Is it Time to Create Real Awards for Our Industry?
Is anybody else completely turned off by awards that reward advertisers and clients? As a journalist, my in-box is overloaded with template-like announcements about technology awards from trade magazines. Talk about meaningless PR!
These awards really seem to be about magazines building and retaining a customer base at the expense of editorial integrity. For years I've tried to see the value in them, but I've come to the conclusion that the only value is for magazine publishers.
Why would a true technology leader pay a fee for an awards entry when winners are predetermined by a magazine's customer base? If you're a sales and marketing professional, these awards might mean something to your marketing effort. But, if you're an engineer, do you really care which AOI vendor takes home a magazine's trumped-up technology or service award?
"Trumped-up" too strong a term for you? Well look at this: One magazine's service award explains, "Online responses are collected from a list of customers you provide to determine your company's level of customer satisfaction in various categories." You provide? Why not ask a random group of customers? If I were entering, I'd submit my best and happiest customers to ensure a great chance of victory. And, then, I'd buy an ad to ensure I'd win a tie, but that's just me.
Another publication blows my mind with its awards. It charges applicants $500 per category to submit applications to "independent judges" who remain nameless on their Web site. Don't applicants deserve to know who is judging them? What's worse, year after year the list of winners is dominated by companies whose PR is handled by--believe it or not--the publisher's wife! What kind of message does that send to the industry? And are readers aware of this as they read press release after press release about winning a supposedly prestigious award?
Don't take my word for it--check out the applications on various magazine sites. A $500 fee per entry seems to be the standard to join the game. And check out the paperwork--one magazine asks you to download a form that's not unlike a college scholarship application: "How does this product/service meet a significant industry challenge?" And here's the kicker, "Products introduced or significantly upgraded/changed in the last 36 months are eligible..."The last three years? That's the best we can do when awarding visionary products?
Being employed by a leading industry publication, I'd be an idiot to imply trade magazines fail to play an important role in our industry. But I've held my tongue for years as magazines increase their revenue streams with awards that are mainly meaningless. I would hope our publication could, one day, come up with an industry award that raises the bar (which is why we haven't been "me too" on award presentations). It has to be something of value to readers--not advertisers.
While I know award producers and winners might not be thrilled with my opinion, I'd really like to hear from engineers for your perspective on these awards. Because, in the end, you deliver awards whenever you sign a purchase order.
Editor's Note: Since publishing this opinion piece, it has been brought to my attention that judges are kept anonymous to keep entrants from contacting them. While I agree this decreases lobbying judges beforehand, perhaps it would be enlightening for both entrants and readers to learn the identities of the judges after the awards are given.
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