Like them or loathe them, awards are an inescapable part of life in most agencies. But are they really worth the marketing investment?
We put the question to 16 of the UK’s leading agencies as part of our Good Agency Marketing study, and the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.
Here’s how creative teams across the country are using awards strategies to drive growth, reposition their businesses, and build employee and client engagement.
Awards for agency growth
Digital and web agency Yoyo are a poster child for the way that awards can benefit agencies – helping them to shift the marketing culture within their team, build awareness of their work and step up their business growth.
Initially, says Managing Director Jenny Kitchen, Yoyo’s marketing activity was limited to improving their website, sending newsletters and ad hoc social activity.
“Then we got our intern, who was with us for about two and a half years. She was fantastic but didn’t have a marketing strategy background and was focused on just getting stuff out the door”, says Jenny. “That meant lots of award submissions, managing our social media, writing case studies. Nothing particularly sophisticated, but it meant someone was there creating noise around Yoyo that we just didn’t have before. That was brilliant – the next stage up.”
The awareness this generated around the agency in turn prompted them to employ a full-time marketing manager.
“This enabled us to go for the RAR awards and other things which not only elevated our position in the market, but also internally. We’d always been quite inward-focused and, suddenly, I was able to say to the team, ‘Hey, look, we’re number one in the UK for customer satisfaction,’ or, ‘Hey, we’re number one design agency in the UK’,” says Jenny.
“This created quite a buzz around Yoyo and it felt like there was momentum building. People were talking about us in a positive way whereas, before, we were head-down and no one really knew about us.”
Yoyo’s decision to delegate their award entries to junior staff is something we saw across the agencies we spoke to – suggesting awards are a low-cost marketing tactic with a massive potential upside.
Awards for agency repositioning
Jenny’s team weren’t alone in citing awards as a major factor in their growth as an agency.
For B2B specialists Really B2B, the interest generated by award wins helped spur the creation of a new agency outside their parent business MarketMakers. Marketing Director Gemma Roalf. explains:
“We were born out of the fact that a lot of the telemarketing clients [at MarketMakers] were asking for something else as well. When we first started, all we had to win clients was our sales and marketing-driven approach. We’ve always been tenacious and got out there to win business, rather than focussing on the marketing function overall.
“The step change occurred when we secured some great clients. We had a good journey with them and probably when we started winning awards for our work and we were getting noticed a lot more within the industry, that’s when we ramped up our in-house activity to make sure we were more just shouting about the awesome stuff we were doing.”
“A few years later – when we really got invested in awards from about 2012 – more and more people were coming to us having seen the great work we were doing for other people. Awards are the best kind of case study!”
Their appetite for awards remains central to Really B2B’s identity as an agency. “The more we get involved with awards, the more it helps our network. Referrals and recommendations have supercharged over the last three years via that channel.”
For Yoyo and Really B2B, award entries were used to lever business growth. Branded content agency Raw instead use them to continually reposition the agency and increase the value of the projects they take on.
“Last year, we identified awards as a tool that we could use to reposition ourselves in the sector. Before, we were winning awards for video production and standard creative,” says Founder and CEO Ryan Wilkins. “Today, we focused on those around effective content marketing and delivering results and stuff like that. We won 17 last year, which is good.”
Awards as part of the marketing mix
Award entries and wins are an important marketing KPI for Raw – as they are for the other agencies we spoke to, whose awards strategies go hand-in-hand with other tactics.
For event marketing agency Rapiergroup, award activity is used to track the business’ progress towards being a recognised thought-leader. “Our strategy for some years has been to become a leader in our industry, publishing relevant, up to date content,” says Director Rob Brazier.
“This isn’t only written content; it includes what we’re talking about and who we’re talking to as a business. We’re looking at our web stats and who’s coming in and what they’re looking at, and the extent to which we’re contacted for quotes and statements in the industry press. Our team are now being asked to be invited to judge on award panels and speak at conferences. We’re not setting ourselves a target that says we need X number of speaking slots within the industry, but we are monitoring our involvement – and that includes the awards we enter and win.”
Sheffield agency Born + Raised take a similar approach. “Our marketing manager’s primary objective is to raise the profile of the agency to generate more inbound opportunities. We want more people to have heard of Born + Raised and what we do,” says Founder and Managing Director Andy Weir. “They therefore look after PR and getting content in the press, launching our new website, securing speaking slots for me, and achieving award wins. We’ve given ourselves a target for each of those items.”
For Yoyo, building engagement among their network is more important – measured as the number of blogs they write, press releases they place and awards they enter. For B2B storytelling agency Rooster Punk, award wins are used to track ‘fame’ – part of the ‘fame, fun and fortune’ mantra that defines the business.
Awards for retention and engagement
Rooster Punk cite award wins as critical to attracting and retaining creative talent to their business. In this way, celebrating and sharing award success is an integral part of employee engagement for many of the agencies we spoke to.
“Part of my role has been focusing on external marketing, for clients and future employers but also internally, in terms of making people aware of what we’ve been doing,” says Rapiergroup Marketing Manager Luke Snowden. “Otherwise, those not sat on the top desk don’t know what we’ve done and what we’ve won. Putting systems in place to ensure we’re pushing and showcasing that to the team and making them feel involved is a major thing for us, which a lot of agencies don’t do very well.”
Employees aren’t the only ones who enjoy the award ceremonies and glassware. For Yoyo, the awards process is used to strengthen relationships with clients and their existing network – as well as attracting new leads.
“There’s a whole part of the existing business that people want to be involved with; people who are successful, with agencies who are successful,” says Managing Director Jenny. “So though we don’t have an existing business strategy within the marketing team, all of this marketing activity helps to build better relationships or stronger accounts with our existing clients. They’re coming along to awards that we’ve been nominated for and attending events with us – and just enjoying being part of the mix of a successful agency.”
The message is clear for agency marketing teams. Awards are an important, valuable part of the marketing mix and should be included in your list of marketing tactics during campaign planning, wherever your agency is in its marketing journey.
You can thank us in your acceptance speech. We’ll leave the hangover to you.
Image via Unsplash, https://unsplash.com/photos/N2P4ilX_2OQ