What award ceremonies are all about

HenryIt doesn’t matter if you are in waste management, banking or you build houses, there will be an award dinner which your company will be asked to attend to get a chance to win a perspex tombstone that you will take home and proudly display to all and sundry.

Award ceremonies are part of corporate life and they are not going away.

Attending the ceremony won’t be cheap, a table of ten will set you back £5,000 at a top Park Lane event and if you’re looking to put your team and your guests up, add another £3,000 on that ; there’s the wine bill (which won’t be less than £1,000). Sponsoring the pre-dinner drinks, the programs and of course the awards themselves means that your awards dinner sits towards the top of your company’s marketing budget.

At one level, the award ceremony is about a transfer of wealth via the stomachs of the “great and the good” from the pockets of the shareholder to the pockets of the hospitality industry. That these ceremonies happen every year, in every industry suggests that they fulfill an underlying need among British companies.

Not all ceremonies are the same; the high profile ceremonies that make the tele and involve politicians , the CEOs of the very top companies and various media celebrities sit at the top of the food change. From there down , industry events reflect the profitability of the sector.

The ones I go to are pretty posh and attract fund managers, insurance companies and advisers who reward their top customers or (more likely) the customers they aspire to. The guests on your table say more about your company’s aspirations than anything else “whose table are you on” is the critical question, an evasive answer usually means you are on the table as a trophy and, provided you know your status, you sell yourself dear, answers  such as “I can’t remember and “does it really matter” mark you as celeb. (or arrogant tw*t).

And every year , old hacks like me scan the pre-dinner drink frocks for the aspirant newbie who can be identified by nervous demeanour and rather too much attention to detail on the “frock front”. Award ceremonies are debutant balls for the thrusting young executive, the ticket to the event will have been artfully displayed on office desks for weeks as it marks you in the corporate firmament as a flaming comet among asteroids.

“Celebs and debs” are one thing , but there is a solid hardcore of attendees who turn up , not because they want to but because they have to. And when I say “have to”, I am not talking corporate pressure. No company can force staff to turn up at 5.30pm and push off at 2 am , doing nothing in between but meet, greet ,clap and dance. The eight hour endurance session is about making sure you are seen. This is the careerist-cat-walk that you have to tread.

There was a fascinating moment at last week’s awards when one firm who had gone through the gruelling process of submissions, actually won two awards and failed to turn up!

Jimmy Carr, who was dishing out the gongs was delighted. Was this a snub to the organisers, an oversite (did they get the wrong night) or an insult to the audience? The audience clearly thought it was about them and Insight Investment Management received loud boos on each occasion the award remained in the box (fancy sponsoring an award that the winners can’t be bothered turning up to!).

I know one of the Insight Team and know they were cross from the previous year when they’d turned up and not won. At some point between submitting their entries and the event, someone at Insight decided they didn’t need to play anymore.

Insight are big enough and strong enough to take all this in their stride but I wonder about the booing. Was this supreme confidence or corporate hubris?

The fragile foundations of awards ceremony, the massaging of the various egos involved, depends absolutely on everyone playing the game. We go along with these awards because they are a means to maintain status within the industry and for the most ambitious, to further careers. When a player plays fast and loose with the format (the pension personality of the previous year also failed to turn up), the foundations are shaken.

There are very few people at the top of companies who are sufficiently secure in their own skin to turn down an invitation to a major awards ceremony. You made it up the greasy poll and you know that what goes up , must come down. Fortunate indeed are those who don’t need to worry about the invitation, even more fortunate – those who can turn it down.

Securing your place at the table is a career skill.  This is why there is such value in getting on the “judges panel”. Being on the panel (and there were 30 judges at the Prof Pens industry awards this week) guarantees you a place at the ball. You need to sit in darkened rooms judging the submissions but it is always worth it on the night. Get to be a good judge and whatever your value outside the hall, you will always be on top of the pole on the night.

There is however one group of guests who I salute as the heart and soul of the events industry. They are the partygoers who make it onto tables because they are fun, interesting and make things fo with a swing. These are the true blue-bloods who will be found dancing to ABBA long after the “suits” have left. They, were they not at the event, would be genuinely missed.

They would never stop to ask the question whether awards ceremonies have value, they are too busy adding it!

For me they are what awards ceremonies are all about. When I can’t find a photo like this on my iPhone the following moment, I’ll stop going too!


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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3 Responses to What award ceremonies are all about

  1. George Kirrin says:

    Henry, the trouble is it’s the customers who pay in the end, ie the long suffering members of pension schemes. What some of us would give to be a fly on the wall (or, rather, in the ointment) when the not-very-rich and certainly-not-very-famous let their hair down (and themselves down) at such events. Do the award winners do better for their customers? I doubt it, and suspect their performances are average at best.

  2. Emma says:

    I love this photo and your blog Henry – as I was reading I was wondering how I managed to get the night all wrong. For me it’s all about having fun with people who’s company I genuinely enjoy. I love that you’ve captured it’s about that too. And next time remind me to apply a touch of powder and a dab of lippy…!

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