Thursday, February 21

Bluepulse chosen as an awards finalist. Does it really matter anymore?

When "MVP" means "Most Voted by PR people" what does it mean for awards?

Bluepulse (for whom I'm contracting at the moment) has been chosen as a finalist in the grand-daddy of tech award events, the SIAA 2008 CODiE Awards. Here's the press release and Bluepulse's announcement.

Generally, I'm cynical about industry award events these days. There's so many of them. Some seem like thinly-veiled pats-on-the-back for friends and clients. Instead of being selected, you have to lobby yourself, so that to even get on awards list radar, you almost need a dedicated person working on award entry submissions. 

Here are a few problems and suggested solutions for technology awards events. Feel free to ignore them and keep having a wild time with your best clients at your next awards:

You entered? You win!
You've been holding your awards at the same time each year, but with all the competition from other awards, you realize you're a month out from award night and some of your categories don't even have entries yet. You get on the phone and call some friends, "get your entry in and I'll see what influence I have on the judging panel" (translation: you'll win because you're helping make our awards look less lame.) Solution: have judging panels select the entrants in each category, rather than asking companies to submit themselves or accepting 'nominations from customers' (which inevitably will be submitted by PR people). It's tough to get judges to do that much work, but it's worth it.

Who's the judge?

In some awards events nowadays, the selection is done anonymously by the company managing the event. Any time I see an awards event and can't find out who the judges were, I have to wonder whether there's any conflicts of interest, especially when the organizer earns revenue from consulting to - or running advertising for - some of the nominee companies. Best practice: full disclosure of the judges, their qualifications, and the judging process itself.

What's 'finalist' really mean?
Related to the previous problem. A little later on in this post you'll read me getting excited about a company I'm associated with being selected as a finalist in an industry award event. Well, partly I'm excited because it's a big, big award, and partly I'm excited because I have some appreciation of what a company has to do to be chosen as a finalist. Unfortunately, that's not usually the case. I'm not saying I think being nominated as a finalist is entirely worthless, but it's newsworthy these days, without the news including any detail of how your company or product was chosen as a finalist.

I saw some awards in 2007 where the judging panel selected a small number of finalists from a pool of hundreds of nominees and I also saw more than award where I suspect F=N-1 (do I need to spell it out?)

Best practice: full disclosure when announcing your finalists. How many entrants were there in that category? How were finalists chosen? How tough does your organisation believe it is to be selected as a finalist?

Did I mention Bluepulse is a finalist? ;-)
So how does the 2008 SIAA CODiE Awards stack up against my criticisms? Am I able to diss the entire tech industry awards biz while mounting a convincing case that the CODiEs are an exception? Yah, I think so.

The CODiEs have been running since 1986. 1986! Was there even an internet in 1986? That depends on how you define "internet" but there were certainly no internet awards in 1986, and I was busy chatting on CompuServe and downloading pics of Playboy centrefolds (when 'raunchy' meant 'nipples') in glorious greyscale from my local BBS. Award winners that year included Microsoft Excel and Aldus (pre-Adobe) PageMaker. Microsoft Windows won Best User Interface. I know, that seems nuts, but that's because we have the benefit of hindsight. Back in the day, Windows really was a significant advance.

But don't lose sight of the fact that, just in 1986's winners, CODiE picked the operating system that defined the personal computer industry for the subsequent thirty years, the software product that still counts 9 out of 10 dollars earned and spent, and PageMaker, which created the desktop publishing industry and set many of the conventions of graphical user interface design. That's a heck of an all-star cast. When Bluepulse has the goal of changing the way the world communicates, being nominated in that kind of company is significant.

True, in these self-service days, you have to enter your own company for an award, but the SIAA goes to a lot of trouble to source a large software industry judging panel to do the winnowing out of finalists, and then puts the awards themselves out to vote. Not an open vote allowing the entire staff of your PR agency to vote for you, either. Only SIAA member companies in the relevant category get to cast a vote - so you are literally voted for by your peers (and no, your PR agency can't become a voting member of the SIAA.)

Finally, the SIAA is a "software industry association" not "a web 2.0 blog publisher". Not only do online products have to compete with other online products to be nominated, you're also up against what old fogies like me still sometimes refer to as "real" products - stuff that in many cases ships on a disk, with a printed manual, in a box covered in feature bullet points, minimum system requirements. That's some serious competition.

So yes, despite the parlous state of tech industry awards, I think Bluepulse making it to the finals of the CODiEs is a big deal that we should all be excited about. This nomination is recognition that, fundamentally, Bluepulse is good at software development; that they can mix it with the best when it comes to the code. That's what we'd all want to have as a core competency.

[By the way; Bluepulse think being a finalist is a big deal too, but my opinions on tech industry awards are entirely my own.]

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