Glittering Prizes: Your magazine wants to hold an awards ceremony - and you’ve got to sell it to the punters. Rob Gray finds out how it’s done

Come the Oscars, you might find yourself musing on the pleasures of giving Gwyneth Paltrow or George Clooney one. An Academy Award, that is. But away from the rarefied atmosphere of Hollywood, awards are about more than tearful speeches, diaphanous dresses and tight tuxes. Magazines that have launched their own awards ceremonies have found them to be highly effective brand-building devices that help to cement a position in the market.

Come the Oscars, you might find yourself musing on the pleasures of

giving Gwyneth Paltrow or George Clooney one. An Academy Award, that is.

But away from the rarefied atmosphere of Hollywood, awards are about

more than tearful speeches, diaphanous dresses and tight tuxes.

Magazines that have launched their own awards ceremonies have found them

to be highly effective brand-building devices that help to cement a

position in the market.

This holds true for publications in both the consumer and business


Indeed, it can seem as if there are so many magazine-backed awards that

there cannot possibly be room for another. Yet every year, more arrive

on the scene (it’s only a matter of time before some bright spark

launches Awards magazine, with its own ceremony honouring the most

proficient magazine awards of the year).

What matters is that there is enough of a gap in the market to allow the

magazine to add value in a number of ways: to its own brand, the sector

it serves and to any sponsors or other partners who sign up to the


The vast majority of awards have outside sponsors of some kind. This is

quite simply a matter of economics - the organisational and staging

costs could otherwise prove prohibitive. Many awards don’t turn a profit

per se, but the financial contribution of sponsors keeps the costs at a

justifiable level for the exposure and goodwill the events generate.

So the role of sales staff in securing sponsors is crucial. However,

there is a great deal more to getting awards off the ground than

sponsorship alone.

The initial idea

Awards benefit a magazine by increasing its prestige among readers and

advertisers. They can be created by the sales or editorial departments

or even a centralised marketing department.

Editorial tends to have the biggest say in establishing awards

categories because events work best when tied closely to the content of

the magazine, and editorial independence lends them validity.

However, if an overall sponsor is on board, it may demand a special

category, resulting in some keen negotiation between commercial and

editorial staff to secure a compromise.

Sales staff can play a central role in the development process. Last

year, IPC’s Living Etc launched its Bright Young Things awards as a way

of recognising talent among up-and-coming designers of furniture,

textiles, tableware and lighting. The association with youthful design

talent was seen as an appropriate means of positioning the magazine in

the highly competitive homes sector.

The original idea came from Living Etc’s ad manager Neil Perkin, who

brought Smeg Appliances on board as sponsor. ’It struck me as a bit

strange that there weren’t any consumer awards in the home market,’ says


’One of the results of this is that we have a closer working

relationship with Smeg. It is now our biggest advertiser.’

’Awards have to be done as a brand extension,’ says Adam Lockhart,

former commercial manager on Ministry, who has just moved to a new role

within the Ministry of Sound organisation.

PR Week’s publisher Stephen Farish elaborates: ’Awards are a fantastic

promotional vehicle for a magazine. They are very visible to the

industry and give a demonstration that a magazine is at the heart of the

business it is writing about and putting something back into it.’

Selling the ceremony

In theory, if a magazine has a strong brand and a sensible awards

proposition, it should not be too difficult to secure sponsors. Again,

the dynamics of the consumer and business sectors differ. With consumer

magazines, there is often a single event sponsor, while trade titles

usually try to secure sponsorship for each category.

GQ’s Men of the Year awards was recently sponsored by Chanel’s Allure

for Men, which is thought to have stumped up around half of the pounds

90,000 cost of the exercise. In return, the fragrance got high-profile

branding on the night, on invitations and press releases and in the

magazine. It was also given its own awards category - Most Alluring Man

- whose nominees received four pages of coverage in the magazine.

’Once potential sponsors have confirmed their interest, we can put

together a package, such as a video showing all the highlights of the

previous year and demonstrating the benefits of backing this year’s

event,’ says GQ events director Michelle Evans.

’It’s more difficult to sell a sponsorship than a page of advertising

but it’s more enjoyable to sell because it’s a bit different,’ says


’With Bright Young Things, I sold the idea to the Design Council and it

became part of its Design in Business week.’

Lockhart says the key to a happy partnership with sponsors is ensuring

that all elements of the relationship are covered clearly in a written

agreement, drawn up before the event takes place. Ambiguities and

omissions make for potential problems later on.

In cases where all or many of the individual categories have their own

sponsor, the selling and organisation becomes harder. ’You have to give

all your sponsors good value in terms of the promotion and hospitality

they get on the night,’ says Farish.

’We get a high proportion of rebookings, which is encouraging because

with a specialist title like PR Week there is only a limited number of

companies suitable for sponsoring each category.’

Reed Business Information’s catering group project manager Jane

Cartwright is responsible for the annual Catey awards. She advises:

’Debrief all your sponsors separately and include the editor of the

magazine in the process as well because you are selling a relationship

rather than a page of advertising. It’s a year-round thing, a

hand-holding exercise you must not cock up at any stage.’

Sponsorship of the Cateys is at a set level for all awards, with the

exception of a premium for its special award. Music Week offers two

levels of sponsorship, gold at pounds 7,650 and platinum at pounds

9,250. Events manager Louise Stevens says that the title also tries to

’offer something that smaller companies can get involved in,’ such as

sponsorship of gift bags given out on the night, or the right to put

products in those bags.

The key to keeping sponsors happy is support in the pages of the

magazine (editorially and perhaps with a free ad), strong branding on

the night, a table at the event (often with a VIP reception) and

discounts on other tables.

The consensus is that selling tables (to non-sponsors) for an awards

ceremony is fairly easy. The going rate is between pounds 1,200 and

pounds 1,750 for a table for 10. Tony Evans, group marketing manager at

VNU, says: ’You’ll never make a fortune out of an awards show. You reach

a critical mass where you can’t squeeze in any more prizes, can’t invite

more people and can’t charge any more for tables for fear of pricing

yourself out of the market. Breaking even is good, while making pounds

20,000 profit is very good. Tables aren’t hard to sell. It can become an

office event for companies. Once they’ve attended, it’s very hard to

turn round to their staff and say ’you are not doing it again’.’

On the night

To keep an audience interested on the night, the award giving should be

in a single block and take no longer than an hour. Forty-five minutes is

even better. The staging should not be too elaborate, for fear of

distracting attention from the prizes themselves - but getting the sound

and lighting right is vital.

So, too, is picking the right presenter. Celebrities can cost anywhere

between pounds 5,000 and pounds 20,000, but it’s worth spending a

reasonable amount, says Stevens, to get a presenter who can really ’keep

the show moving’.

Angus Deayton, Johnny Vaughan, Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross have done

a number of magazine awards. Evans warns that picking somebody too

outspoken can be dangerous ’because they take the piss and risk

undermining the whole event’.

Once a year, every year

Awards come into their own once they have been in existence for several

years. The more they become an annual fixture, the more their

credibility grows. ’It’s very good for the magazine brand,’ says Evans.

’We get fantastic publicity. With awards it does take three or four

years to get really known with the press and public.’

So the winner is ... the magazine itself.


Awards ceremonies range in size from huge to intimate and the venue in

which they are staged makes a fundamental impression on the


Business titles tend to gravitate towards larger events, where tables

are sold to key industry figures, eager to be seen at one of the big

bashes on the calendar. Top of the pile for this sort of event, by

virtue of its size and ability to serve sit-down meals to more than

1,000 guests, is the Grosvenor House hotel.

’If you want to get 1,000 people into a room and want it to look decent,

there’s nowhere you can do it in London apart from Grosvenor House,’

says VNU group marketing manager Tony Evans, who is responsible for the

Computing Awards of Excellence.

Aside from Computing, other regular users of Grosvenor House include PR

Week, Print Week, Music Week and Caterer & Hotelkeeper, which has held

its Catey awards at the hotel for the last 16 years. But this year, to

mark the new millennium, the magazine will be experimenting with a

ceremony for 1,400 people in a ’semi-permanent structure’ at the

Artillery Company Ground in the City.

The dynamics for consumer magazines tend to be rather different, with

some such as Q and FHM preferring to organise awards lunches rather than

evening prize-giving fests. At the other end of the scale, Smash Hits

packs14,000 screaming pubescents into its awards night at the Docklands

Arena. GQ and Elle have both used Home in Leicester Square, while Living

Etc held its awards at the Design Museum, for obvious reasons. In other

words, awards ceremonies come in all shapes and sizes.


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