The season is here. From the world of entertainment to advertising as well as the media, even communities and professional associations, the common song in the last two months of the year is celebrating those they feel should be applauded for performing exceptionally in the last 12 months or so.
Most times it is just a two or three hour event, sometimes it can be quite an elaborate ceremony. They could even be packaged as conferences or festivals that can last beyond one day, culminating into the presentation of various awards, titles or prizes to deserving selected individuals and organizations identified by the organizers.
Few organizers prefer theirs to spill into the first quarter of the new year. These awards are usually tagged or named to reflect the areas the organizers perceive that success have been achieved, while plaques and/or certificates are usually given out as commemorative items that the recipients can keep.
Even with the ravishing whirlwind of COVID-19 this year, many institutions and organisations have refused to relegate their yearly award or recognition progamme to the background. Virtual awards have become quite popular lately with safety provisions like social distancing built in to protect attendees. Most times the plaques are placed at the podium for recipients to pick by themselves. Offering a hug or congratulatory handshake, which has been an ageless convention during awards, is carefully eliminated.
In some countries, there are national awards in virtually every sector imaginable, organized by Stakeholders within each industry. Some of them may be inspired by the successes of some similar foreign ones, while some are organized just for increased relevance or visibility of the sector. For instance in the world of advertising in Nigeria, there is a melting-pot for clients, agencies and creative minds where they all gather most December to celebrate the very best in Nigeria’s creative industry. It is called The LAIF (Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival) awards. In virtually every country with a vibrant creative industry, there is an equivalent of LAIF that brings practitioners together at least once a year.
With competition getting more intense in the marketplace, brand owners and multinationals are always eager to use any yardstick to stand out of the crowd. Sometimes it can be a respected award or recognition platform. This also explains why sometimes, awards assume a larger than life image among players.
The question in the minds of most curious observers is: how does the simple handing out of some metals over bottles of drinks or dinner plates, plus a pat on the back via some ego- massaging citations translate into an instrument of growth?
Carl Louw, former Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Telesure Group in Johannesburg, South Africa, had some explanations for this a few years ago. According to him, “ awards are important because they provide a platform for reviews and inspiration, an opportunity to analyse what has worked and to identify trends. When viewed from this standpoint, one might argue that awards are essential because they become the impetus to better work”.
Even beyond the area of sharing knowledge, research reveals that recognition of an organisation or individual has some impact on performance and level of productivity. Motivational theorists have also confirmed that financial rewards alone cannot retain employees, rather a more rounded reward and compensation system that includes the recognition of outstanding efforts is recommended.
Studies conducted on award and recognition indicate that there is a strong correlation between the two in the sense that award/recognition for good work can increase work performance.
A key focus of recognition and award is to make individuals feel appreciated and valued. Research has also proven that people who get recognized, and rewarded for their good works tend to have higher self-esteem, more confidence, increased willingness to take on new challenges and greater eagerness for hard work and innovations.
Jonathan Stilwell, a respected copywriter who has worked in many of South Africa’s top agencies for over 16 years and has won awards at Cannes Lions, Clio, and The Loeries said, “The folks sitting behind PCs in the open plan section of an agency are often not the obvious mouthpiece. They rely on their work to do the talking. They aren’t usually compelling orators or powerful PowerPoint presenters. Their TV, radio and print ads, logo and website designs, billboard headlines, events and promotional campaigns need to stand up and speak on their behalf. They rely entirely on the creativity, the relevance and the straight up quality of their work to do the talking. It is the way they express themselves because they are usually found behind the scenes”.
Just like individuals, the feeling is virtually the same for companies too. Sam Osunsoko, who had worked for many years at Insight Communications, one of Nigeria’s most decorated agencies in the last three decades revealed that each award experience has always been very mind-blowing. He said “Every endorsement, be it from the industry, stakeholders, brands or consumers is always a way to discourage us from resting on our oars. It is like a tonic to do greater works. But more importantly, we believe that great power comes with great responsibility. As an organisation, we saw each award then as a call to higher responsibilities. The key responsibility is to create more frontiers and raise the bar. ”
But can all awards inspire performance equally? Richard Human, one time CEO of Lories believes it is most unlikely. “If everyone leaves a winner then what standard has been set?’ he questioned. “At the Loeries then, around 90% of entries go home empty handed – this is a very high standard and it is tough – but this is what makes winning a Loerie so desirable”.
Human goes further to highlight what he believes the qualities an impactful award should have. “Firstly, I think that an award system must have a rigorous and transparent judging process and criteria. Secondly, it is very important that the judges are esteemed individuals whose opinions are respected in the industry. And lastly, the standard of the awards must be high enough so that there is a real meaning of achievement in the award”
Although he had earlier stated many positive contributions industry awards have on the marketing world, Carl Louw, former Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Telesure Group, is somewhat uncomfortable with the increasing trend of razzmatazz surrounding industry awards. In Louw’s opinion, “If we look at awards in advertising and other related areas, the entries themselves are usually quite expensive and a large amount of agency time is invested in creating these entries. Some agencies even create unpaid-for-work with the sole purpose of winning awards. To those outside of the industry, the fanfare around results can seem a little bit self-indulgent and they take the focus away from what really matters – the client’s objectives and bottom line. Winning awards should never be the end goal; it should be creating hard-working campaigns that build brands. Delivering work that helps solve the client’s real-world issues and growing their business by putting their brand top -of- mind is the goal. This requires a clever mix of the creative ingenuity that wins awards and the business acumen that moves brands forward”.
While most international awards have made effort both in elevating industry reputation/ standard and weaving a real aura of a knowledge centre around their programmes with seminars and workshops, some awards festivals organized by stakeholders in Nigeria and many other West African countries are still grappling with the basics.
With increased awareness that motivation comes more from the credibility and transparency of an award rather than the pomp and splendor, we hope Nigeria will begin to see more high-profile recognition projects that would attract respect globally. For now, let’s celebrate with all those recognized in this COVID-19 rough -and- tumble season, as we hope for fewer distractions in 2021.
Ntia, Usukuma I.