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Making the most of awards

By Lucy Mori
Entering awards requires a lot of effort, but with proper targeting and marketing afterwards it can make all the difference to the success of a practice.

Davies White won the 2012 communications category with its Garden of the Beasts at Hampton Court.

Davies White landscape architects describes itself on its website as offering ‘award-winning landscape architectural services’ and rightly so, since to a great extent the practice was founded on awards. Adam White explains that he and his business partner set up their practice, which specialises in environments for play, largely on the basis of winning an RHS Gold Medal. They designed a play garden called Playscape and exhibited at the Hampton Court Flower Show, at Saltex, at the Tatton Flower Show and at the NEC. This got them in front of a lot of people, but the most important aspect was the gold medal. ‘Everybody knows the RHS gold medal,’ White said. ‘Awards are the best advertisement that you can have’.

He made the most of the award, using it on his website and at the start of every presentation. Since then the practice has entered many awards, including the Landscape Institute awards, and had an impressive hit rate, winning, for example, the communications category last year with its Garden of the Beasts at Hampton Court. And the benefits, White has found, come before as well as afterwards. ‘Because we know we will be entering the awards, it makes us up our game,’ he said.

Davies White is an excellent example of a practice that has not only been successful in winning awards, but that has also made the most of them, both in marketing and as a way of testing and advancing within the practice. It is an approach that any ambitious practice would be wise to emulate.

It cannot be denied that award submissions take time and money – precious resources that could be spent on other things such as design, website or salaries. There are therefore three questions that all landscape professionals (indeed any professionals) should ask themselves before entering an award. They are:

—  Why bother with awards?
—  Which awards have most impact?
—  How can winning an award win me more work?

This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how many people ignore the obvious, and take actions out of habit or inertia.

Probably the most common reason to enter awards is that they bring peer recognition.  But remember that  awards also impress clients – both existing and potential.  Commissioners of projects (especially large, high-profile or public projects) are influenced by awards when selecting their design team. Therefore awards should be part of your marketing plan. But not all awards are equal, and the submission process is not a lottery.

As a business consultant, I advocate an analytical approach to awards submissions: starting with developing a strategy and marketing plan based on your strengths and opportunities. Your strategy might for example be to grow, or to move into different sectors, to design larger projects or to work internationally. Your marketing plan might include updating your website, networking at industry events, or entering awards. The objectives might for example be winning one project in a new sector or winning one award. You should consider electing which projects to submit for which awards within this context.

Much depends on the size of your practice and the scale of your projects, but in general an annual marketing plan (however brief) will help you decide how many awards to go in for and which awards to prioritise. At the same time, you can review which projects are award-worthy (have good images) and reflect a positive image of the practice.

When thinking about entering awards, the best place to start is with your recent projects. Ask yourself if  there is one which is excellent, beautiful, newsworthy, innovative, exciting or interesting? Obviously you should pick a project of which you are proud. But there are other questions worth asking as well. Does it fit with your strategy? Is the design emblematic of your practice or philosophy?  Is the client happy? Do you have great images? 

There are enormous numbers of awards for which your projects will be eligible so, with a project in mind, check the criteria of the different awards and decide which ones to go for. If your budget is tight, focus on the more prestigious professional awards, such as those run by the Landscape Institute.  Remember that you may be able to share the expenses with the client or project team – everyone can benefit from winning an award.

Check the costs
Don’t forget in the run up to an award that collecting, printing, mounting material, writing text and getting authorisation from clients, other consultants and photographers takes time. You may be tempted to delegate the task to younger members of the team,  but if you do, make sure that someone senior double-checks the content to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. Always inform your clients, since many private individuals do not want publicity and entering an award without their permission could harm your reputation. 

Make the material that you prepare work for you. Feature the new content on your website and announce that you have submitted for the award on your ‘news’ page or ‘blog’. Re-use carefully written text, images and models in brochures, online and in letters of expression of interest and PQQs. And if you get the presentation material back in good condition, you can display it in your office, use it in an exhibition, and show it to new clients.

If you are shortlisted, remember that being on the shortlist is almost as good as winning. Take advantage of this window of opportunity to promote the news with a press release sent to all your contacts: existing clients will love the fact that your work is admired by your peers, and previous clients and collaborators will bask in the halo of your success. At the same time, you may need to allocate time to arrange site visits for the jury and providing additional information.

Use the short-list to check out your competition:

— Who is on the short-list?
— What kind of work are they doing?
— Could you get similar work in the future?

Don’t forget that the awards ceremony is a great place to network in the profession, and raise your profile with journalists and the industry. You can also invite clients, your colleagues and have fun. And you can still go to the awards ceremony even if you don’t get shortlisted or win – this is called targeted marketing. If you win, then this is the moment to blow your own trumpet. Talk to editors about placing the completed project in the media, inform clients and contacts, mention it on your homepage, include it in the footer of your email, and tweet about it with a picture.

Tweeting a photo of your design with a link to your website can ‘go viral’, boost your profile and create a ‘buzz’. Getting an image on a well-respected and much-visited site, with a link to your website, can also drive traffic straight to your door. Social media can lead to significant international exposure, resulting in publication and potential international commissions.

Cross-reference any award win online by inserting links on your website to any other websites which feature the project (magazines, other consultants’ websites, clients’ websites). Search engines like Google pick up on these links and they drive additional traffic to your website.

Issues for landscape professionals
When designing a project have the awards criteria in mind, because using a certain material in an innovative way might lead to a win.

If landscape is only part of the project, talk to the other members of the design team and see which awards they are thinking of entering – you can share costs and effort.

Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the landscape matures before photographing or entering an award. This is a criterion for landscape awards but in other categories you may find that you have passed the allowed dates. The landscape may not be mature – but the design may still look great.

Congratulations if you have won or been shortlisted for a Landscape Institute award this year. If not, and if you did not enter, think of the advantages for you of entering next year.

Lucy Mori runs KL Mori business consulting for architects
Categories and criteria of award:

Professional: Professional body
Landscape Institute, BALI, Civic Trust, RHS, RIBA, RTPI
  Professional media
Topos, The Architects Journal, Horticulture Week
Consumer: Magazine or newspaper
Grand Designs Awards, Daily Telegraph, 
Sunday Times etc.
Industry: Sector
Better Health Care Awards, Britain in Bloom
Wood, Brick, Concrete, Natural Stone
Criteria  Size / scale
Size / contract value

Industry sector 

Date for completion
Has it been published before?
Small, medium, large
Small, medium, large
UK, region, national, international

Private / public 
Health, retail, education, office, sports etc
Wood, brick, concrete, natural stone


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