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How to Launch an Industry Award Program that Increases Your Visibility and Credibility

Time for a little transparency: As readers may or may not be aware, this year CMI has introduced the CMI Orange Awards for content marketing agencies and brand marketers. The two new award programs will spotlight the top individual and team talent in our industry. (Obligatory exclamatory promotion: The deadline is June 15! Nominate yourself or your firm and enter today!)

In addition to being aligned with our mission to celebrate great content and the people who create it, the new CMI Orange Awards are a prime example of powerful content marketing. Like other content marketing initiatives, with the proper planning and execution, businesses and associations can host and coordinate award programs with the same cachet, prestige, and high quality winners as those traditionally run by media outlets. By presenting such awards — or sponsoring them — you’re able to share the stage with the top players and rising stars of your industry.

Here are some of the critical elements to keep in mind when launching an award program, and how we’re practicing what we preach at CMI.

Fill a void

It’s easier to create buzz and industry interest if an award program fills an unrealized need. When businesses do a good job, more business is the reward that matters most. Still, recognition of superior service and performance is always appreciated, wherever it comes from and whatever form it happens to take.

For example, our partners at the Magnum Opus Awards recognize examples of great corporate communications efforts — the amazing creativity that gets clients noticed. In contrast, the CMI Orange Awards recognize the people and teams behind such projects.

If your award program doesn’t break new ground, it should offer new twists: new categories, new areas of emphasis, and other new attributes. Many long-time award programs, because they’ve been around for so long, lack energy and passion. Sometimes, the top players in a given sector have already won every currently available recognition and they’re looking for a new challenge. Give it to them.

Create clear incentives

For individuals, industry awards provide another credential that they can put on their resume as a third-party validation of their expertise or experience. Awards provide a similar boost for businesses; by increasing market awareness, they open doors to new opportunities.

We’ve built multiple incentives into the CMI award programs. The agency awards, for example, ask content marketing providers to tell us why they’re great, and to tell their story in so many words or images. Agencies will be able to reuse such content in their own marketing initiatives. By entering, they also have the opportunity to tell their story to our high-powered panel of judges from top brand-name B2B and B2C companies like Dell, Intel, Kelly Services, SAP, IBM, and Coca-Cola.

Be authentic

While a certain amount of secrecy adds drama to an award program — and there are exceptions to this rule (like the Academy Awards!) — a lack of transparency about the judging criteria or process can undermine credibility, exposure, and interest.

For the CMI Orange Awards we’ve tried to remain true to our educational mission by not approaching the program as a revenue generator (the entry fees should just about cover our costs), and by minimizing the burden of filling out forms. We also made a conscious decision not to create created so many categories that everyone is a winner (this isn’t youth soccer!). We look forward to learning and sharing the success stories of the winners.

Execute flawlessly

The difference between a good idea and reality always lies in execution. An award program is like any other external marketing initiative: It requires a clear marketing and execution plan, with clear responsibilities delegated to each team member. An effective and efficient project manager is essential to enforce deadlines, to prod and cajole everyone to do what’s expected of them, and to react to the inevitable opportunities and issues that will pop up.

Make it a real celebration

Some award programs send out plaques to winners, which arrive in a bubble-wrap envelop along with the day’s regular mail. Compare that experience with stepping up onto a spotlighted stage to accept an award with hundreds of industry luminaries in the audience cheering and applauding. Talk about being light years more meaningful and memorable!

You can probably guess which approach we’re taking. The CMI Orange Award winners will be honored at a special reception this year during Content Marketing World, September 4–6, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.

Those are some of the elements of a successful industry award program that we’ve followed with the launch of the CMI Orange Awards. Granted, we’re nervous — we’ve planned and announced a party and we’re hoping lots of people (like you!) will show up. So take a look at your particular niche. Is there an area that’s itching for recognition? If there is, go ahead and launch an award program. Right after you’ve entered ours.