Jane Lindhe Reporter

Jane is a retail and small business writer with a special interest in emerging companies and entrepreneurs. She covered the financial services industry before moving into general business journalism and has written for The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

View more articles from Jane Lindhe

Awards are a mixed blessing

Published 05 July 2012 05:03, Updated 05 July 2012 06:09

+font -font print
Awards are a mixed blessing

Don’t bank on it: Awards and prizes don’t mean access to loans will be any easier Andrew Quilty

The founder of $60 million outsourcing company, Freelancer.com, Matt Barrie, found his “warts and all” image on the cover of BRW confronting to say the least. The “extreme close-up” image was less than flattering and supported Barrie’s theory that the media wants to paint him as the “evil mastermind who wants to dominate the universe”.

That said, Barrie, like any good entrepreneur, is willing to sacrifice his vanity for the sake of publicity. He knows the power of getting his face into the media.

Barrie first nominated Freelancer for a business award in 2006. Since then, his company has taken numerous national and international accolades, including three Webbys – the IT world’s answer to the Grammy awards – and appeared on several BRW lists.

“The media attention is just crazy. I might just have to move countries to escape it,” Barrie says. “That image [on the cover of BRW] was confronting and the cover of [fellow Fairfax insert] Good Weekend was even worse. But . . . getting your face onto the cover of a magazine pretty much puts you out there.”

Once a company wins one award, the recognition has a flow-on effect, Barrie says. Some awards require self-nomination, others come by surprise. Some nomination processes are much more stringent than others.

“Ernst & Young’s [entrepreneur of the year] should be called the bureaucrat of the year awards,” he says.

“There are literally inches of application forms to full out . . . and essays to write and videos to do. They know every intimate detail of your business.”

Aside from being good for the ego and marketing, Barrie says winning awards presents excellent networking opportunities.

At last year’s Webby Awards in New York, which honour excellence on the internet, business owners mingled with A-listers such as actors Lisa Kudrow and Will Ferrell, and singer David Bowie.

Most major business awards – such as BRW’s Fast 100 list, E&Y’s Entrepreneur of the Year and the Telstra Business Award – have alumni groups, such as the BRW Fast Club, that encourage winners to network and keep in touch.

The founder and chief executive of Australia’s second-largest internet service provider, iiNet, Michael Malone, has just returned from Monte Carlo where he competed in E&Y’s global Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. Winning the national award came as a shock as he was up against some big names in business, such as CSL chief executive Brian McNamee.

The first 10 seconds of Malone’s speech on the awards night had to be censored: “I got up on to the stage and yelled into the microphone, ‘How the f*ck did that happen?’”

While winning the national award and competing for the global title was a great personal accomplishment, he says his main motivation in entering awards is to benefit his staff.

“It’s really important for staff to know they’re working for an award-winning company and it’s an endorsement for customers, too,” he says.

“It’s a good way to monitor how we’re doing . . . we think we’re good but how do others view us?” The stringent application process of certain awards and lists can be tiresome but it also forces companies and founders to look at their history and strategy – something they rarely take the time to do, Malone says.

“Some might say that filling out application forms is a distraction from the business, but I personally think it’s worth it,” he says.

“You get to look at the business from a perspective that you might not have [done] before.”

For small, young businesses such as children’s brand, b.box For Kids, winning awards is a way of gaining access to more experienced business people to network with. Director and co-founder Dannielle Michaels says her business, a finalist in the microbusiness division of the prestigious Telstra Business Awards, says it also gives the company credibility with its business peers.

“The awards provide you with access to a range of other businesses and contacts that can open up new avenues otherwise not considered,” she says. “They are also prestigious awards in the business community and help validate our position as a force to be reckoned with in our industry.”

But even winning awards has its drawbacks. Your bank ultimately doesn’t care what awards you’ve won, the founder of the franchise chain Villa & Hut, Franz Madlener, says.

The entrepreneur – who has since sold his stake in the company and is in the process of setting up a new one – was championed by former E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year sponsor Westpac as a finalist in the Victorian division of the awards in 2007. But in that same financial year, Westpac withdrew Madlener’s overdraft facility, placing huge financial strain on the company.

“The sponsorship of awards has no synergy between recognition the award can give an organisation and the weight the company holds with a financial institution,” he says.

“I was their golden child and then I was dumped in less than a year.”

That said, Madlener says he had three reasons to enter Villa & Hut in various business awards. First, because it acts as a morale booster for employees. Second, it forces management to work together and reflect on previous years to produce a nomination. And third, because awards serve as an “introduction” to possible new franchisees.

“Awards alone won’t win you business, but they are an introduction,” he says. “The best analogy I can give is around going to see a movie. You’re not sure what you want to see but if a film has been nominated for four Academy Awards, you think, ‘There’s a chance I will like this because others have, too’.”

Comments