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
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.
FINDING A VENUE
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.