The Rewards of Awards

Alice Fawke

What is the real value of an award to a design practice? Undoubtedly there is benefit. Over the years S&R has asked developers and end-user clients how they decide which architects to approach and it seems that awards positively influence their decision as it suggests outstanding ability and informed third party endorsement.

But the exact value of awards is difficult to quantify. There are many factors to consider, including cost of entry and time required to compile the submission (a further cost). There is also a tendency for awards programmes to announce extensive ‘shortlists’, raising the question of whether there has been any filtration process at all. But does this matter? The commercialisation of awards could be mutually beneficial – organisations encourage entries and revenue by as good as guaranteeing your chances of being shortlisted, but when you post ‘XXX Award shortlisted’ on your website, no one reading it, except perhaps your peers, knows that the criteria for shortlisting is the following: enter the award. Maybe it’s win – win.

A lot depends on who your audience is. If you are targeting clients familiar with design and architecture, they are likely to know that the Gravy Train Award for Colour In Office Fit Out is not up there with an RIBA, Civic Trust or AJ Award.  For architects who are seeking to position themselves as design leaders it would be detrimental to highlight a fistful of mediocre awards. For a practice with different ambitions working in a less informed marketplace, the Gravy Train Award could provide useful endorsement.

If you are in doubt as to whether to spend the money or commit someone to preparing the award entry, here are some pointers to help you:

  1. Who is on the judging panel?

A good judging panel would ideally include the Editor of a notable publication, a developer, an industry influencer, a top architect, a corporate end-user (if relevant) and so on. These are people you want to see your work directly, who will refer you and spread your practice name in the right circles, even if you don’t win.

  1. What are the promised promotion tactics for shortlisted and winning entries?

Apart from being able to use the award logo on your marketing material and website, look into what the programme will do to show off your project. It is helpful if the award is run by a reputable magazine publisher as they can guarantee a certain amount of exposure. If it’s not, check who the media partners are and what coverage has been agreed. If there is an Awards Dinner, do you get free tickets if you are up for a prize? Will it provide useful networking, or a client entertainment opportunity?

  1. Don’t assume that the award will attract lots of additional media coverage

It is a mistake to think that an award – unless a Royal Gold Medal or The Stirling Prize – will attract media attention other than in the publication that owns the award, or through a media partner. There are hundreds of awards and thousands of winners each year, and news pages would feature little else if all awards were covered. On the other hand, local newspapers are sometimes keen to publish awards won by local practices or local projects.

  1. Is the competition UK only or international?

A double-edged sword. It is important to remind yourself who is your target market. Entering international awards offers the potential to be promoted on an international stage. It also means entry numbers will likely increase and your chances of winning are decreased. Again, check who the media partners are and consider where your project would be visible if you did win. Who is on the judging panel? If there is an awards ceremony, can you afford to go in order to benefit from networking opportunities?

  1. Which projects and practices have won in previous years?

The acid test. Firstly it indicates the quality of the award. If well-known and respected practices have entered and won previously, you can usually assume the award has clout or will gain traction in future years. Secondly, and most importantly, it allows you to review your chances of winning. Compare your own project with those that have won previously and you could be onto winner if the comparison is favourable… or save yourself a lot of money and time if not!

Good luck!