Flushed with our Gold Standard Award for Issues Management and Crisis Communications in Hong Kong in December last year, we thought we should submit our work for another award. This new one is run by a marketing portal that includes public relations as one of its disciplines, confident that our work will win an award.

When we won the Gold Standard Award we paid for attending the ceremony but the price was reasonable and they didn’t try to charge us extra for a video interview or a certificate.

True enough, we got shortlisted!

And that’s when the disillusionment began.

We were informed that our submission had been shortlisted as a finalist in the Crisis Management category earlier this week via a phone call followed by an email with the subject: “Pop the champagne, stamp your victory and take a bow in front of your peers in the PR industry!”

Can’t fault them for being ebullient. In the email they proposed that we come down to the awards that would be held at a five-star hotel in Singapore. Then came the proposition, carefully summed up in a chart for financially challenged PR professionals:

Sure, they have salaries to pay and you’d expect them to make some profit from organising the awards. Fair is fair. But these rates are VERY steep.

Even in a five-star hotel in Singapore dinner would come to about S$100 per head, given that event organizers would negotiate for discounts because of the volume of business they bring in. But let’s say it’s about S$150. Add on S$100 for administation, overhead and other costs. Add another S$want to charge for the certificate and 100 for profits an it would come up to S$350.

The entry level according to this chart is at least S$450 or so. And in a feat of meaness , they are also charging for the video interview (which seems to be optional) and certificate (which seems to be not).

Being careful with our money we asked if there was any discount as we and our clients would have to fly in to the event. Back came the answer:

… I am able to lower the cost for you further:
” 5 seats at the Gala Night, 1 x video interview (done on the Gala Night and will be published on the website), Certificate of Achievement at S$3,600
” 5 seats at the Gala Night, 1 x Case Study (to be published on the website and promoted through our e-newsletter), Certificate of Achievement at S$3,600

This was accompanied with an unsolicited:
I do understand that you and your clients will have to fly in for the event. The result is worth flying in *

HINT*

How this usually works in awards is that a firm gets shortlist and understandably, if they are out of town, they’d ask the organizer if it would be worthwhile the expense and time. The organisers would usually respond with subtle hints. *HINTS* – in between stars, all upper case and in bold, and unsolicited — is anything but a hint in the same magnitude that a sledgehammer is not a mallet.

Our junior consultant sought to see if we could buy individual tickets instead and got this reply:

Yup that would be possible.
It would cost S$450 per seat. For 3 seats, that would be S$1,350.
However, you will not be getting the certificate of achievement. Only the trophy J
I could customise a 3 seat package for you:
” 3 seats at the Gala Night, 1 x video interview (done on the Gala Night and will be published on the website), Certificate of Achievement at S$2,550
” 3 seats at the Gala Night, 1 x Case Study (to be published on the website and promoted through our e-newsletter), Certificate of Achievement at S$2,550
You guys did pretty amazing *HINT* therefore I would strongly suggest that you consider the package.

That hint again! That was the tipping point for us. Our conclusion now is that this award is not worth going to Singapore to receive.

Although we would want our work to be recognised, at the end the price to pay is literally too much. We’d feel like getting the short end of the stick if we agreed to pay S$450 for the amount. The salt in the wound here is having to accept the bundling of the video interview and the certificate. Why would anyone have to pay for a certificate, which is something inexpensive, when we’ve already shelled out $150 as the submission fees?

This approach by the organizers seems short-sighted. If they made the video interview complimentary winners and their clients would want to share it in their websites, or point to it in the organiser’s website, increasing their traffic. A certificate in the office means many visitors will eyeball the name of the organizers as well, thereby increasing people’s awareness of the organizer’s vents and brand.

As it is when the day for the award comes next month we’ll be one of the missing ones. As will, I suspect, many other PR firms.

This is all a pity because the PR industry needs to celebrate and learn from its successes and speak to each other more. Awarding ceremonies are events where that can happen.

Footnote: If the organisers should read this blogpost they’ll be in an interesting situation: they could do nothing and be faced with the possibility of other PR firms and their clients wising up to their extortionate rates, wily packages and unsubtle selling methods. In this case it may trigger a lot of no shows.

Or they can try to address the issue and make the awards affordable, change their marketing methods and try to build a credible awards system.

They could also be very cynical and make sure that, in spite of their *HINT*s, we end up not winning the category and deny that any of that conversation took place. Except we have the emails. Or they can get defensive and try to justify their actions.

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