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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Weekly musings: Why I'm bored of industry awards

Judging what success looks like from within a given project is a difficult enough challenge for some online businesses, how you then determine success and achievement within the industry is an absolutely impossible task. And yet we have a multitude of awards to tell us different....there's Retail Week Awards, The BT Retail Week Technology Awards, the Internet Retailing Awards..........I have to admit they leave me a bit cold these days.

I once worked with an eCommerce Director (I shall keep them nameless in case they don't want to be attributed this story) whose site was nominated for a prominent industry award for Multichannel Retailer of the Year. As I sat in the office slaving away for our consultancy day rate (obviously!) the team changed into their party pants and dancing shoes and were about to leave, I said to the ecom director without even thinking about it 'good luck, I hope we win'. He turned around, paused, and said to me 'I hope we don't'. I looked understandably a bit confused, back in those days I was overwhelmed by the glamour of a black tie evening with some of my retail heroes, and the thought of having our work recognized was exciting. He followed it up by saying ' I hope we don't win Multichannel Retailer of the Year. Because we're not'

And you know what? I realised almost straight away he was absolutely bloody right. We really weren't. That business still had a way to go  -  being a late comer to a transactional website, with a variety of challenges that meant right then, at that moment, we had absolutely no right to consider ourselves even slightly Multichannel - let alone the best in the industry. (That's not the case now I might add, much good work has been done since and should the site be nominated again it would at least be reflective of the fact it can hold it's own the industry)

Now if we always judged ourselves on having a way to go we'd never celebrate anything, but that's missing the point. I'm presuming that the reason we were in that category as a nominee was because our PR team had written a submission, and potentially was likely to pay for a table for the business attendees. No one had actually considered if we were worthy of the prize,probably just whether we'd look good on the marketing material.

And you may say that it's the fault of a business for entering themselves into a category they don't really belong in. But put it this way - if your business has released an app this year, you're going to think it's great, and you're going to nominate yourself for it's greatness. You PR department are going to think 'what a great opportunity to get some credentials in the industry' and happily dash off a submission....the fact that your app is probably just about passable and the only person who thinks it's any good is your CEO who enjoys flashing it about at dinner parties becomes by the by....

It's tough because no one knows what happens within a business unless they work in it, the success or failure or challenges faced in a project can only be judged by what you as an entrant tell the judges/body sponsoring the awards. I could probably write myself a glowing report for any number of projects that I've worked on, and despite the fact that they were rubbish or brilliant I'd win or lose based on the profile of my company, how safe a bet we are for the next 12 months (no publication wants to bet on a losing horse-  though no doubt some great work has been done at many a failing retailer in the last year), whether the sponsors think we might want to buy from them in the future, whether our third party providers put up the money to sponsor and whether we're high profile enough to make a pretty picture on the front of the magazine/website/company brochure.

And that isn't to say that some of the winners of these awards aren't rightly proud of their achievement, and deserve wholeheartedly to celebrate what their work has brought to their business and the wider industry, but for me, these accolades are devalued by the process and politics that support them, for which we're all to blame.

Internet Retailing is at least trying to buck the trend a little by asking attendees and retailers to vote for their perceived value adding projects or initiatives, but this can only go so far as only the most popular, talked about, press -worthy or customer facing will get to be seen by those external to an industry and therefore voted for. It's a shame there isn't a better way forward.

Devalued industry awards that aren't really reflective of excellence, can often be political and are regularly predictable seems to be just accepted as a standard these days (and it's not just our industry - many have the same issues), and for the sake of basking in some glory, enjoying a night out and adding something to your CV maybe that's enough but what if there was something different?

What if award submissions were entered with some real detail, viewed by everyone who's interested and voted on by those in the industry? What if there were no sponsorships or votes from third parties. What if there were no weak, bland categories to squeeze your submission into? And what if for once you could celebrate being the best in your industry and really know it was worth something?

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