by Kerry Martin, APR
Managing a proactive publicity strategy can be difficult for companies whose operations don’t often make front page news with the completion of every project, addition of a new client or launch of an improved product. Servicing a client’s needs or producing a good widget isn’t newsworthy; it’s expected.
So how does one attract attention for good works in order to leverage it into positive customer communication? One approach that we take at Curley & Pynn is to garner recognition for our clients through an alternative form of third-party validation: award programs.
In some ways, winning award programs or being ranked among a group of top companies can be more beneficial to your company than a news feature. For example, you can tout the recognition all year long (as the “top business for the year”) versus having a dated article that may no longer be relevant; your award carries the credibility of a panel of judges versus one reporter needing to fill space; and, you have the absolute, quantitative proof that places you above your competitors versus having a nice story that touches on your company’s positive attributes.
Proactively Seeking Recognition
Looking for award opportunities is a part of the communications strategy for every client we have at Curley & Pynn, and for some such as the Florida High Tech Corridor Council (FHTCC), we’ve experienced major success.
As a regional economic development initiative of three educational partners (the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida), the Florida High Tech Corridor Council is one entity that fits many categories for awards and recognition programs. Our initial objective was to find a program that fit its focus of industry research collaborations driving economic development.
In 2007, FHTCC was a Leadership and Innovation finalist of the Economic Development Awards from CoreNet Global, the world’s leading association for corporate real estate and workplace professionals, service providers and economic developers. Though FHTCC didn’t win the top award, being a finalist helped elevate the organization on the international stage, and set the bar for future distinction.
Later on, we helped FHTCC enter into other competitions, such as the International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) Excellence in Economic Development Awards, and took home the top award for educational partnership. In 2010, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council was honored among a group of only four organizations nationwide for the Excellence in Technology-Based Economic Development Awards presented by the State Science and Technology Institute. Those awards reflected FHTCC’s core mission and recognized the Council for what it does best.
Seeking opportunities for awards that recognize individuals in the company is another beneficial strategy. There are numerous local and regional programs that celebrate the top CEO, CFO, COO or those that fit into other professional categories, such as women in business, rising leaders under a certain age, or accredited professionals. A number of Curley & Pynn clients have been honored among Orlando’s “40 under 40,” as “Leadership Florida’s Distinguished Member,” or as one of the “Most Influential Businessmen.”
Following our own advice, our team at Curley & Pynn also submits awards for our company through an industry program presented by the Florida Public Relations Association called the Image Awards, which recognizes public relations campaigns and tools. On the national level, we compete for the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil and Bronze Anvil, which recognize top public relations campaigns and tactics (respectively), pitting our work against that of major household brands and global agencies. Not only do these provide recognition for our firm, but also for our clients who can celebrate an award-winning aspect of their business.
Recently, Brevard Community College engaged Curley & Pynn to conduct an extensive research project to rebrand the college in light of its transition to offering four-year degrees. For the marketing team leading the research, winning the Bronze Anvil’s Award of Commendation also served as validation to the president and the college’s board members that the selection of a new name (Eastern Florida State College) was supported by an award-winning process of focus group testing, surveying and analytical research.
The Anvil and the Image Awards are examples of how companies that are in one line of business can gain recognition for certain strengths in different business functions (such as research, public relations and marketing). When searching for award programs, look for programs that honor excellence in Financial Management; Education and Training; Human Resources; Transportation, Logistics and Supply Chain Management; Environmental Practices; or many others.
A few places to seek award programs:
- Member trade organization – Look to your own industry for ways to stand out in your niche. These organizations are also likely to honor individual industry veterans or up-and-coming professionals.
- Magazines – Search industry trade publications for award programs like those above, then expand your search to general business publications. While award programs at the national level such as Fortune’s “Best Companies to Work For” may be a little lofty for a small or midsize company, look for regional or statewide magazines or even regional newspapers that hold annual recognition events. The American City Business Journals holds recognition events monthly in its more than 40 papers across the country.
- Groups that support business – This can range from your local chamber of commerce or economic development organization to a state or national organization like the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Leveraging Award Wins
If you are successful in your awards strategy, take every opportunity to blow your own horn through communication with your audiences (employees, customers, potential clients, related industry associates, etc.) to inform them about the recognition. This can be done through letters from the company’s leadership, announcing through social media, posting on the company’s website and including in an eNewsletter.
The key is to share the achievement in a way that showcases the company without coming off as self-serving. In the case of our client the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, we utilized the IEDC award win in our annual advertising campaign, using the space to thank the partners and volunteers who helped create an internationally recognized program. This ad appeared on the back cover of our annual magazine and in program booklets at tech events around the region.
Here are some points to consider when communicating about your award:
- Shine the light on the company’s people. It’s important to remember that it isn’t an inanimate company, its brand or its reputation that wins awards; it is the group of employees behind the curtain that are responsible for its success. Use any company award as an opportunity to thank your team for their hard work and dedication.
- Congratulate fellow nominees and winners. While there aren’t the same obligations as with an Oscar acceptance speech, it still allows your company to applaud the professionalism of others that were honored and recognize the caliber of companies in the running. It’s even more beneficial if you have a positive working relationship with another company that was recognized to be able to share the spotlight with a longtime client or partner.
- Ask an outside group to share the message. By having an external partner, associate or board member relate the good news about your award, you gain credibility as being recognized by an outsider, and you avoid having to pat yourself on the back. If the award is for an individual, have their supervisor tell partners in a personalized letter instead of just coming from the company. Work with your local trade organization to make the announcement, showing how your company is a shining example for the industry (if you were given the trade organization’s award, it’s likely they would have announced it in a news release already).
Though there is a considerable amount of time and effort (and sometimes financial cost) involved in submitting award nominations for your company without guaranteed results, you should think of it as no different from any other publicity effort. But if you do it right, you’ll have much more to show than a few inches of newsprint.