How can B2B awards programs work?

Many publications choose to start award programs for various reasons, such as attracting new readers or adding another revenue stream.

For example, Chris Crowell, managing editor of Solar Builder in the United States, said his magazine’s Project of the Year Awards were developed for audience engagement. Readers submit their projects throughout the year using an online portal. Then, the editorial team selects the best ones and posts them on the site for public voting.

“The editorial staff selecting the nominees for the popular vote is just enough curation so people aren’t voting on just whatever submissions came in, but a curated list of cool projects,” Crowell said.

He’s a fan of the popular vote for a few reasons. “Companies involved in a nominated project can use it as a reason to reach out to their own audiences and promote themselves, encouraging votes,” he said. “We also get some extra web traffic. Plus, it’s a format that works for an award that’s a bit more subjective and nebulous. Whatever criteria we came up with to select a definitive ‘Project of the Year’ would just be our opinion really, so why not open up the voting process to drive traffic and engagement?”

However, one challenge to this format is risking having the winners come from the same sources every year. Some companies are capable of driving more traffic and stuffing the ballot box. To address this issue, Crowell added an Editor’s Choice component.

“After the Project of the Year Gold, Silver and Bronze winners are decided via popular vote, we hand out awards to any other projects we feel deserve recognition: Most Resourceful, Coolest Carport, etc.,” he said. “Be nimble. Don’t paint yourself into a corner with arbitrary rules. Make it a fun event for your audience.”

Pest Control Technology (PCT) magazine in the United States also runs two awards programs, but in slightly different ways. Editor Jodi Dorsch said the publication’s Crown Leadership Awards, now in its 31st year, draws nominations from readers. The editorial staff decides the winners. While readers also nominate candidates for PCT’s Technician of the Year Awards, winners are chosen by a four-member panel of judges consisting of a representative from the sponsoring company and industry consultants. Editors don’t weight in.

One challenge Dorsch sees with reader-nominated awards is that often fewer than the ideal number of nominations come in. ​

“That’s when you have to rely upon your editorial team’s deep industry relationships,” she said. “You need to be able to call up readers, association heads, leaders, owners/operators and both solicit and vet the entries you do have. Sponsors also can make recommendations, but we weigh them the same as the others.”

Tying an event with sponsorships to an awards program can be a good moneymaker for B2B publications. PCT holds its Crown Leadership Awards program in conjunction with the pest control industry’s biggest annual event.

Similarly, the Technician of the Year Award involves a trip to Washington, D.C., to the industry’s premier legislative event. Winners pay their own way, but are comped event registration. There’s a main awards ceremony in which winners are recognized and receive a plaque. Winners also attend a sponsored dinner with spouses and managers. The sponsoring company sends a few representatives as well for a chance to network with the winners. Dorsch said determining the award’s parameters can be a challenge.

“Sometimes we’ll write an editorial in the issue to provide the readers some ‘inside baseball’ into the process,” she said. “This is a good place to explain things that don’t necessarily have a home in the main awards article. Talking to readers about how many nominations you received this year, what a tough decision it was, recognizing an individual/company that didn’t win but had an interesting story, etc., makes them feel involved and adds some oomph to your coverage. Plus, it’s a good spot to remind folks to look out for the nomination form next year.”