Public Relations Thought Leadership Strategy

Which Awards and Events Are Worth Your Time? Here’s How to Know.

By Caitlin New


Earning third-party validation sits at the top of most marketers’ wish list for their company. It’s likely just below getting credit for those leads that not-so-magically funneled in. Two of the best sources of third-party validation (aside from everyone’s favorite—media coverage) are winning a prestigious award and getting selected to speak at an industry event.

Given the sheer number of awards and events, creating a strategy for these programs can be an overwhelming process. Especially if you don’t know what to look for when deciding where to submit. We’ve got some answers to marketers’ common questions that will shine a light on how to build an events and awards program that’s worth the effort.

Awards: Still the Darling of Industry Kudos

Marketers can be wary of awards––and with good reason. Every day, our inboxes are peppered with marketing emails from award organizers, and many of them come with a cost to participate and a hefty nomination process. You may find yourself asking:

  • How do I cut through the clutter to find the award opportunities that will have an impact on my business?
  • How can I influence visibility of the achievement, should we land a finalist status?

Before you do anything else, start by determining whether the award organizer is credible and the submission logistics are within your reach. If the answer is yes to both of those parameters, follow these guidelines to determine if it’s a good idea to invest your time and spend.

1. Look at who the awards are targeting—is their audience a fit with yours?

In addition to the award organizer’s credibility, one of the most important considerations is whether or not the audience is a match for your business objectives. Looking to attract investor attention? Awards like Fast Company’s “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” could be a good fit because investors are known to take note of lists like these. Product-focused awards are good for customer visibility when prospects are in the “consideration” phase of the buying process. Best places to work, employee recognition, or team achievement awards are helpful for recruiting purposes. If the audience of the award matches your objectives, then it could be a smart investment.

2. How much visibility does the award garner?

If a tree fell in the woods but no one heard it, did it make a sound? Yes! But if no one heard it, that tree missed an opportunity. If the award you’re considering has a short shelf life or minimal reach, then you might be better served skipping it. The Baldridge Performance Excellence Program, for example, is a badge for brands that consistently deliver quality products and services. It’s a prestigious accolade that remains relevant for years.

3. Can you dedicate marketing hours to promoting the award?

Even if an award has prestige and a long shelf life, you’ll still need to develop a strategy to promote your company’s achievement to the audiences that matter. To boost visibility of your award, consider including the award logo on your website, writing a blog on the achievement, and distributing a celebratory email blast.

Events: A Beast Worth Taming

There are some companies that have marketing departments with employees whose jobs are entirely focused on industry events, commonly known as tradeshows. The reason is simple: tradeshows can be a drain on time and budget. Plus, the interdepartmental tug and pull of who attends and what product or service gets the focus requires full-time attention.

Fear not, marketers—you don’t have to have a massive exhibit at every event to deliver impact for your company. Speaking on a panel or leading a workshop can lead to incredible, lucrative connections. However, landing a spot on a tradeshow’s program agenda is no easy task. It takes strategy and experience to get the honor. You might ask:

  • How do I know which events have speaking opportunities that are a match for what my company offers?
  • How do I increase our spokespersons’ odds that they’ll be selected to speak?

Like media brands whose contributed content programs peaked in the early 2010s, event brands have also experienced an influx of speaking proposals. The program selection teams have never had so many proposals to consider. Finding ways to differentiate yours from the masses is a must in today’s competitive events programming landscape.

When building your speaking nomination list, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Scarcity is value—the good speaking opportunities are hard to land.

Extremely popular events get thousands of submissions and are only able to accept a minority of them. SXSW Interactive 2019, for example, was only able to accept 15% of submissions. Imagine how competitive that process must have been. The proposed speakers that stood out had qualities like diversity of opinion, experience, and individualistic characteristics (like gender, race, nationality, etc.).

2. Unique perspectives win in the end.

Unique and specific perspectives on ideas that appeal to a group with a shared interest are most likely to succeed. General and bland perspectives don’t get far with program managers. You need to offer something differentiated from the pack to increase your odds. This can be hard for risk-averse executives to agree to. To combat this, try sending your executives examples of winning abstracts on program agendas, so they can visualize what it takes. And remember: the less brand credibility your company has, the bolder your abstracts need to be.

3. Invite your customers and partners to join the speaker nomination process.

Many trade events won’t accept speaker proposals that feature only vendors. Make it a priority to recruit friendly customers that would like to participate in this type of industry thought leadership. You will nearly always have a better shot at speaking at a trade event if you have a customer perspective as part of your submission. It’s a win for your customer and a win for your company if you are successful.

4. Selected to speak? Good work! Take advantage of your presence there.

Usually, event organizers will cover some costs for your contribution to their programming. For instance, complimentary hotel stays and conference registrations are common. But there’s much more to gain from events if you plan in advance. Take advantage of your speakers’ presence there by scheduling media interviews and customer visits. Prepare your speakers with product or news collateral they can share as they meet with attendees. Following the panel or speaking session, encourage your speakers to hang back, as attendees will want to approach and ask additional questions.

As you build out your company’s events and awards program, keep in mind that it’s a numbers game. You won’t get every opportunity you strive for, but you will land some opportunities. Make the absolute most out of those, as each one could lead to the next opportunity or new customer relationship. The more unique, well-rounded, and creative you can get in your award and speaker nominations, the better your odds. Just make sure those opportunities are worth the effort!