8 mistakes made when running award programs

Competition Tips|John Haverkamp|December 14, 2015

After all of that work and time you still find yourself here. Sitting on your laptop at midnight. Staring at a full inbox and way too many excel sheets… without enough coffee. It happens to all of us. The big deadline is coming up and we forgot one little thing. That little tiny mistake can spin out of control. These are 8 things to watch out for in prepping for your next big award program.

1. Trying to do it all yourself

You know what needs to happen to make this award program a huge success. You can picture every step of the way. This doesn’t mean that you have to take every step yourself. A list of objectives that seemed completely manageable individually can quickly bury you in an avalanche of to-do lists if you’re not prepared. You need to learn to delegate to, and more importantly trust, your coworkers, employees, and the services you hire to help you run the program. With a team you can accomplish your goals, relieve stress, and increase the quality of your awards program

2. Analysis Paralysis

There are so many options and avenues to success available to you when planning an awards program. You may have learned from years of experience, or you may be learning from some online research right now. In any case you are going to find a vast amount of resources and suggestions. They will tell you the best timelines to follow, the best practices for your evaluations, the best submission programs to use, etc. You need to set a deadline for decisions. Sometimes too many good choices can prevent you from making any choice.

3. Gathering the wrong data

Everyone knows the basic information you need to gather. You can’t exactly present someone with an award without knowing their name, but what about the more in-depth data. Mistakes are made when you gather too little data. You can be left without enough information to validate your nominees, but you can also gather far too much data. You can get bogged down in data. You need to sit down prior to your event and determine what data you will be gathering. I find the best path is to decide the data you gather by considering what you want to do with it first. How will you be contacting your award nominees? What makes an applicant or nominee eligible for your award? Will applicants or nominees be eligible for multiple awards? The key is understanding that data is your tool to make your awards program a success, by identifying the correct tools at the beginning of the process you will make your job incredibly easier.

4. Underestimating the size of your awards program

I have seen quite a few awards program suffer from their own success. A program manager will find themselves swamped with more applications than they could have hoped for. After the excitement at their success fades that program manager will find themselves with a lot more work than they had been prepared for. It can be tough to estimate how far your marketing and awareness campaigns can reach. You can utilize a number of tools to measure the reach of your message. You can utilize site counters, email open notifications, and simple estimations based on your previous knowledge. The important thing is to make sure that this is a step in your planning process. You need to factor the number of applicants, nominees, participants, reviewers, and staff members into the first steps of your planning process.

5. A flawed nomination or application process

The application and nomination process and forms can be your best tool or your worst enemy when running an awards program. Too many events put little to no focus on the application process that their users are going to experience. If you have considered the size of your event, the data you are gathering, and the tools you’ll be using this should be easy. You need to create a smooth and streamlined process. If your application process is buggy, difficult, or hard to access you will lose applicants. It needs to gather all the necessary data, while making the questions easy to understand. You will lose applicants on questions that are confusing or unnecessary. You need to decrease any barriers to entry in order to get the best quality applications and nominations.

6. Using multiple access points

You want to spread the word about your awards program as far and wide as you can. Why not put information about it wherever you can? Why not let people access your sites through as many portals as possible? You want to reach as many people as possible. That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? There are a few problems with spreading your information as far and wide as you can. The first is managing your message. If you need to update your deadlines, edit the wording of your rules, or make any other changes you will need to update all of these access points and notifications. It will be difficult to track the efficiency of your marketing campaign if you use too many different stream. The best method to attract nominations and applications is to treat your marketing and access as a funnel to one main portal. Use email campaigns and links on sites to bring your users to singular list of all of your rules. Lead them to one page that will describe your event, provide them the timeline, contain the application forms, provide contact information for questions or support, and host the entirety of your awards program online. Concentrating the flow of your incoming users as well the data and applications into a singular site will make your awards program more manageable, easier to understand, and a bigger success.

7. Overwhelming your judges

It is pretty obvious that one of the most important parts of your award program is deciding who gets the awards, right? You rely on your judges to complete one the most important parts of your awards program. Too often people will try use the judges as much as they possibly can. They will assign application after application to judges. They rely on the judges’ expertise to go through every candidate, to weigh every variable, and to come to a fair and balanced decision. This is all reasonable, but you need to be careful to control the workload you are assigning to your judges. Judges might be coworkers willing to take on extra responsibility to help you out, they may be a board within your company, or they may even be volunteers willing to help you create the best award program you can. If you assign too many submissions to a judge, they simply won’t have the time or energy to consider every single one completely. If you overwhelm them with data and considerations you will complicate and confuse their decision process. Put yourself in their shoes. They are a key component in your success, but you must create a situation for them to succeed.

8. Failing to set expectations

This is the biggest mistake any awards program can make. They keep their process, timelines, rules, and other information about their award program to themselves. This creates a huge number of problems. The first, and most visible to you, will be the number of emails and phone calls you will receive. People will reach out with questions and concerns constantly. Try and predict these and put that information out there. You will also have other problems that will be harder to track and thus more detrimental to your award program. End users will miss deadlines unless you tell them the deadlines. Judges won’t pick the ideal candidate if you don’t tell them who would be ideal. Transparency is completely necessary. Every stakeholder in your event needs to know how the event runs, when things will happen, who to contact with questions, and what your expectations of the end users are. If you put this information out there, in an easily accessible way, you will save yourself a number of headaches down the road.