Agency awards – is the juice worth the squeeze?

8 min read by James Bavington 30 Mar 2023

Agency Awards

Originally published on The Drum: our CXO James Bavington tells agencies to not sleep on awards ceremonies, and comes up with seven key ways that entering awards can increase camaraderie beyond pixels and performance.

In the final year of my design degree, our tutors selected a project from the D&AD’s New Blood awards category to try our hand at real-world creative challenges set by aspirational brands. Our lecturers continually drilled into us the prestige and illustrious career awaiting any student that won a coveted D&AD Yellow Pencil. Bar set, challenge accepted. Despite being shortlisted for my work, my excitement and aspiration was short lived as the now all-too-familiar disappointment ensued when somebody else’s name was announced.

But aside from the acidic feelings of rejection and disappointment: what other factors prevent organisations putting their work up for industry review?

Reasons why businesses don’t enter awards

Over the years, I’ve come across numerous articles and tweets, and had lively real-life conversations with fellow creatives, marketers and techs, who simply ‘don’t enter awards’. Here’s just some of the reasons why:

  • Not every agency enters, so how can the winner be the best?
  • Judges can be acquainted with the entrants and reward their friends
  • It’s a huge expense to not only enter but attend the ceremony
  • You never get to understand why a particular entry won
  • Larger agencies and client brands stand out, we can’t compete
  • Nobody sees our participation or the plastic award gathering dust
  • Not winning is disappointing and demotivating for the team

I can understand and entertain any of these objections, but over the last few years as an agency leader, I’ve learned just how valuable awards can be for agencies. Through building an exceptional team and business – our agency has been blessed with some brilliant award wins, and it’s easy to overlook the business impact of our efforts:

  1. Awards support your recruitment proposition
    It’s no secret that agencies are generalised as not having the best working conditions. In my experience, creatives, developers and marketers want to work with great clients alongside talented people that they can learn from. Agencies that win awards demonstrate an opportunity to work on exciting projects with experienced mentors.
  2. Awards nurture individual and teams
    As a practitioner – winning an accolade for your career journey or a client project is huge. Validation from industry peers for something you or a team have been a part of takes you from the internal echo chamber and takes it to another level. I’ll never tire of seeing a colleague share their award-night achievements on their personal social media, or confidently build on their work afterwards: whether that’s turning their results into an industry talk, webinar or conference. From writing and submitting to being shortlisted and attending the ceremony itself, the whole process creates a camaraderie beyond pixels or performance.

Shortly after winning DotDigital’s Marketer of the Year Award in 2022, StrategiQ’s Lauren Boyton (nee Oliver) has gone on to develop our agency partnership with Dotdigital and become a member of the MailChimp advisory board. Lauren was unknowingly entered for the category by her colleagues and the delight clearly shows.

  1. Awards develop industry partnerships
    Agency partnerships are reciprocal – in exchange for great services or tools, you work together to win clients, push creativity and drive results. Award nominations and wins that leverage partners can forge even stronger relationships, spawn joint case studies and reaffirm the ability of your agency for new business referrals.
  2. Awards enhance your case studies
    When crafting a case study, I draw parallels with the awards writing process. You clearly state the brief and objectives, you embellish your strategy and creativity, highlight the results and tie the impact back to the objectives. Hallmarking a case study with an award shortlisting/win adds an additional layer of social proof. An independent panel of respected industry peers have collectively decided that your work is the best – and used subtly, enhances a case study.
  3. Awards support your passive agency reputation
    Sharing your agency’s journey on social media can sometimes feel like activity falling on deaf ears. But along with your website and other marketing activity, sharing awards success on social media is passively seen by a large, hidden audience of new and existing clients and talent. I’m continually astounded during interviews and new business calls how many people notice and comment on the activity. Award accolades make it easier to confidently charge for work; they also show that you’re an established team that knows how to deliver great work to tight deadlines.
  4. Awards attract new business opportunities
    The commercial and marketing advantage of the awards process is obvious. The B2B process of appointing an agency presents risk to the decision makers. Awards and case studies that demonstrate you’ve done it before mitigates that risk and creates efficiency around the decision making process. An award winning agency or an award winning case study can accelerate the decision-making process and actually be the deciding factor in a tendering scenario. Moreover – CMOs frequently research, discover and approach agencies directly from reputable awards bodies.

When it comes to the question: “how did you find our agency?” – it’s often a simple answer. Awards.

I have proof!

Our agency is regularly invited to tender for opportunities that originate from our award shortlistings and wins.

  1. Awards retain and grow clients
    While awards remain at the heart of agency marketing and new business development, they can play an equal role in the retention, relationship and growth of existing clients too. An award-winning partnership makes your client look good. It validates their appointment of your agency, justifies the strategy and plays a role in building the long-term relationship.

In summary, awards can be a pivotal part in any agency’s marketing strategy. Being shortlisted or winning isn’t a given – but it’s a journey that I believe all agencies should strive to adopt, strive to perfect and develop with their teams. Walking home empty-handed from consecutive efforts can breed cynicism – but perseverance and the rewards greatly outweigh the time and cost that goes into it.

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