British industry is awash with awards: for innovation, export achievement, service or product excellence, technological brilliance, environmental friendliness - you name it. But with so many on offer, what's the point of trying to win one? Or, to put it another way, to what use use can you put an award once you've won it?
BTR subsidiary Brook Hansen won a 1996 Queen's Award for Environmental Achievement after developing a range of electric motors of significantly improved efficiency. Rick Robbins, marketing manager for the motors side of the business, believes the ensuing publicity has been worth £100,000 of advertising space. 'It's hard to say what the award might gain in terms of sales, but it's certainly proving a valuable international marketing tool. We wanted to make users more aware of the benefits of these products.
But to achieve that you either require a huge advertising budget or you need to do other things to attract media and buyer attention.' In countries like Germany purchasers are 'increasingly interested in the environmental credentials of suppliers', so the Queen's Award logo on correspondence must be supposed to carry some weight. The company also flies the Queen's Award flag outside the three of its six UK factories that were involved in development of the product. 'Everyone is very proud of the achievement,' he says.
Indeed one of the great benefits of winning an award is the boost that it gives to morale, argues Jeff Gosling, managing director of Bonas Machine Company, which took top honours in the 1995 Management Today Best Factory awards. Employees at the company's Gateshead factory were all given a day off to celebrate. 'It brought a tremendous amount of pride to the workforce,' says Gosling. 'It also helped concentrate everyone's mind on what we are aiming to achieve, especially those who ask, "Why keep improving?". Gaining national recognition was a milestone on our continuous improvement route.'
Coming away with a regional trophy in the 1994 Management Today Service Excellence awards (then run in conjunction with Arthur Andersen) not only gave a boost to morale at the Attleborough, Norfolk, factory of paintbrush makers Hamilton Acorn, it marked a turning point in the company's fortunes. 'We received an enormous amount of local publicity in East Anglia which was extremely important,' says production director Howard Waghorn. 'The company had almost fallen apart after a merger in 1990 and we had a large credibility gap to bridge with former customers. A bad reputation is very difficult to shed and winning the award certainly put our bad reputation to bed.'
This year Gul International, Europe's biggest manufacturer of wetsuits, won a CBI South West region award for Operation Excellence. 'It was a regional award so we were delighted that the publicity reached so far,' says marketing assistant Wendy Montague. Only a couple of days later, a supplier in Manchester was complimenting the company on its achievement.
But, says Fiona Rogers, director of marketing at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the benefits of winning depend very much on how far the award is recognised, and the degree to which the winners themselves milk their success. 'Awards are only really worth entering if the industry sector regards them as prestigious and worthwhile. Looking at the list of sponsors for an award will generally give a good feel for how far this is true.'
Entry procedures are increasingly time-consuming, Rogers points out, so companies should prepare a plan, within their on-going marketing/PR activities, to extract utmost advantage in the event of success. Once the award ceremony is over, the organisers will generally have turned their attention to the next year. Winners who want to secure maximum benefit must be prepared to blow their own trumpets.