Voice of the awards industry: Neil Skehel, CEO of Awards International

Rebecca Burgess

By in Blog
On June 23, 2020


Ever pictured yourself picking up a trophy for all your hard work?

Awards in the b2b space can help you raise the profile of your brand, people and solutions. They get people talking (we’re looking at you Leonardo DiCaprio, #robbed at the Oscars for too many years) and engaging with your brand in ways they haven’t before. From online promotion and media attention, to in-person networking opportunities, awards can be an effective way to establish credibility in your industry.

Just ask Neil Skehel. Neil is the CEO and co-founder of Awards International. It runs business awards programmes in the UK, UAE, Netherlands and Germany and provides marketing services, event management and administration software for the business awards sector. Its awards are primarily organised by types of experience – customer, digital, employee and so on.

Having been at the helm of the organisation since it was founded in 2008, Neil knows what it takes to deliver a winning award entry. So, we spoke to him to find out just what makes judges’ heads turn and what the future holds for the awards industry in today’s climate.

What’s your day-to-day role?

“I look after the teams that operate more than 20 events per year, including 11 award programmes, lots of webinars and numerous online networking events exclusively for our customers. I provide support, direction and encouragement to the Awards International #dreamteam to deliver a great customer experience! That’s my goal every day.”

In your opinion, what makes a successful awards entry?

“That’s a great question. I think one of the most important elements is facts and evidence. For our awards, entrants should make a focused presentation, with supporting results. Judges have written tips on The Judge Club website. Take a look at Valerie Howe’s suggestions in the blog she wrote recently.

What are the ingredients of a successful awards programme?

“There are many successful ingredients – integrity, independence and credibility are critical. More specifically, for us, our Awards International Dream Team is what makes our awards tick. That’s our amazing team of people dedicated to ensuring everyone has a great experience. Finalists and their employees, the judges and a well-organised and promoted event are also crucial elements of a successful awards programme mix.”

What’s your advice for b2b companies that are unsure about entering awards as part of their marketing strategy?

“I cannot think of any better value marketing. I’m just looking at the PR Telenor is getting from being overall winner at SEECXA. They’re telling everyone. They put the logo on their website and are asking for graphic design support from us. The wonderful thing is they can be sure they’ve earned it. They won the awards because an independent panel of professionals spent more than 7.5 hours scoring their entry. We check all the scores and have a fully auditable system that no one else can match. And I can promise that same professionalism and independence to anyone who enters our awards.”

Awards International organises awards programmes in the UK, UAE and South East Europe. How do awards programmes differ depending on the region they’re held in?

“We don’t vary our awards programmes more than we have to. Perfecting every detail is our aim, so changing a winning formula unnecessarily is not really the right decision for our audiences or our company.

While business cultures and hot topics are clearly different across regions, our awards have a universal appeal. Everyone in every culture I have come across loves positive recognition and that is what I love. But mostly, I love us giving it to people. It gives them a platform to grow from and do better. There is almost no better feeling than to watch what happens to winners – on the stage, in their careers and in life.”

‘Experience’ is a key theme that runs through Awards International’s awards program. In your opinion, what makes an experience award-worthy?

“It’s funny, you know; I read lots of articles and research. We must continue to improve, refine and reinvent ourselves to stay relevant. But one of my favourite insights comes from way back. I saw someone espousing it on LinkedIn as some new and refreshing way to look at experiences:

‘Quick and Easy.’ 

Whether it’s a retail shopping experience or a business experience, we all seem to want it quick and easy. Now, that suggests everyone wants to go fast. I don’t think that’s the case. People want to enjoy the experience. But, I think there are transactional elements that come with this experience that make dealing with your customers quick and easy.

So, a great buying experience is when it is quick and easy. They both belong together.”

What are your predictions for the future of the awards and events industry in a post-pandemic world?

“I know a lot of businesses are suffering right now and there is no way we can ignore that. I have three predictions:

  1. People will crave physical interaction more than ever. We may have lots of hurdles to overcome, but the time spent in the physical company of business colleagues will be even more appreciated. I’ve always felt that socialising with colleagues is an important part of business; that’s what you can do at awards ceremonies. While short-term it will be difficult, longer-term we’ll all want to get back to some sort of normality and interact with each other in a real, not virtual, way.
  2. We’ll be more environmentally conscious. This may be more of a hope rather than a prediction. While remote working and a reduction in business travel will continue to affect the events industry, I’m all for it – to save employees’ time, reduce business costs and help the environment. Maybe not something you’d expect me to say as an events organiser. I think we all have a bigger role to play in taking care of our planet for future generations. My fear is that as soon as this is all over, many companies are going to go back to business as usual. We don’t want to go back to unnecessary long-distance travel, sitting in traffic jams and wasting company money. Real and virtual events can work easily hand in hand as we’ve shown – we just need to be mindful and smart about why we travel.
  3. Our reliance on technology will continue to grow. Technology that enhances the events experience has already been a huge growth area. Now it is going to be even more important. The rate of change is going to be exceptional and live physical events will use even more technology and immersive experiences than ever before.”
The year’s 2025. What’s one current business practice you would keep and one you would banish?

“I want to keep the globalisation of business, even though this pandemic is telling us that there is a lot wrong with globalisation. If I think about my Dream Team and customer experience, globalisation is the reason we have come about and I want to keep that going.

I would like to banish what is called subconscious discrimination. Businesses can do a great deal to get rid of this.”

Do you need help raising awareness of your brand? Get in touch at hello@rlyl.com to find out how we can support you – from awards to content creation and everything in between.

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