Winning an award (or even being shortlisted) can open up huge opportunities for social entrepreneurs and changemakers to build their profile and expand their business – but entering awards takes precious time that you might feel is better invested elsewhere.
Nominating yourself for an award might feel too uncomfortable, and it can be hard to compete against the big companies who can afford to hire PR companies to put together highly polished applications.
And yet, awards can have big benefits when they play a strategic role in your marketing strategy.
I’ve won multiple awards myself and experienced these benefits first hand.
For example, when I was announced as the UK’s Green & Eco Influencer of the Year 2018 at the UK Blog Awards, the title added credibility to my work.
It felt great to be recognised for the commitment I’d put into my blog, and it opened the door to new opportunities and connections – including television and radio appearances, and being invited to be an ambassador for the DEFRA Year of Green Action campaign in 2019.
As the public conversation around sustainability deepens and the climate crisis rages on, we need more changemakers to confidently put themselves forward for business awards.
Awards get you noticed by the media
The general public often learn about ethical and sustainable issues from the mainstream media.
But getting your ethical business featured without investing in professional PR support isn’t always easy.
Becoming a finalist or a winner for a business award is a talking point. It won’t necessarily get you in the press as a standalone story, but it can be used strategically to get coverage for your impact.
In 2019, I worked with social entrepreneur Jo Salter to launch the Be The Change Awards, a new awards programme recognising independent changemakers and small ethical businesses supporting the Sustainable Development Goals.
3 finalists came from Sussex, UK, and were able to collaborate to secure press coverage ahead of the awards, as a local business success story.
The day before the winners were announced, finalists Zola Amour, Ruby Moon Gym To Swim and Pala Eyewear appeared on BBC Sussex radio to talk about their success and the impact their businesses are having, and their story was featured on Giving Times too.
The awards themselves were also featured on the BBC news.
My Co-Founder Jo was interviewed about our mission to raise awareness of brands that do good:
“There’s so many unsung heroes that work day and night to do positive things in our world. They’re up against the big brands with massive marketing budgets, so we wanted to give them a pat on the back and say, you’re doing fantastic work.
We wanted to give them an opportunity to share their story, tell their tale and have their businesses grow.”
The report also included a showcase of Babies & Children Finalists Suffolk Babies – interviewing them about their impact within the local community.
Using the awards as a talking point, the social enterprises were able to raise more brand awareness through these press opportunities.
They are now able to add the publication logos to the press section of their website and share the interviews, footage and articles on their social media – adding credibility to their brand.
Press coverage also attracts a new audience that might not otherwise be aware of your work.
Look what happened to my website visitors back in the early days when I was just getting started – can you spot the day I was invited to speak on BBC Radio 4?!
They give you access to new contacts and opportunities
In 2018, I encouraged and supported one of my clients – an eco-friendly handbag designer – to enter the International Independent Handbag Designer Awards as the ‘Most Socially Conscious Handbag’.
Their brand was relatively new and they were still in their first year of business, so they were unsure about entering at first – but they put together an application and created an entry video, and were over the moon when they were announced as a finalist!
This meant that they were eligible to travel to New York for a special showcase event (and the awards ceremony of course!), and although they didn’t win, they were able to meet new industry contacts and attract press coverage – a fantastic opportunity for such a young brand.
I’d also been supporting them with their marketing strategy and getting to know their ideal customer – who we identified as an urban young woman with a sense of adventure – making New York the perfect location for a lifestyle photoshoot using their products, which they were able to organise during their trip.
In 2019 they entered the awards again and were successful in winning the ‘Best Green Handbag’ Award sponsored by Pinatex. As winners, they now have the opportunity to collaborate with, and receive business mentoring from, Pinatex – an amazing opportunity which the awards have given them access to!
Big retailers take notice of award winners
If you run a product-based business, to make a sustainable income you probably need to expand into wholesale – and getting your products into big retailers helps raise awareness of your cause at a larger scale too!
But successfully pitching to big retailers isn’t just about profit margins, as 11 year old surfer Ned learnt when he entered the Be The Change Awards in 2019.
Ned is passionate about reducing ocean plastic pollution, and is on a mission to get more people to switch to bamboo toothbrushes through his social enterprise The Turtle Tribe.
He’ll send you your first bamboo toothbrush for free to get you to try it, so you can turn your back on the single use plastic ones that stay in the ocean or landfill for thousands of years.
But Ned’s big vision doesn’t stop there.
Now he’s converting consumers, it’s time for him to approach the big brands – the manufacturers, the retail stores and the decision makers with the potential to create a more widespread impact.
To do that, Ned needs to be seen and heard by the right people, which is why he entered the Be The Change Awards.
When we launched, we wrote in the T&Cs that entrants must be 16 or over (we also included a handy little clause saying judges reserve the right to change the rules!) But Ned sent us his video anyway, along with a short clip asking us to hear his story and reconsider: “I haven’t got 5 years to wait. The oceans can’t wait 5 years”
We were so moved that we decided to change the rules, and he inspired our judges so much, he won Changemaker of the Year!
And we weren’t the only ones moved by Ned’s story…
When he was shortlisted, Ned appeared on national television in Australia, and his Mum sent me this message:
“Another beautiful outcome of [these awards] is the ripple effect…we’re getting so many messages from people saying they’re inspired by Ned to keep going in the work they do.
Like this one… “Ned, you are a true inspiration! I saw your interview today and found myself googling anything I could find on the work you’re doing through Turtle Tribe.
I want you to know that your words and genuine passion for what you do has inspired me beyond explanation! Thank you for stepping up, for your amazing drive and for leading the way by example for others to follow.”
Not only has he encouraged consumers to take action by leading the change, he’s also started attracting the larger scale attention he needs through this work…
Ned’s dad also messaged to say:
“HUGE news….after Ned was on telly, a major national retail chain invited him to supply their 400 stores with bamboo toothbrushes.
They’ve tried selling bamboo toothbrushes before, but admitted sales were poor. They said they were attracted to selling Ned’s brushes entirely because they have a story behind them. A mission. A message that they can use to get consumer buy-in.
The media love him, and every time he appears in the media more doors open for him. I honestly don’t think there’s any way I could get plastic toothbrushes banned. But I reckon he could. I really do. And so does he.”
The big retailers were interested in Ned’s story. It wasn’t his award win that got their attention – but that was the catalyst for the media to start talking about his work and help him get noticed.
You can use awards to open up new opportunities and connections.
That’s what Ned’s done, and it’s what you can do too.
It keeps people engaged in the sustainability agenda
Public awareness of the climate crisis is at an all time high, and more people than ever before are looking to make swaps in their everyday life to be more environmentally friendly.
Forbes found that 77% of people want to learn to live more sustainably, and 93% are concerned about the environment.
As an ethical and sustainable brand, this is good news because it means your target market is expanding.
However, to create this level of awareness, campaigners, activists and scientists have relied on the “shock factor” – explaining the nature of the emergency and the short timeline involved.
When we use this type of language, we can risk triggering people’s fight, flight or freeze response to danger – which means that they may disengage or lose hope.
We already know that eco-anxiety is on the rise, and people are starting to get frustrated by the amount of greenwashing and inaction from those in power and large corporations.
If this continues, we may start to see public attention move away from sustainability as they begin to feel powerless, or as if their small swaps and changes are pointless.
To keep engagement up, we need to celebrate success and provide positive reinforcement too.
Being shortlisted for or winning an award is cause for celebration, not just for you and your team, but for your audience and customers too, who can join in your celebrations and enjoy the positive recognition of your work!
Awards provide external validation for your impact – and show you’re not greenwashing
Just as public awareness of sustainability is growing, so is their ability to spot greenwashing.
More and more conscious consumers are calling out brands on social media and beginning to boycott those that aren’t fully committing to their ethical and sustainable claims.
For small brands and social enterprises, it can be expensive and time consuming to apply for external certifications, and you may not have the resources available to get this external validation for your work.
But the public are increasingly likely to look for this as proof that you’re not greenwashing.
Awards can be a good way to get external validation without going through lengthy and expensive processes while your brand is still small.
Especially in cases where the award is judged by industry experts, you have to submit data and evidence about your impact and finances, and there’s no fee to enter. The more credible the award programme itself, the more credibility awards success can bring to your brand.
As a social enterprise, activist or changemaker, there are numerous benefits to entering awards, and even if you don’t win you can leverage these as opportunities to grow your income, influence and impact.
You don’t have to hire a PR company to put you forward for awards – with the right strategy you can successfully nominate yourself. Here’s our advice on how to write winning awards applications.
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