Award Winning Value

Sunday, May 1, 2011 - 08:24

The benefits of an Industry award flow to both winners and sponsors alike. By Mark Story

Amounting to much more than a plaque on the wall, industry awards can deliver tangible paybacks for entrants, winners and sponsors alike.

One of the little-known and perhaps unexpected benefits to SMEs who enter the Telstra Business Awards (TBA) is the mandatory business health check entrants are required to undertake.

According to Rod Bruem, Telstra's Corporate Affairs Manager, the 70-page report that every entrant receives evaluating their performance across seven areas - including sales/marketing, planning and customer/financial management - helps to identify deficiencies in their current practices.

For Alex Handley, Operations Manager with Karratha-based Handley Surveys, the exposure from winning the 2010 Western Australian Panasonic Medium Business Award is the stuff that no big advertising budget could ever pay for.

As well as providing priceless street credibility, Handley says taking out such a high profile award has boosted the spirits of his 28 permanent employees, and further enhanced the company's culture.

Since receiving this award, Handley Surveys, a supplier to large resource projects, has also won its local Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year 2010 Award and trophies of recognition from its main supplier, Trimble.

"The kudos that our supply-chain has experienced from this exposure has further strengthened our business partnerships," he says.

Reliability

A huge expansion of its strategic supplier/client networks, the by-product of winning numerous awards last year - including Australian Young Business Champion and Trade Services Champion awards - also led Sydney-based commercial property services company Intact Group to actively embrace a plethora of new opportunities. Nathan Dale, Intact's Managing Director, says a foray into a new area for the company in retail property services led to a multi-million dollar contract with one of Australia's largest corporates.

Instead of being seen as yet another 'tradie' that mightn't show up, Dale equates winning the awards with a stamp of reliability. Adding to the momentum of award coverage by media and industry word-of-mouth, Intact leveraged greater publicity from these awards through emails and sales correspondence to their client-base, suppliers and alumni networks.

"Maintaining contact with fellow finalists met on awards night has also generated new business for us," says Dale. Dale believes that having to present a business to a third party - in this case a judging panel - forced re-evaluation of core expertise and how it is successfully communicated.

"As an SME it's hard to find mentors and advice, but by winning these awards we suddenly went from being unknown to having the details of 15 CEOs running large companies who would all respond to my emails and phone calls," says Dale.

Benefits in sponsorship

On the other side of the coin, it's obvious that there's an element of prestige in being associated with flagship awards. But where's the specific value for organisations who are putting precious time, effort and money into sponsoring award programs?

To Peter Nicholas, Director of Customer Value at AMP, it's all about tapping first-hand into innovations happening at the ground level, which he says is far better than engaging in third-party research. "Truly understanding SME businesses better enables us to continue modifying our products to best meet their needs," he explains.

For Michael Ford of Growth By Design, his company's sponsorship of a Small Business Champion Award under a newly created growth category this year is as much about brand building as it is spreading his consulting firm's philosophy on the importance of good business process.

A former awards judge himself, Ford says sponsorship provides the type of exposure to SMEs that advertising dollars struggle to deliver. "It's hard to identify a clear short-term benefit from the $30,000 invested in 'cash and kind', but we expect sponsorship to deliver positive returns long-term."

Similarly, for MYOB, a former winner of a TBA award, sponsorship complements the software provider's brand proposition about 'being there to support SMEs'. She can't put it into hard numbers, but Group Marketing Manager Suzanne Damms says the key to award sponsorship is the direct exposure to thousands of SMEs Australia-wide.

"Many of these firms are already clients, but the opportunity to tap into the needs of SMEs, our core client-base, assists us with ongoing product development," says Damms.

Mutual flattery

The crudest up-front measure of Telstra's long-running Business Awards, says Bruem, is the growing number of nominations, which at last count set a new record at 4000.

While they're a multi-million dollar commitment, Bruem stresses that Telstra doesn't run awards for profit. For a firm that's struggled with myriad regulatory, technology and customer service hurdles, Bruem says there's a definite spin-off being associated with firms regarded as leading-edge in their fields.

"Being closely involved with these awards gives us a good window into the SME sector that dominates our business client-base and allows us to fine-tune our own product offering around emerging trends."

Serial winner

Beyond the silverware that comes with winning, Sydney-based entrepreneur Gina Field believes that the first small business award her security company won in 2007 helped to push an initial government contract - worth over $1 million - across the line.

Field says the 12 awards her company, Nepean Regional Security, has won since then are directly responsible for catapulting the business from a garage-based one-man band to a staff of 40.

"Most awards are a recognition of excellent service standards, which is exactly what clients, especially government clients, want," says Field.

As well as making reference to them on the company website, Field harnesses the award publicity in all marketing documents, stationery, business cards and any newspaper advertising.

"We also make specific reference to these awards on any tender documents, together with the key criteria on which they were won," says Field. "We recently won a bid to provide movie-set security to Fox Studios, and they couldn't believe how many awards we'd won."

Convinced of the marketing power associated with winning, Field has become a serial entrant in business awards, and last year won the Small Business Champion Award for Entrepreneur of the Year.

Given that the shelf-life of any award is around three years, she says the best way to keep affirming company excellence is to continue competing to prove it. "In business it's easy to take things for granted, and competing for awards forces you to continually revisit what's truly innovative about your business," says Field.

"I'm contemplating sponsoring awards to give something back."