To Thoth…or Not?

Getting an award for your communications work is a real feather in your cap, second in value to your business, I would think, only to landing a great client recommendation or testimonial.

Area communications organizations know this, and capitalize on this.  The annual awards programs are major revenue-builders, as the leadership will readily admit.  That’s one reason why there are so many categories!  More entries, more chances to win, and more revenues.

That’s not to say awards programs are not valuable endeavors, even to those communicators who don’t win awards.  I enjoy the awards programs because I like to see what kinds of approaches are being used by communicators — when that observation is provided for.

Locally, DC communicators have a variety of awards from which to select — PRSA-NCC has the Thoth Awards, The DC Ad Club offers the ADDYs, and IABC-DC has the Silver Inkwell Awards.

Honestly, I don’t know much about the IABC-DC awards.  I’m not a member.  But I do know about the PRSA-NCC and DC Ad Club award programs.  I have worked to promote both in past years.

But I have only entered one of these competitions.  Can you guess which one?

Nope.  Not that one.

Although I identify primarily with the public relations community in the DC area, the awards competition I care about enough to enter is the ADDYs.

Why?  Well, for several reasons.  I thought I would take a look at that today, because I think the Thoth Awards can learn a thing or two from the ADDYs.  If the Thoth Awards were structured more like the ADDYs, I would enter my work. Until then, I think I’ll just observe and clap politely 🙂

Reason #1: Significance of Award

The Thoth Award is a great award to have.  But the ADDY Award carries more prestige, for this reason: once you win the DC-based Thoth, that’s it.  You do not go on to win regional or national recognition for your work.  The ADDYs, by contrast, are a tiered competition. DC area winners go on to compete in the regionals.  Regional winners go on to compete for the national awards.  Winning a national award is a big deal. Winning a DC-based competition, not so much.

I believe the PRSA should implement a tiered competition, as does the American Advertising Federation.  The current system is more than a little confusing, and not tied to the local chapters at all.  It would make for a more meaningful and exciting competition, and would also promote national standards of excellence for the profession.

Reason #2: Impartiality of Judges

The primary reason why I have not entered the Thoth competition is because of the way the judges are selected.  I am not alleging that the judges are prejudiced one way or another, and I appreciate the volunteer service of past judges.  I’m sure they strive to be as impartial as possible.  The problem is, the way the judges are selected for Thoth does not ensure impartiality in the way that the ADDYs do, and impartiality is a critical aspect of any awards competition, particularly a local one.

In a nutshell,

Thoth Awards: Local judges.  No transparency.

ADDY Awards: Non-local judges.  Full transparency.

The judges for the ADDYs are selected for their expertise in each category.  Many are known nationally for their work, and no judges within the Washington metropolitan area are included on the judging panel.  An effort is made to create diversity among the judges.  And, while it is a volunteer gig, their expenses are reimbursed, which is important for out-of-area travel and makes the impartial nature of the judging process feasible.  Also the names and backgrounds of the judges are released beforehand.  Walking into it, you know your work is going to be assessed by some pretty incredible folks.  Even if you don’t win, that carries value for the entrant.  But importantly, they’re evaluating the work.  Not you.

The Thoth Awards, by contrast, are judged by members of the PRSA-NCC, usually the prominent ones.  There are only about 1200 of us.  If you’re active in PRSA-NCC, chances are, you will personally know the judges, and they will know you, to some degree.  Possibly a higher degree of acquaintance than name only, if you have created work worthy of an entry.  Not that you know who they are, because the identities are not made public.  But they know who you are.  And just that fact, I think, makes it really hard for them to be impartial judges of the work.  They’re just too close to it.  Also there doesn’t seem to be any established way of selecting judges.  I know people volunteer and I know people are asked.  But what criteria is used?  They appear to be hand-selected by whoever is in charge of Thoth that year.  There is no clear criteria for judge selection for the Thoth awards (at least, none that is publicly available or disclosed) the way there is for the ADDY Awards.

The anonymous nature of Thoth judges presents a problem for many entrants.  You know your work will be judged by your peers, but you don’t know if those peers actually have any expertise for your category.  You’re not assured, for example, that they have experience in, or even an understanding of, the category they are judging.

Honestly, you don’t even know if the judges are entering the competition themselves that year.  (Of course, I don’t think they should, and I don’t think Thoth committee members should enter the competition for the year they serve, either.)  None of that is clear to the entrant.

These factors make their assessment difficult to value, as an entrant.

Reason #3: Presentation of the Work

As I mentioned, communications organizations load competitions with plenty of categories because awards programs generate big revenues.  It gets a bit challenging, actually, when it comes time to actually distribute all those awards on awards night.

Because space and time are at a premium for awards ceremonies, the Thoth Awards tend not to display the work in a way that is meaningful to the awards ceremony attendees.  So you can attend the Thoth Awards, either as an entrant or just as a spectator, and walk away with a bunch of names that evening, but no real demonstration of why their work was considered excellent.  You don’t know why they won.  The learning piece is not there. The award winners are not even displayed on the PRSA-NCC website.

The ADDY Awards, in comparison, is a whole different affair.  Visit the DC Ad Club website and you will see the winners, not just for the most recent year, but for several recent years.  Think what a marketing benefit that is for the award-winner!

But more importantly, display of the winning entries (at the various levels) is an integral part of the ADDYs.  There is ample time to peruse the gallery of entrants, both before and after the awards ceremony.  And during the ceremony, care is given to display the entries, as time allots (for example, videos are shown, and screen grabs of websites and logos are displayed).

Not only does this make for a more interesting evening, but you actually learn something about what constitutes excellence in this area, and for that category.

Reason #4: Cost of Entry

The cost of entering the Thoth Awards has not prevented me from entering.  What has discouraged me from entering is the judging approach.  But I think it’s worth pointing out the Thoth Awards is a pricey endeavor, in comparison to other awards programs.

This would prevent some firms from competing to the same degree as other, more well-heeled firms.  I imagine if you were submitting 10 entries, cost could be a factor.  And there is a marked difference in entry fees between the ADDYs and the Thoth Awards that I can’t see as justified.

Last year, a DC Ad Club member could enter the ADDYs for $100 per entry.  That is the one time fee.  The local winners would not have to resubmit entry fees to compete at the regional and national levels. That is included, if you win.

And let’s face it, the time to assemble the entry costs money, too.  With the ADDYs, you do that just once.

Contrast this to the PRSA-NCC’s Thoth awards.  Not a tiered competition.  Not flying in and hosting judges, like the ADDYs does.  Not renting a space sufficiently large to display award winning entries, like the ADDYs also does.

But in excess of 50% more expensive, per cost per entry: $160, for PRSA-NCC members. How is that justified?

So, thinking about entering the national PRSA Bronze Anvil or Silver Anvil competitions?  You’ll have to enter those competitions separately, and pay separately, too.  In addition to the time you’ll spend preparing your entry, get ready to write a check for $300 per entry for the Silver Anvil, or $175 for the Bronze. But don’t forget to tack on $25 extra if you pay your entry fee by check!

And, tough luck, there are no regional categories for the Bronze Anvil or Silver Anvil Awards.  Nor are there Student Awards (with suitable discounts), as there are for the ADDYs.

Should You Thoth?  Or Not?

The truth is, the Thoth Awards are not the only game in town.  Communicators do have options.  As much as I support the PRSA-NCC in other ways,  I think the awards program requires serious restructuring, from the top down.

It’s time for the PRSA to emulate the American Advertising Federation, and for its chapters to do likewise.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on May 7, 2011, in DC Ad Club, PRSA-NCC, Public Relations Tips and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I agree with you completely – local judges with a vested interest in their work and those of others they work with, should not be the judges of awards competitions. The tendency towards bias is just to strong. My experience with the Thoth awards has been that it’s expensive, and we have entered work that literally built new brands and markets, and not even made it past the first cut. We were given the judges remarks, anonymously of course, which was useful.

    But to me, the biggest problem with the Thoth awards is that everything has to be submitted on paper which seems completely archaic in today’s PR world. When your entire program was conducted online, how can you fairly judge work that is then printed out and put in a binder?

    The Addy’s are prestigious and their judging is a much more sophisticated system. As for IABC, I have judged their national awards programs and found the judging to be systematic and very professional. Entrants can submit either on paper or electronically or both, which is a much better way to showcase work. IABC has a multi-tiered system as well. There is a first layer of judging that wades through all the submissions, and then there is another round to pick the winners with a second group of judges. I’ve seen judges opt out when they have a vested interest or bias against an organization submitting work.

    I don’t know if I have an answer to your bigger question, but at this point, we’d rather satisfy clients than judges. There’s no better recommendation than someone you’ve done great work for.

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