Grow Your PR Firm’s Reputation with an Award Program


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Written by Alexandra Drobysheva, CEO at HINT Communication Agency

The idea of connecting small agencies together came up repeatedly, we didn’t know how to do this organically and effectively. The solution came at a time of the pandemic and economical crisis; these factors gave us an incentive to create a specific project for the Russian market – the SMALL Award. 

The SMALL Award is the first award in Russia that recognizes and rewards the achievements of small independent agencies specializing in PR, digital, HR, event, creative and production. Our mission is to support and develop the community of small independent agencies in Russia. In just 3 months (2 of them were on lockdown) we have united more than 30 small agencies and over 20 communications specialists from big agencies CEO’s to freelancers. 

Whether you choose something similar – driving attention to your own industry – or to highlight brands or influencers within your niche or specialty, award programs offer a unique opportunity to build category leadership and drive attention.

Here are 5 key lessons that we have learned thanks to creating our own award program.

1. Consider What Your Target Wants to be Known For

As we know social stereotypes can become a major problem at any point. When the project was launched we learned that small agencies in Russia are not ready to make their size public because they are ashamed of it or simply  can’t  share their best cases because they did it for the big agencies (white label projects). In addition, many brands still think that small agencies can’t carry out the projects as well as big ones, so small agencies prefer to keep a low profile in order not lose the clients. So it is very important to break the chain of stereotypes and highlight achievements publicly.

2. Make it easy to participate

Don’t be greedy and offer discounts to potential participants of your award. When we started the project we saw that the agencies were interested in participation but because of the pandemic and unstable economic situation, many did not have extra money to participate in the competition. But since our award is created to support and highlight the achievements of small agencies so we decided to use promotional codes for free participation in one nomination and 50% discount for agencies who apply more than 3 projects at once. Afterwards we received many thank you letters. 

3. Establish a transparent evaluation system

During the process of case evaluations we received efficient feedback from our expert jury about the criterias of the nominations, the quality of results presented by participants and other organizational issues. So we would highly recommend you to establish criterias first with the help of the jury so they could give you a fresh look upon your project as well as good professional advice of its improvements. 

It is very important to break the chain of stereotypes and highlight achievements publicly.

4. Be ready for negative feedback

As soon as we announced the results we received an email from one of our participants with the refund request. The reason why they wanted the refund was their uncertainty in the integrity of the results. So we suggest you establish a transparent evaluation system and be prepared to speak with participants and even out the conflict with key messages prepared in advance. In our case we decided to offer them a free participation next year instead of a refund. 

5. Celebrate accomplishments

From the very beginning of the project we were planning to organize the offline award ceremony but COVID-19 lasted for longer than we have hoped. So we made an online celebration. To brighten up the evening, we sent our guests a recipe for a signature cocktail specially designed by the bartender for SMALL award and invited a DJ set to perform online. We had a very good time celebrating the winners, talking about prospects and enjoying our new community.

The project ended up by a live streaming session on Facebook with the winner in the Best small agency nomination which has reached more than 2,000 views.

Don’t be afraid of launching your own awards, it will be challenging but if you want to achieve the result, sometimes it is better to get out of the comfort zone. We will definitely continue next year.

About Alexandra:

Alexandra Drobysheva is a multilingual communications professional and strategic communications consultant for the leading international corporations operating in Russia and CIS markets. Based in Moscow, Alexandra opened up HINT agency after finishing her education in the United Kingdom where she works with clients like Hilton, Total, Tencent, Crate & Barrel, Pantone, etc.