I quite like an awards do. Even more when you win. And so when our friends The Royal Horticultural Society picked up the gong for ‘Best development of an employer brand’ at the Firm Awards 2023 we were cock-a-hoop. I am really proud and pleased to head up a multi-award-winning agency. But there seems to be so many ceremonies around now at the moment that their value is often being questioned. But I can’t help enjoying them. Those moments when hopes and dreams are realised – or dashed. And no, I’m not just talking about whether I can still fit into my dinner suit or not.

So do awards matter? I’ve spoken to clients who’ve won, been a judge at a number of awards and been fortunate enough to collect a few myself across the years. I think they matter and I know clients do too. Yes, on the face of it they are a great night out but what they represent goes a lot deeper.

They’re good for clients

Clients put a lot of faith in their agencies and frankly, they take a lot more risks than they used to. When I started as a copywriter at TMP Worldwide in the late 90s we still lived in a world of print advertising. There was this interesting new thing called the internet but, if you were a recruitment manager, you pretty much spent your budget the same way you always did. Local press. And no-one ever got fired for that?

As we all know, it’s a completely different landscape now. Candidate behaviour has changed hugely and with it, the way we engage with them. Creative and media solutions are not as cut and dried as they used to be, which takes me back to risk-taking. If a print campaign failed to hit the mark, there was always the next one. But today, a careers website and the development of the employer brand is a big commitment – and requires a lot of trust from the client. So when a resourcing manager has put their case to their board and seen it deliver a genuine benefit to their business benefit, I think that they deserve their moment in the spotlight.

Breaking our duck

Back in 2018, when Hastings Direct asked us to support them in the development of their employer brand and new website they really did take a risk – especially as we were just a ‘cheeky young start-up’. So, when we picked up the ‘Best digital communication of the employer brand’ gold award at the Employer Brand Management Awards 2018, we were delighted to see their leap of faith rewarded.

People love to be recognised

While winning awards raises a client’s profile, it’s also hugely satisfying for a resourcing team. As Heather Kitto, Head of Resourcing at NFU Mutual puts it, “An award win is a symbol of recognition, for the individuals, the team involved and for the company. As an employer it helps broaden the understanding of your organisation the work you do and your strategy.” Which is why we were delighted to see them pick up the ‘Outstanding impact transformation and change’ award at FIRM Awards 2021. And the ‘Best careers website’ awards at the S1 Jobs Awards in 2021 AND 2022. Well done.

And Emma Issitt, former Head of Resourcing and Talent at Toolstation, feels the same way. “Knowing that you are doing something well or even doing something different always spurs me on to do more! My biggest pride is taking the team to awards ceremonies and seeing the look on their faces if they win. It’s priceless.” So it was brilliant to see them pick up the ‘Best development of an employer brand’ award at FIRM Awards 2020.

They’re good for agencies

Just as awards represent recognition for clients, they hold the same kudos and value for agencies and can bring a strong commercial benefit too. That’s because awards can help employers identify which agencies are doing some of the best work and helping their clients attract talent. And a list of recent awards is a common request in RFPs too – so, they are naturally good for business development as well as client retention.

They are also good for retaining and attracting our own talent. Winning, and being recognised for being creative and ambitious to win more awards, attracts and engages the best creatives and client management – just as clubs with champions league aspirations attract the best players.

From our perspective at That Little Agency, awards give us the platform to not only gain recognition from clients and our friends in the industry, they are also a huge confidence boost to us as a new start-up. While I value every award I’ve won in other agencies, there was something very special about arriving back in Bristol at 2 am holding an award with That Little Agency embossed on it. We must be doing something right!

They’re good for the industry

Awards are not just about the winners either, there’s a shared learning benefit too. All agencies can benefit from seeing the level of work being put forward. Awards raise standards so, for those agencies that were runners up or considering entering in the future, it’s worth looking at who won and why – and learn from what they did differently.

You only have to scan the award categories to appreciate how much our industry has evolved over recent years. From ‘Best diversity and inclusion strategy’ to ‘Best on-boarding strategy’; ‘Health & wellbeing’ to ‘Technology innovation’; and ‘Events and experiential’ to ‘Use of social’.

These categories recognise that the work we produce is now part of a marketing and branding industry every bit as creative as what some might call ‘consumer’ marketing. Indeed, as choosing a career is one of the biggest decisions anyone could make, I’d say ‘employer’ marketing is every bit as important – well I would, wouldn’t I?

What awards also help us do is showcase how, as an industry, we are raising the bar. Collectively, our work is inspiring clients to push boundaries and, in so doing, feel more confident in taking those risks. When clients are prepared to trust us to create the messages that help them connect with their best talent, they also give us the platform to create more award winning work to develop their employer brand. And the more creative our output as an industry, the more we’ll attract the best talent ourselves.

Missing out

Having focused our business around a handful of key services, we typically only enter the employer branding and careers website categories of the major awards. And our hit rate is pretty good. We have an 80% conversion rate from entry to nomination. Why? Because I think our clients have a great story to tell. And we tell it pretty well. But I have also spent a few uncomfortable nights having to fake a smile and clap enthusiastically as someone else’s name is read out.

“But remember, it is better to have nom’d and lost then never to have nom’d at all.”

I once even whooped in the wrong place as the letter T in TMP Worldwide was read out. That was awkward.

Award winning. My final words on this … honest

Ultimately, the real award is helping clients achieve their goals and seeing people who have put their faith in you become successful. As Bridget Kearns, former Talent Director at Hastings Direct describes it “Hastings Direct and That Little Agency make a fantastic partnership. They are great ambassadors for the work we do and have effectively and creatively brought to life our employer proposition. We are delighted with our award-winning employer brand.”

Personally, I believe the very best work is a combination of a great initial idea, a bunch of talented people who all want to deliver something special, and a brave and ambitious client. And if we can have some fun delivering it, all the better. And remember, not all work can or will win awards, some of it will just be well thought out, highly targeted and ultimately effective pieces of employer marketing. You don’t always need a gong to tell you that.

For further information

If you feel that you’d like some help, support or even a little chat around your employer brand, just drop me a line. After all, much of our best work has started with a cup of tea, a biscuit and a Zoom call.