PR industry awards – what are they for?

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be presenting one of the prizes at the CIPR PRide North-West awards dinner at Old Trafford.

It was a fantastic evening celebrating the best of current PR practice in the area, and it was especially good to see two of our MMUBS MScPR alumni up on the stage as part of award-winning PR teams: Anna Varley Jones, Account Manager at Weber Shandwick, and Paul Hadfield, Senior Account Manager at Havas PR, whose agencies were respectively Gold and Silver winners for Outstanding Agency of the Year.

Our long-term supporter Brian Beech of Havas PR was also honoured as Outstanding PR Professional, and it was good to meet so many of our former students in the audience as well!

The determined and dignified long-term campaigning of Margaret Aspinall, chair of Hillsborough Families for Justice, was recognised with the Communicator of the Year award; a lot of money was raised for Mind – all round an enjoyable, professional and worthy event. What’s not to like, you might have thought?

Well, just this. I can’t be the only PR person who has heard industry awards regarded with a certain amount of cynicism. “Just a lot of back-slapping, isn’t it? It’s just about PR industry luvvies and rainmakers giving awards to their mates to keep the wheels turning.” And it’s not just from hard-bitten journalists that I’ve heard these views: sometimes it’s been from non-PR Chief Execs who should know better.

So what ARE industry awards worth? The answer is that they’re as good as the judges, the judging criteria and the governance of the process. In the case of the CIPR PRide awards, it’s about clear criteria which are firmly linked to the professional body’s drive to improve professional standards. And the national CIPR, who administer the scheme, make sure not just that the judging is impartial, but that it is seen to be impartial, by randomising the judging process. PR professionals in the North West area who put up their hands to join the judging panel find themselves allocated entries from a different, geographically distant area of the UK to judge. The awards have to be judged on careful debate about the merits of the campaigns alone – it’s the only information the judges have available.

Yes, awards schemes can become little more than an industry junket and a bit of self-congratulation – but used wisely and well, they have a genuine role to play in improving professional standards for PR teams and driving CPD for individual practitioners. An educational role, in other words.

So yes, I enjoy a bit of of glitz and glamour as much as the next person – but that’s the real reason I value my experience as a PR awards judge, and why I’ll be putting my hand up again for the job next time around.