It’s not very often that event organizers get nominated for well-executed awards ceremonies. That’s because award galas tend to be fairly traditional in their approach, difficult to make entertaining, and seemingly endless when there are lots of winners.

But they can also be good revenue streams, especially if awards are going to contest entry recipients, as well as for ticket sales and sponsorships. And they make excellent networking events. Plus, it’s a way to make your volunteers or your company’s stars, feel really good about themselves.

So instead of killing the sacred cow, and short of finding the kind of budget to make a ceremony Oscar-like in its production value—or filled with real celebrities—here are a few tips from a recent industry awards ceremony I attended (and I’ve been to plenty), which I thought was creative and more interesting than most.

The Event. The annual Adrian Awards Reception and Gala is organized by the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International to celebrate innovation and creativity in hospitality advertising, digital marketing, and public relations. The Adrian Awards are the hospitality industry’s version of the CLIOs, the annual awards that honor creative advertising in package design, print, and radio and television commercials.

The Venue. HSMAI has been holding its awards gala at the New York Marriott Marquis for more than ten years, in late January or early February. New York is the perfect spot: it’s the home of advertising and marketing agencies, and even though winners come from destinations and hotels worldwide, the creative types don’t have to travel. And that means a built-in audience. Nearly 900 attended this year’s ceremony.

 

The Timing. It’s not critical to hold your awards event at the same time each year (although there is much to be said for it being on potential attendees’ annual calendars and in their budgets). But it is important to hold it in conjunction with another event if you are reaching beyond a local audience. So if you’re not holding the awards ceremony during your annual meeting or convention, plan a training or educational event that the awards participants also want to attend. HSMAI holds an invitation-only Chief Marketing Officer Executive Roundtable forum the day of the event and its Digital Marketing Strategy Conference the day after the awards evening. Many attendees have more than one reason to make the trip.

 

 

The Surprise Element

The Surprise Element. HSMAI received more than 1,200 submissions globally for the 2013 Adrian Awards. From the entries, it presented 46 Gold Adrian Awards in advertising, 87 in digital marketing, and 130 in public relations. Platinum winners were selected from the most outstanding Gold Award entries, and the show’s highest merit winners, Best of Show, were chosen from the Platinum frontrunners. Platinum and Best of Show are not publicized before the event, so not everyone knows who will be walking up on stage during the ceremony.

• The Editing. Just under 30 awards (out of more than 260) were given out throughout the evening. And HSMAI event organizers switched out the presenters, who are its members, after every award category and invited last year’s Lifetime Award winners to present this year’s winners.

The Big Switch. Instead of serving a banquet meal during the awards, HSMAI decided to make the cocktail hour the main meal. In the Marriott’s huge foyers on the eighth and ninth floors, plenty of appetizers were served, both passed and in stations, in an elegant way, easily filling the dinner bill. The awards ceremony was dessert only (one note: make this clear to attendees beforehand or when registering upon arrival). The leisurely pace of the reception provided really good networking time. After all, these gatherings are not so much about who is being honored, but about networking with all the important people who are coming to honor, hoping they will be honored someday! And it’s way harder to find people after they have been seated. And because courses weren’t being served during the awards, there was no clanking of plates on trays.

The Main Event. HSMAI turned the tables, so to speak, with its ballroom set as well, using rectangular tables with five seats on each side and one at the back end. I don’t think I’ve been to an awards banquet that wasn’t rounds! But it made perfect sense: Clearly it was aimed at directing everyone’s attention to the stage. It worked!  And the beautifully decorated tables were preset with buckets of champagne, champagne glasses, and dessert plates with elegantly styled platters of petit fours.

Music of the Night

Music of the Night. The musical interludes and transitions between each award were fantastic, many with Broadway themes (the hotel is located on Broadway in New York’s Times Square), or other classic tunes from the 1930s through the 1960s, which tied into the evening’s theme, A Night to Remember. It also provided a touch of class to the black-tie event.

Chunking it Out. The awards lasted two hours. There were a lot of awards to give out. But because some companies were being recognized for their digital marketing efforts, the organizers made generous use of video, and it became the savior of the day. It broke the monotony, and nowadays who doesn’t have some kind of video to show?

Sustaining or Upping the Attendance. Any award gala organizer understands the importance of having a wide appeal so that enough people attend (especially if it is a ticketed event, often with a high price tag).  It’s a delicate balance, since the more award winners, the more boring (witness the Oscars, which this year moved every technical award to another awards ceremony, showing just clips at the main event).

HSMAI also showcases the “Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales & Marketing” as part of its annual Adrian Awards Gala, a list that highlights those who have “made a sizeable influence on the hospitality, travel, and tourism industries.” Two lifetime achievement awards were also given out, one to David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International, chosen as the recipient of the Albert E. Koehl Award for advertising and marketing; and one to Richard S. Kahn, president and owner of Kahn Travel Communications (KTCpr), who was presented with the Winthrop W. Grice Award for public relations excellence.

• The Right Team. HSMAI has worked with Sequence, an event company based in New York, for almost 10 years, because the team led by Managing Director Lizz Torgovnick, “has been a true event partner,” says Fran Brasseux, CHSE, executive vice president of HSMAI. “They always bring new ideas to the table, some of which make the next year’s show, and some that are held for future consideration.” HSMAI also went outside its internal team for this event to contract with a meeting and event planner, Peggy Shughrue Walz, of PegMotions. “Her attention to detail took the creative ideas and made them work in the Marriott space so well the first year we contracted with her, that long-time attendees actually thought HSMAI had used new space at the hotel for the event! But even the best event team can’t pull off a great event without the partnership of a very experienced hotel catering team. This is where years count, and respect is earned not given, event by event.”