“And the Winner Is….” What Place Should Award Nominations Have in Your Marketing Efforts?

As I write, awards season is in full swing: gala dinners at glitzy venues, grip ‘n’ grin photographs, grateful recipients thanking their mothers. Is this annual ritual just an ego boost for a few and a waste of time—and money—for many? Or can it produce results beyond those fleeting 15 minutes of fame?

Law firms receive many solicitations for award nominations. Legal publishers create awards events to augment dwindling advertising revenues, exhorting you to nominate clients or colleagues. Charitable organizations want you to help them acknowledge the contributions of volunteers and donors as part of their fundraising efforts. Local institutions seek to publicize their successes and credit local heroes.

Award nominations tend to fall somewhere just above holiday cards on the popularity scale of marketing tasks in law firms. Assembling nominations takes work—a lot of work, if you want to be successful. But the usual scenario at most firms is a last-minute scramble to meet the deadline, largely because no one wanted to make the decision to nominate someone.

As with submitting a proposal or a directory ranking nomination, the first question you should ask is not “Can we win this?” but rather “Why are we doing this?” The answers you’re looking for are along the lines of: “To help enhance our relationship with Client A” or “To raise the profile of Practice Group B in this sector” or “To invest in our younger lawyers”. Some red-flag answers: “Because Lawyer C thinks he deserves this award” or “Because Competing Firm D just got a similar award.”

In fact, you should include award nominations as part of your annual marketing plan, rather than just responding to the latest solicitation. Look for awards that mean something in the context of your firm or the nominee. Make proactive decisions about the type of award that will contribute to your marketing efforts. What opportunities does the nomination offer—an event to which you can invite clients? Publicity to an important sector of clients or referral sources? Increased attractiveness of your firm to promising young lawyers?

Since the nomination process takes time, you should get something out of both the process and the result. In assembling a good nomination, will you be in touch with a client you’ve been meaning to contact? Will you unearth information that can be used in other marketing materials? Will the process get lawyers to update their profiles? Will you finally have to write up firm achievements that you’ve been meaning to get onto the website? A yes to any one of those questions would make the process worthwhile.

So if it’s worth doing, how do you go about crafting a winning nomination? With good examples, that’s how. Lawyers shouldn’t have to be told to provide evidence, but I’ve seen many nominations from lawyers filled with such phrases as “There is no question that Client E or Lawyer F is deserving of this award.” In How to Write Citations, a refreshingly direct little memorandum from the UK Cabinet Office, the secretariat responsible for national awards comments: “As long as they are accurate, do not be afraid of using superlatives in citations. Honours exist specifically to recognise superlative achievement. But remember that superlatives without an explanation are just hot air. Take care always to support any assertions with hard evidence.” YESSSSSSS!

Should you try again if a nomination was unsuccessful the first time? Certainly—if it’s permitted and you’ve done your due diligence about why the first nomination was unsuccessful. I rewrote a nomination for a young lawyer whose previous nomination, from her mentor, consisted of statements like: “I have no hesitation in nominating Susie Q for this award”—but no examples of why Susie Q was a deserving candidate. After debriefing with the award organizers and interviewing the candidate, I focused on telling a great story about all her accomplishments, both personal and professional. Susie Q won the award. So what were the results, besides Susie taking home the hardware? A firm seeking a higher profile was elevated to the same platform as its major, better-known competition. A promising young lawyer was recognized in her client community. Younger lawyers saw their firm investing in one of their own. The award was mentioned in pitches and proposals as an example of the firm’s excellence.

Moral of the story? Make awards nominations part of your marketing plan, choose only those awards that dovetail with your goals, do the research—and invest in professionally written nominations.

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