Unlike an award for creative or media campaigns that go to an entrant organisation, individual awards are tricky. Any award that has no one to receive it at the ceremony is looked at as an embarrassment by organisers. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, the truth is far from it.
For starters, let’s address this perception that a winner who is not attending has not acknowledged the importance of the platform. Let’s say you want to award the Prime Minister of the day, either chosen by a jury or an audience poll or through other due process, and s/he is unavailable. What would you do? If the award organiser is of repute and operates at scale (or has the contacts), one will get a video message. One might even be able to get a senior government official or representative to receive it on behalf of the H’ble PM. Depending on the stature of the organiser, things will pan out.
Now, if none of the above happens, but by your due process the winner is the Prime Minister, will you award the film star who is willing to attend to promote his/her film instead? If the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘perhaps’, why did you have a process of selection or voting? If the winner arrived at by the end of the process is X and your awardee is Y, your process is a lie.
The same should hold for business awards. Because Mr. Ambani is unavailable, you should not award Mr. Birla. But picking winners based on availability to attend and accept seems to be the unwritten rule and SOP. And this has diluted the equity of awards, even if only to a much smaller extent than awards that sell out to the highest bidders or as return appeasement gifts for sponsorships and advertisements.
It’s a cycle. Everyone loves awards and the ‘When in Rome’ effect plays out. It’s like being featured in the media for a price. In the case of ‘bought’ awards, along with visibility, there’s a prize too for a price. Why am I going down that alley? Because there is a correlation. Those who can afford to buy, either with volume of entries or otherwise, shape the winners and attendant stature of the awards platform. When you start awarding only those who are willing to attend, you are giving the power of shaping the platform to the receivers. If the credibility of your process hinges on their consent, there’s something inherently amiss.
Rankings or ratings where only those who participate with a fee are included could be a loose analogy. But those have certain constraints that could qualify as valid excuses. Irrespective, they are compromised on that count. Likewise, an award that is only given for a price or to the one who can attend, is a compromise.
One can understand televised award shows taking the ‘must attend’ route with winners, when it involves film stars and their presence is the content that sells. But with other awards, where no such compulsion exists, are we as award organisers and media houses that host awards substituting substance with presence? It has been five years now since the launch of MediaNews4u’s GameChangers Awards, the fifth edition of which was hosted on 31st May 2023. I have had the privilege of helping the show since year one. This year, one of the winners picked by the jury said something on stage that made my day. Sebamed India’s Sashi Ranjan revealed that he felt forced to attend the event as the email announcing his nomination clearly said: “The final result will not hinge on your availability to attend the awards ceremony” (or something to that effect). I thank him from the heart for that statement and for making it to the ceremony.
As for uncouth behaviour by some at post award parties, well, that’s another story. Perhaps there is a need to explore the equivalent of a ‘No Fly List’ to ensure that the stature of this industry is not compromised. While every effort must be made to get in the deserving winners, they deserve a night to remember fondly – not otherwise.
(The author is Co-founder and Group Consulting Editor, Uplift Medianews4u, independent marketing consultant and columnist. Views are personal.)
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