How can you run a virtual awards night?
The classic media brand awards night involves a London hotel, a smart dress code, a darkened room, a celebrity host, plenty of boozy networking and groups of excited winners fighting their way to the stage to grab a slab of Perspex. It’s a great money spinner as shortlisted entrants buy expensive tables and sponsors pay to hand out the awards. And once established you can even charge the entrants.
How could this possibly be transferred online?
I have had more than one conversation in the last few weeks with distraught media owners wondering whether to cancel their pricey venue and skip a year altogether.
Why do industry awards nights work?
But industry awards are about far more than the party. They are a chance for innovative businesses to get noticed, and for the rest of us hopefuls to find out what good looks like. Winning an award helps an organisation gain new customers, make their staff proud, and attract top talent. Sponsors like to show they are supporting the industry they serve and to associate their businesses with excellence. And awards create lots of fabulous content for editors. At Making Publishing Pay this February, back on the “old” world, Diane Young explained how The Drum was refocussing its awards programme on generating an archive of best practice in the industry.
The good news is that it is possible to move awards programmes into the digital space. Just like other live events, we need to break down the activity to understand what it does for each of the participants and then work out how we can help them achieve similar outcomes. This will likely mean a package of activity spread over a longer period of time rather than crammed into a single Thursday evening.
The PPA ran an excellent webinar this week featuring Nick Creed from The Drum and Adam Parry of Event Industry News, both of whom are in the midst of a virtual pivot for awards. It was hosted by Hannah Bray of PPA and Gary Clements of Evessio (who provide awards judging software & other events platforms). You can see the recording here.
So how can each of the elements in a successful awards programme be moved to digital?
1. Judging and entries
The entry and judging process doesn’t change that much. In many cases it’s largely online anyway. You just may have to replace a physical judges’ meeting with a video meeting. And there is an opportunity with a video ceremony to include pre-recorded commentary from judges about why a winner deserved their prize. If you previously charged for entries, that will become a more important revenue stream.
Discussions with sponsors will need some creativity. A digital ceremony can reach a much wider audience, and sponsors have the opportunity to create video or report content to share with attendees after the awards. Respecting GDPR, they can follow up with attendees and shortlisted businesses after the event. Adam Parry of Event Industry News accepts that sponsorship rates might be different if there is no physical event or tables to host, but sponsors are saving on travel and accommodation, and a smart awards organiser can tap into their digital marketing budgets. Registered attendees could even receive a sponsored physical swag box before the event.
Table sales revenue may well evaporate for virtual awards, but a good host and ceremony can attract a much larger (and more international) audience. The Drum includes a chat stream for attendees for their live ceremony, and even a virtual party afterwards. Adam Parry is investigating a platform called shindig which allows teams to attend the event in groups, with their own private chat during the event. Maybe these could even be hosted by sponsors?
Video ceremonies require careful planning and rehearsal. They can’t be anything like as long as awards nights. The Drum has kept theirs to 30-40 mins. Some segments can be pre-recorded, eg interviews with judges, or samples of winners work. A good host is crucial, either from the editorial team, or a celebrity. Dara o Brien did a great job for the BAFTA Games Awards. Either way, rehearsals are essential, as you need a higher level of slick production values than a standard virtual conference. Think about music and sound effects and graphics. Streaming on You Tube or Facebook live or a dedicated events platform can reach a large audience.
5. Post Awards
Winners have always appreciated a marketing package – with interviews, logos and graphics to share on their own networks, and you can also offer a chance for them to meet each other virtually. Editorial content, with in depth interviews, will expand the audience and help sponsors build awareness.
So the awards business model can, with a little planning, survive as a virtual awards night. Without the costs of venue and catering, it might well be possible to be profitable even with reduced sponsorship and losing table sales. And of course, an awards brand is a long lived franchise – it would be a shame to miss a year and allow another organiser to edge into your market. So even at breakeven a holding strategy of virtual is a smart move. Plus there may be some elements, such as the on demand video of the ceremony, that you might want to continue even when the Grosvenor is once again open for business.
You are welcome to get in touch if you’d like to talk about your plans to take awards (or any event) virtual.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.