B2B awards business models

B2B awards business models

B2B awards are back in person, after a brief flirtation with virtual awards during the pandemic. Seems like business people still seek recognition and awareness for innovation and excellence.
If you are contemplating launching, or developing B2B awards, what are the evolving business models? How can you design the perfect set of categories and stage an aspirational event that generates reliable profits? I have been researching a range of B2B awards, and this is what I have learned.

Best practice in B2B awards

Choose the right format and business model

  • In person awards are back – as virtual awards were hard to monetise, with no table sales, no networking and limited appeal to sponsors
  • Stand-alone dinner awards generate higher revenues than evening add-ons to conferences. The traditional dinner awards can easily generate £400k revenue, sometimes as much as £1m. But adding on an awards to a conference can generate up to £200k, so it is still worth your while
  • Consider how to add prestige and credibility to your awards. A strong B2B publication or brand, a higher purpose such as rewarding unsung heroes, or high profile judges can make all the difference
  • The mix of revenues depends on the ecosystem of your sector: sponsor-led or entries-led.
    • Sponsor-led if your awards entrants are buyers who sponsors want to reach
    • Entry and Tables-led if your entrants want to raise their company’s profile or reward their teams or impress their clients
    • Winner’s package-led if your entrants are more concerned with how they can market their accolade to their clients after the awards
  • Plan well ahead – allow at least 6-8 months lead time. The awards cycle includes multiple stages:
    • recruit judges, promote entries, announce shortlists, pitch sponsors, sell tables, run event, celebrate winners
  • International awards can work well online without an in person event. Use interviews, case studies, winners books and marketing packages to deliver value to entrants.
  • Check the other awards in your sector – try to offer something different and avoid busy times of the calendar

Be strategic about categories, judges and marketing entries

  • Design your categories to maximise the opportunities to enter for your target organisations – more chances to be shortlisted
  • Sign up your leaders first – then pitch more widely
    • “Celebrity” judges
    • Entries from admired organisations
    • Tables booked by admired organisations
  • Charging for entries can increase quality. Offer early bird rates but expect majority of entries to arrive at the last minute
  • Use your contacts and editorial team to maximise entries and consider using an online platform to streamline the process. Don’t rely on online promotion – use strategic calls from editorial or telesales teams.
  • Provide judges with opportunities for advocacy and networking. Create social media cards, offer in person judging and treat them like VIPs at the event

Make a fuss of your shortlist (and winners)

  • Have longish shortlists (6-8 per category) and enough categories to have >100 organisations shortlisted (some awards have as many as 300 shortlisted).
  • Make a fuss of the shortlist. Offer social cards to promote their success, or even run a networking event so they feel like an elite tribe
  • Sell tables to the shortlist – at least half should pay to attend the event.
  • Use the shortlist to pitch to sponsors – and create multiple sponsorship opportunities to reduce reliance on a main sponsor (categories, drinks etc)
  • Capture best practice from winners, through interviews and articles to publish in a winners book or online
  • One publisher obtains the majority of their revenues from offering winners packages, including licensing logos, and providing custom marketing solutions including articles and videos
  • Don’t underestimate the work involved in promoting entries, running judging and communicating with your shortlist.

How to build awards that suit your sector

The most important message for awards launches, is to analyse your ecosystem properly. Who is selling to whom? Who wants to impress? Who do they want to network with? Then you can decide how to design your categories to attract the perfect audience. Don’t just import an awards format or business model that worked in a different market. And remember that awards can take a few years to become part of the annual schedule in a market. You need to be in it for the long term. But on top of any profit contribution, awards build your own media brand, establishing your market leading position and demonstrating your convening power for the sector you serve.

The companies participating in this survey were part of the Speciall Media Group, an invite-only online community of over 250 specialist media leaders. Members can share best practice, ask questions and make connections with their peers. And we run occasional surveys and virtual round tables. It’s free (for now) but invite only, and only open to media leaders, not suppliers, vendors or service companies. You can request to join here.

If you would like to have an informal chat about your B2B awards then get in touch to schedule a (real or virtual) coffee with Carolyn.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has acquired, launched, built, and sold specialist media businesses in print, digital and events. She now advises niche consumer and B2B publishers on developing new products and digital revenue streams as a consultant and NED.

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