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Think twice about seeking awards for your agency

Most agencies love awards. Larger agencies even have teams devoted to seeking them.

In this episode, Chip and Gini discuss why the time and money spent on awards may be misplaced.

They even have a suggestion for those of you who may disagree so that you can make a more informed decision about your future investment in awards.

Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “The amount of time that I see spent wasted on awards to me is just staggering.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “I’ve never had that experience where a prospect said, gosh, you’ve won so many awards for your great work. We’ve decided that that’s why we want to work with you.”
  • Chip Griffin: “Couldn’t you spend all that time and money in some other fashion? To win better fit clients rather than hoping that someone looks through some list of award winners.”
  • Gini Dietrich: “If you stop and you look at it and you say, okay, this is how much time we spent, so that dollar amount is this, this is how much it costs, and then this is what we got in return. You’re going to find the return on investment is not there.”

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And Gini, I have an award for you today right after this.

I’m just kidding. I don’t have an award for you. Because I don’t believe in them. I think they’re kind of silly.

Gini Dietrich: Well, that’s disappointing.

Chip Griffin: End of show.

Gini Dietrich: Okay. That was fun. Nice to talk to you.

Chip Griffin: Good talking to you too. Well, I guess we probably should, you know, stretch this out a little bit and, and explain some of the rationale here for agency folks, because I know that in the agency world there is an extreme focus on awards.

For many. They seem to love the idea of getting them, touting them, promoting them. And it seems like lots and lots of people give out [00:01:00] awards for the PR community because they know people are interested. Yes. So just about every PR industry publication has their own personal set of awards that they give out.

A lot of associations have their awards. Then there are just random websites that give out awards. You never even heard of them, but you’ve heard of their awards perhaps?

Gini Dietrich: Oh, maybe we should do some awards.

Chip Griffin: That’s, I mean, why not?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. Maybe we should do this. This is a really good idea.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And the best part about a lot of these awards is that a lot of them are pay to play.

Correct. Which is a lot more fun. Yeah. Because you have to pay an application fee, Uhhuh , in order to participate in them. Okay, sure. The amount of time that I see spent wasted on awards to me is just staggering.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean, in the big agency world, we definitely did them, but there was a team that focused on it, right?

There was an admin [00:02:00] team, which is even more bonkers than that. They paid people to just go after awards. Yeah. And there who were not billable, who do not do client work, they were admin only.

Chip Griffin: And a lot of these award submission forms are, I mean, they’re almost at the RFP level with the level of detail that some of them request, which is bonkers.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, it’s, I agree with you. I think it’s a big waste of time. I will say that when several years ago I had a managing director who was wonderful and probably one of the, the best employees I’ve ever had, and she would say to me, but Gini, this is where clients learn about agencies that they’ve never heard of.

And I was like, okay, great, but we’re doing fine. We were doing 3 million in revenue at that time. Like we didn’t really need to go after awards so the bigger companies could find us. And, but that was her argument was we should be doing awards and we should be doing all these things and you know, get on the list and all that.

Because that’s where the big companies go to [00:03:00] look for agencies that they’ve never heard of.

Chip Griffin: Doubt that. But let’s, for the sake of argument, say that that’s true. The big companies look through lists of award winners because it’s, it’s certainly not when they’re actually at the event. Because if they’re at the events, they’re busy, they’re having a few tipples and not sure really paying attention to anything.

Yep. So let’s assume that they actually do look up these lists. Is that really how you want to just focus your business development efforts? Couldn’t you spend all that time and money in some other fashion? To win better fit clients than hoping that someone looks through some list of award winners. Yes.


Gini Dietrich: Yes. And you know, since I have had that debate with her, things have become much more important from our perspective, blogging, social media, search engine optimization, those things are far more effective. And so that’s where we spend our time is on those kinds of things because that’s what drives our new business [00:04:00] inquiries and really qualified leads versus you’re right.

So waiting for somebody to pick up PR Week and looking through the list of the top 10 small agencies in Chicago to decide who they’re gonna call to issue an RFP and go through that process. And as we discuss, we don’t like that process either, so no thanks.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and, and I had to be honest, I mean, in 30 years of working in and around the agency community, owning my own, being a senior executive in larger ones,

I can’t think of a single instance where I had a prospect reference awards. Much less say, I came to you because you won such and such an award.

Gini Dietrich: Right. They come to you because of a client you’ve worked with, the industry you’ve worked in, because you show up first in search.

Really. I mean, there, there are other reasons that they come to you and it, I’ve never had that experience either where they said, gosh, you’ve won so many awards for [00:05:00] your great work. We’ve decided that that’s why we wanna work with you. Ever, never has that happened.

Chip Griffin: I would also challenge most folks to look at these lists of award winners and ask yourself, is this really the best of best in whatever category it is that you haven’t heard, or is it just the best amongst the entries that they happen to receive. Of course, it’s just the best amongst the entries they happen to receive because they don’t look outside of that. Right. And if you didn’t pay to play and you didn’t fill out the application, you’re not even considered. But even within that, I know of particular instances where awards were given, not because it was even necessarily the best of the entries received, but because it fit the, the narrative that the organization was looking for at that particular time.

Right, because there is an element, if we’re putting these out as our award winners, we may want to be sending certain messages that we like this practice or that practice, or you know, we have this belief or that belief or you know, all of the different things that any organization [00:06:00] does. They use awards to help shape that.

And so that may mean that even amongst the submitted entries, it may not truly be the objective best.

Gini Dietrich: And it’s so subjective, right? Because you have people who are judges who are judging. You know, depending on what they find valuable or interesting, like, I remember judging some PRSA awards and there were a group of us, I think four or five of us that we, all we cared about was results.

And if, if the application said that the results were media impressions and advertising equivalencies, we just tossed it. We didn’t even look at it. And so you got down to the one or two that did something actually measurable and whether or not the, the results that they had on there translated to something that was business success. We couldn’t tell Right. But they were the best of the, they didn’t focus just on media impressions and advertising equivalencies. They focused on things that were more meaningful to an organization. But that’s not to say that they were more successful than the others. We just, we just kept tossing the ones because it was, [00:07:00] I mean, truthfully, it’s easier when you’re going through thousands of entries to find reasons to, you know, get rid of some of the applications that don’t fit sort of your criteria.

But is that fair? Maybe, maybe not.

Chip Griffin: Right? Yeah. And, and, and you and I have both served as judges for various awards. And as you, as you go through them, you don’t have a lot of time to spend on, it’s a volunteer role, right? Typically. Right. Very rarely are the judges being paid for their time to evaluate these things.

You’re doing it as a favor for someone else or because of some role you may have with an organization, so you’re not giving it a lot of time. Typically, you don’t have the opportunity to ask any questions, so you’re just… whatever is submitted is what you have to make your best judgment off of, which is not truly how anyone would really evaluate the quality of a particular campaign, project, or other kind of work. You need to, to get more information in order to, to make a truly fair judgment.

So if, if the process doesn’t make sense, [00:08:00] why are so many people spending time and money on it? I mean, is it, is it just because they think that it might help them. I mean, is it really just that simple and, and nobody bothers to ever step back and look at it. Because I, I, I really scratch my head a lot at how much time and energy and focus is put on awards for very little, if any, payoff.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s, it’s rampant through our entire culture, our entire society, right? I mean, you have the Oscars, you have the Grammys, you like when you are at the top of your field, you are given an award. And so I think that that is really, it permeates through everything that we do. If you know it, even when we were kids we were given awards for doing certain things, winning the spelling bee, winning debate club, you know, whatever happened to be, you can tell I’m a nerd. But you know, like it, we, we’ve always been given awards and so it, it permeates through everything. But you’re absolutely right if you stop [00:09:00] and it, it’s the same thing with RFPs too.

If you stop and you look at it and you say, okay, this is how much time we spent, so that dollar amount is this, this is how much it costs, and then this is what we got in return. You’re going to find the return on investment is not there. And so you have to really look at it critically from that perspective to understand is this something that we should do or not?

Chip Griffin: Not.

Gini Dietrich: The end.

Chip Griffin: You know? I mean, I just…it’s really just, it’s, it’s hard for me to fathom because there are a lot of really smart people who spend time on this. And they go out, they seek to win the awards, then they put out a press release. Who cares? Because nobody, frankly, most of your prospects haven’t even heard of the awards that you’re winning.

They may not have ever heard of the publication or the organization that’s giving it out. [00:10:00] I mean, you might as well just start your own organization and give yourself some awards. It probably has the same level of impact on people and it’d be a lot easier to do.

Gini Dietrich: I’m gonna start giving my, I’m gonna start giving you awards. This’ll be fun.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I, I don’t, I don’t think I would want those awards. I can’t imagine what they would be for, and, yeah.

If an agency owner comes to you and says, Hey, you know, what award should I apply for? Do you just straight up tell ’em none?

Gini Dietrich: I do. Yes. And I do the same thing with RFPs and I, they, they argue with me and I’m like, oh, okay. Like it’s not my time or money that you’re spending. Like if you’re going to do it, do it.

I’m telling you why I don’t think you should. But if that’s what you wanna do, and that’s where you wanna spend your time and your resources, by all means. And then inevitably, you know, several months later you’ll have the conversation. You were [00:11:00] right. And I’m like, I know. But like really and truly, I, it it, this is one of those things that it’s not worth the investment because if you are getting a ton of new business from it, then yes, but I guarantee you’re not getting that much business from it.

Chip Griffin: I would say any business from it. I mean..

Gini Dietrich: Probably, yeah.

Chip Griffin: So here would be my you know, if you are a skeptic of our viewpoint, my suggestion to you is this, sit down and make a list of all of the clients who came to you and didn’t say it was because of an award, but merely referenced the fact that you had won any award.

So just make a list of, of any of your, your current clients who referenced an award during the, the business development process. My guess is there’s gonna be nothing on that list, but let’s say that you think maybe possibly one of the clients did. Either way. Now start more actively tracking it [00:12:00] going forward.

Maybe add a field to your beloved CRM. Yeah, or your spreadsheet or the napkin on which you track your new business process. Whatever you’re using. Make a note every single time someone brings up an award, not when you mention it to them. Not when you show them the beautiful deck in your, your, your slide, in your creds deck that has a pretty picture of the award or the organization logo, but someone actually brings it up to you.

Make a list every single time that happens. Check back in six months. See how long that list is. Maybe we’re wrong. Maybe for you, maybe in the niche that you’re in, it really matters. But again, in 30 years, I have not seen it to be a factor. At all.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, same for me. Not at all.

Chip Griffin: And so I would argue that spending even an hour on it is a waste of time.

Gini Dietrich: Yep, totally.

Chip Griffin: And instead, you should spend that hour talking to someone, going somewhere, sending an email. Yep. [00:13:00] Totally. Totally. Connecting to someone on LinkedIn. Anything, yes. Would be more valuable than that.

Gini Dietrich: Yes. Write some content. Use the LinkedIn newsletter to drive. Referrals. Like there’s a lot of things that you can do in that hour that will, that will actually contribute to the success of your agency.

Chip Griffin: Or go take a nap so that you’re more refreshed for whatever you’re doing next.

Gini Dietrich: I mean, go take a nap.

Chip Griffin: I mean, I, I think that would be at least as useful as spending time searching for and applying for an award that nobody has ever heard of.

Gini Dietrich: Yes, 100% agree with you. The end.

Chip Griffin: The end. We’ll give ourselves an award for staying under 15 minutes for this episode.

Gini Dietrich: Wow. Look at us.

Chip Griffin: See?

Gini Dietrich: Yep. It’s an easy one.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, it’s an easy one. It’s a layup. And we didn’t have to, we didn’t have to pay for the award. We did not, we didn’t have to fill out an application. It took us a little time to do it, but you know what? I [00:14:00] think, you know, maybe we’ll throw a little, little award graphic in the post for this episode so that we can say episode under 15 minutes.

Gini Dietrich: I love it. Perfect. That’s perfect.

Chip Griffin: So with that, we will draw this to a close. Go find something better to do with your time than focusing on awards. This ends this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends – except when it comes to awards and RFPs.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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