enter the awards. The most ridiculous instance of this happened to me earlier in 2015, when I got a message on Linkedin saying my experience and industry profile made me eligible to judge some awards. In return for me paying hundreds of pounds to them for the ‘privilege’ of being a judge. Wow.

The second issue with awards being pointless is that they’re very often based on the personal opinion of the judges, rather than the concrete data around how the award winning activity actually performed. You see this especially in minor awards like ‘Campaign Of The Week’ in various online publications. If the campaign’s just launched that week, how do you know if it’s achieving its objectives or not? If you can’t know, then how can it win an award?

A lot of this comes back to the old problem marketing and PR industries have long had, that you haven’t had access to the data that tells you in great detail how the campaign has performed. So without the data, it becomes much easier to justify awards based on personal opinion. After all, what else have you got to judge them on?

Now though, thanks to digital you do have the data, down to the finest level of detail. You could compare exactly which campaigns, which websites, which projects have performed better than others, and give awards based on hard data. If you want to take an agile approach to your work, you need to start prioritising actual evidence over personal opinion, continually testing and learning, following actual rather than imagined success. Awards based on personal opinion add nothing to this requirement, and so can actually harm agility.

If you think about it too, awards also risk breaking the part of the agile manifesto, which prioritises:

“Customer collaboration over contract negotiation”

Awards often become a contractual thing. You fill in comprehensive amounts of documentation to win them, trying to second guess how you think the judging panel will think before submitting your written proposal to them. In addition, especially in the worlds of marketing and PR, it’s usually the agencies that win the awards rather than the agencies’ customers. Hardly a collaborative approach with your customers.

So then, if awards are generally meaningless money making schemes that harm agile principles like evidence based evaluation and customer collaboration, what should we be doing instead?

Well, the first thing to my mind is to focus on something far more agile than industry awards; customer testimonials.

If a customer gives you a testimonial, it means they’re willing to make a public statement as to how good you are at your work. So a testimonial becomes something collaborative you create with your customer, and is something that likely encourages you to collaborate with them more too, in order to get the testimonial. It’s also an award you share, rather than an award you win ‘on behalf of’ of your customer. Both of your names appear within it, and it’s a sign of a great and happy working relationship between two parties.

There are two others things you can do too. The first is to step outside of this whole award industry and its associated scams, refuse to take part in any of it. The second is focus on getting great testimonials from clients instead.

As a result, Bunny Picnic will never enter awards, but will instead always seek to gain honest, evidence based testimonials through collaborating with customers.

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About The Author

Gez Smith is an agile communications coach, trainer, author and speaker, and is also the author of ‘Agile Marketing: The Incomplete Guide‘.