A Year of Award Submissions – A Freelancer’s Experience

Award statue imageIn the three years I’ve been running MOM, one of the things I’m proudest of is the fact that I’ve spent very little on marketing. As the majority of enquiries come to me via SEO (fittingly!), social media and word-of-mouth, I don’t spend any money on advertising, except for business cards and Cardiff SEO Meet (which I run and pay for all myself, but put MOM as an event sponsor in return).

The only other exception? Award submissions.

Over the past year I submitted an SEO/content campaign that I created last year to multiple awards organisations. All of them operate a ‘pay-to-enter’ type model, so none of them were free to submit to. This is fine for fancypants agencies who can quite readily and easily splurge, but for a li’l solo consultant like me, it’s a heck of a business expense – especially if it doesn’t end up paying off.

In this post I talk about where I submitted the campaign, how much it all cost, what it amounted to in the end, where I went right/wrong, and whether it’s put me off or encouraged me to do this all again…

Awards of every type…

I was darn proud of CR 25. In the process of putting it all together, I thought to myself “ooo, this could be award-worthy” as it showcased lots of different types and styles of content, ranging from expert roundups and infographics to interactive timelines and multiple-choice quizzes. And we did it all really cheaply, too.

Once the dust settled, I eyed up all the potential awards that were applicable:

  • Canmol Wales Marketing Awards 2015
  • UK Search Awards 2015
  • Recruiter Awards 2016
  • EU Search Awards 2016
  • The Drum Search Awards 2016

There were two others as well (Content Marketing Awards 2015 and The Drum Content Awards 2016), but I eventually decided against them.

As you can see above, the list of organisations was a nice mix of local (Wales-focused), industry-specific for the client (recruitment), and industry-specific for me (SEO).

Canmol only let me submit by industry type (more on that later), while the Recruiter Awards had a Best Recruitment Marketing Campaign category. The three SEO-related organisations let me choose a campaign ‘type’… Best Use Of Content was my go-to choice, although for one of them we also met the criteria for the Best Low Budget Campaign category. Again, a nice mix – I felt like I was kind of covering all bases.

The cost

Award submissions ain’t cheap. With Canmol at the cheapest (£25 + VAT) and The Drum Search Awards at the dearest (£125 + VAT), along with the fact that I put the campaign forward to two categories in the UK Search Awards, the grand total was a whopping £552.66 + VAT, which works out to £633.19 at the current VAT rate (20%). Ironically, it cost about the same as the whole damn campaign itself – content, website, plugins n’ all. But there we go.

And let’s not forget the cost of time as well. I spent hours working on the submission forms. Admittedly Canmol took the longest as it was the first one and had the highest word count, and some were dead quick (EU Search Awards is run by the same folks who run UK Search Awards, so the application was identical – a copy-and-paste job essentially), but there’s still a significant time investment with this sort of thing.

Oh and there’s also the cost of actually attending if you do get a nomination… The trains, hotel and ticket for UK Search Awards 2016’s award ceremony in London meant a few hundred pounds on top. But if you’re nominated then you’re not not going to go (unless you absolutely can’t make it)… Sam Noble covered this really well over on State of Digital. I especially liked her cost breakdown – it gets crazy expensive if you send a couple of staff to an event (or go as far as forking out for your own table).

The result…

In the end, CR 25 was shortlisted twice in the UK Search Awards (read more here). It didn’t win in either category, but a few people commented that I was the only solo consultant/freelancer who had a nomination across the whole event that year, nestled amongst a sea of the biggest agencies and biggest brands in the country – which in itself is pretty damn cool.

Oh and Peter Dickson (i.e. the X Factor voice guy) read out my business name and my parents’ business name, so there’s that…

…And yes, I have indeed considered somehow incorporating it into my voicemail message…

However unfortunately this meant that I wasn’t shortlisted for any of the others (Canmol, Recruiter, EU and The Drum Search). This meant that I could’ve spent £200 instead of £552.66 and netted the exact same result. And I would’ve saved some time, too. But you never know what’s going to happen with these things… What if I hadn’t bothered and I would’ve gotten nominated? What if I hadn’t bothered with the UK Search Awards, after all?

Where I went right/wrong

2 out of 6 submissions ain’t bad… That’s one third of the places that I submitted to. Heck, I hadn’t looked at it that way until I literally just typed that just now and now I feel a bit better about it. Before that though, I felt a little deflated about the whole thing…

With Canmol, I think I might’ve screwed up the category choice. As CR 25 was for an IT recruitment agency, but there was nothing really recruitment-specific category-wise, I went with ‘Professional services including financial services, banking, investment, insurance and other services’ – later I realised that recruitment doesn’t really fall into that, which could’ve been the reason why it didn’t get through to the shortlist. I guess I could’ve gone with ‘Technology and energy (including alternative energy & other low carbon technologies), Utilities’ but this didn’t feel right either. Or maybe ‘Education and training’…? It’s tough to know. I could’ve chosen two categories as part of the submission process (at no extra cost), so in hindsight I should’ve gone for a second category just for the heck of it, just in case. Oh well – you live, you learn.

As for the other awards organisations… I really don’t know. Personally I thought that I’d submitted pretty strong applications, which successfully tied the results back to the objectives and all that jazz. But that’s just it – you just don’t know. I could’ve submitted a damn good application but lost out because the other applications were even better, or maybe the judges didn’t respond to mine as much. For those where there were only 4 finalists, it could’ve been the case that I was 5th (or 55th). If you’re doing this type of thing then it’s important not to beat yourself up too much about it if you don’t manage to get through to the shortlist. For instance, with the Recruiter Awards, the finalists for my category included Jaguar Land Rover, BNP Paribas and PricewaterhouseCoopers – Computer Recruiter barely stands a chance against big guns like that. But you’ve still gotta try.

There’s also the fact that SEO – in the non-SEO awards organisations – just isn’t that sexy, appealing or even understood. I can’t reveal my source but I have it on good authority that SEO isn’t really considered Canmol-worthy – it sounds like they’d welcome a TV/radio ad or glossy print ad over an SEO campaign any day (despite the fact that the latter could easily kick the arse of the former when it comes to proving ROI, but I digress)…

And then the conspiracy theories take over… What if I didn’t get through because I’m only one person, whereas an agency would bring a table full of people to the event? What if big brands and big agencies get more preference simply because they’re big brands and big agencies, despite the actual worth of the submitted campaigns? What if they give their sponsors and even their judges more chance of winning? I’ve got to say that I’m a little disappointed that The Drum let their judges enter the awards and that some of them went on to become finalists… Even if those judges in question weren’t involved with judging those categories, it just ain’t right.

Has it put me off?

Well I’m not submitting to The Drum Content Awards, but that’s mainly because I’ve heard bad things (related to the previous paragraph) and because it’s also £180 + VAT for one nomination, which is simply extortionate. Sorry guys.

But has major costly rejection put me off award submissions for good, for future years…? Heck no! A little maybe, but not enough to stop me from submitting ever again.

For a start, I’m only 30 (well, 31 this month). I’m young. I still have a fair few award-worthy campaigns left in me I’m sure…! In fact I’m thinking of submitting two successful SEO campaigns from two happy clients from the past year. If I think they’re worthy and if the clients are on-board with the idea as well then I’ll most likely be submitting them – probably to the UK Search Awards at the very least.

And just like with anything, practice makes perfect. Sure, I’m gutted that CR 25 didn’t perform better (although I’m delighted that it was a double-finalist in the UK Search Awards), and I only have one shot at that, but the next submissions I do – for future campaigns – are likely to be even better.

The only thing I’ll have to remember is not to create campaigns for the sole purpose of trying to net an award. My business coach – the mighty George Savva (@GeorgeSavva1) – reminded me of this, saying that a lot of traditional ad agencies will chase the potential for an award more than actually doing what’s right for the client, so I have to remember that. Create a great campaign and then submit it for an award – don’t start with the latter in mind.

What’s your experience submitting to awards organisations? Good/bad/ugly? Leave a comment below or tweet me!

[Award statue image credit – Ryan Quick]

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