Maritime awards: keeping publishers afloat

Maritime awards: keeping publishers afloat

Two years ago, I wrote an opinion piece on this site headlined ‘Maritime awards: it’s time the industry woke up’. While most people who cared to comment on it via various channels including social media were overwhelmingly in agreement with my point that awards ceremonies were a waste of time and money for those participating, there are now probably more maritime awards events than ever before.

Someone in the industry recently contacted me, interested in my assertion that the awards events attached to maritime publications are much bigger money spinners than the publications they so desperately need to have relevance. It is hard to believe, especially when these awards events are pitched as somehow “giving something back” to the industry.

So what I’d like to do is go through the dollars and cents of how a maritime awards ceremony works.

Sponsors

Every maritime awards event is driven by sponsors, this is the name of the game. In my time spent in and around the inner workings of these ceremonies, the cost of sponsoring an awards ceremony is anywhere between $10,000 to $30,000. It depends on the company behind the awards event, and what you will find is the sponsorship amount depends on who you are. If you’re a classification society, for example, be prepared to pay more than others because its generally believed you’ve got deeper pockets than other companies – despite your benefits being exactly the same as any other sponsor.

Let’s say an event averages $15,000 per sponsor and picks up 10 sponsors (some events have up to 20!). You’ve just banked yourself $150,000.

Nominations

This is my favourite aspect of how a maritime awards event works. Once the sponsors are in and the venue is set, its time to get nominations. You’ll often find that organisers spend a lot of time on this aspect, and that’s because it is of major importance.

Let me say this now. If you nominate your company into a maritime awards scheme, then you are almost guaranteed to be a finalist. That is because organisers struggle to get enough nominations in each category. Ever received an email from organisers saying “Nominations have been extended due to popular demand”? This actually translates into “We don’t have enough nominations so will move the deadline until we do”.

Nominations are important because the event needs at least four or five companies for each category (eg best port) to look credible. In many categories this is hard, especially when it is obvious to companies in that category that a particular company is going to win every time (although that’s another story).

The other reason, and the main reason, that nominations are important is because once you have five companies nominated (or more) you can tell them they are going to be a finalist in the category. Sounds exciting, despite the fact that everyone who nominated is a finalist. What is even more exciting to the organiser however, is that now you are a finalist it’s pretty important to be there just in case you win. That brings me to the next revenue generator.

Table sales

Table sales at a maritime awards event are the icing on the cake for organisers. If you’re running an awards night, have 10 categories with five ‘finalists’ then you have around 40 companies (some companies are in multiple categories) that need to be at the event to see if they are going to win.

So A.N. Other Shipping Company, we’re pleased to inform you that you are a finalist for the maritime innovation award. You might win, so it’s rather important that you attend – please buy a table. I’ve just looked up on some awards sites that the price for a table is anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 for a table of 10. If you’re lucky you may be able to buy a half table, or an individual seat if travelling from out of town although in some cases this isn’t advertised.

Let’s say out of 40 companies, all obligated to be there, that 32 of them aren’t sponsors. Out of 32 companies, you should be able to sell 25 tables assuming many take a full table, some take half tables and a few people just buy tables even though they aren’t nominated.

If your sponsorship hasn’t gone as well as planned, you can always add extra categories that are ‘sponsored’ by your own publication/s, because remember it’s a guarantee of more table sales.

So, if we run the numbers on 25 tables at a middle point of $4,000, then we’ve just made another $100,000.

After the awards

I have to admit, it’s now been many years since I’ve been involved in maritime awards schemes (and never will be again), so I don’t know if this still happens. However, it used to be standard practice to put together a winners’ programme or special report in a publication to ‘celebrate’ the winners.

If you’d be so kind, please celebrate your victory by placing an advertisement in/against this special commemoration of excellence in maritime. Out of 10 categories, you’ll probably pick up five or six ads pretty easily and net yourself another $20,000 to $30,000.

Even if you don’t do a special publication, you’re obviously banking on your ads salesperson to move in and use the goodwill for obvious purposes.

Let’s tally this up then

So we’ve made $150,000 in sponsorship, a further $100,000 in table sales and let’s say conservatively an extra $20,000 in advertising as a result of the awards. We’ve just made more than a quarter of a million dollars in revenue for a three or four hour dinner.

We also put together a scenario of 10 sponsors and 25 tables sold, so 350 people in the room. Maritime awards events can be anywhere from 300 people to 700 people in the room generally, so you can do the maths on the results of a more successful event yourself.

Again, it has been a long while but I’m wiling to say that the event would cost no more than $100,000 to put on. That includes the venue, the host and entertainment, marketing material, and the excessive travel expenses of all those internally associated with the event.

How many can we do?

Based on the above, we’ve just banked $170,000 profit from one event. Great business, let’s do more of them!

Rather predictably, all the maritime publishers that put together an awards ceremony get addicted to them. With the steady decline in print advertising across all industries combining with a depression in the shipping markets, a $170,000 windfall is not easy to come across in maritime publishing. I would safely say it is beyond many of the publications that run these events. Many don’t even book that much advertising in a year it would be safe to say.

What’s the solution? More and more awards ceremonies. One for Europe, one for Asia and one for the Middle East is a minimum. How about the US or China, Greece or India? Maybe even hone in on a particular sector such as dry bulk, tankers, safety or the environment. The possibilities are endless! Three relatively successful events should easily net half a million dollars in profit.

So what is my point?

My previous opinion piece already spells out my views on these events, but the maritime industry has yet to wake up. However, what I hope this piece provides is a better understanding of the motivation behind maritime awards ceremonies that “give back to the industry” while filling your social media timelines on an almost daily basis.

 

Grant Rowles

Grant spent nine years at Informa Group based in London, Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore. He gained strong management experience in publishing, conferences and awards schemes in the shipping and legal areas, working on a number of titles including Lloyd's List. In 2009 Grant joined Seatrade responsible for the commercial development of Seatrade’s Asia products. In 2012, with Sam Chambers, he co-founded Asia Shipping Media.

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17 Comments

  1. Steve Parks (Wake Media)
    December 11, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    Hey Grant,

    Interesting and timely follow on piece here, timely as in fact here at Wake Media we have just conducted a study on the industry awards sector for a client and it certainly throws up some common trends.

    But I have a quick couple of questions.

    What would be your view be on an awards programme that didn’t carry any sponsorship or require any table sales ?

    Also would it give credibility to the awards if the voting process was live and transparent ?

    For what it’s worth, personally for me I feel our industry should celebrate success and achievement but it should be all about the award and not the commerical benefits.

    1. Grant Rowles
      Grant Rowles
      December 11, 2018 at 4:13 pm

      Hi Steve, thanks for the questions.

      I think there is room for awards in maritime, and definitely room for big gatherings/parties, however my point is any form of awards cannot be commercially led and credible at the same time. I think Bimco and Nor-Shipping have produced good examples in the past.

      I’ve often thought of doing a maritime awards night without the awards! Networking with industry is the best part of these events, but why pay the huge premium to do so?

      A credible voting process is incredibly difficult, who is to judge the best container line? Shippers of course. What about ship manager? Owners. I touch on this in my original piece, its not so easy. Even a well thought out judging line-up would struggle to know who is excelling at what, so they have to descend to voting on the “marketing material” that is an awards entry.

    2. Sam Chambers
      Sam Chambers
      December 11, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      Oh to get a glimpse at that industry awards study ….

  2. Peter J Birks
    December 11, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    All absolutely spot on, Grant. And I’d add that, when I was managing editor of an insurance publication, I got the “privilege” of hosting an event (with all the stress involved), but not a penny of the profit. Any bonuses from that went to the publisher, or the commercial director, or the company. In fact, everyone but the content creators. The poor old writers never saw a penny.
    And I remember one following morning being told that I looked as if I was enjoying myself! Crikey, if your the host, that’s your job. It doesn’t make it a reality.

    1. Grant Rowles
      Grant Rowles
      December 11, 2018 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks Peter, perfectly illustrates my point about what drives these events.

  3. Robert Jervis
    December 11, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    Like all things – including publications that just run advertorial – there are the good and the bad…
    Just because an awards (or publication) is commercially successful, doesn’t make it poor.
    Rob
    PS: You’ll love this site. Life imitates art – http://awardsawards.co.uk/

    1. Grant Rowles
      Grant Rowles
      December 11, 2018 at 5:52 pm

      Hi Rob, long time no see, thanks for your comment.

      I would say some are better/worse, but wouldn’t go so far as to say good. I’ve already provided my opinion on them in my previous article, today’s is more to share what drives them.

      As for that site, I honestly can’t tell if that’s real or pure comedy gold!

  4. Dagfinn Lunde
    December 11, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    Interesting article, Grant – Is it really bad since most people buy in and willingly participate…!!
    Dagfinn

    1. Grant Rowles
      Grant Rowles
      December 11, 2018 at 10:15 pm

      Thanks Dagfinn, agree but I also think the people buying in should really understand what they are buying into. My two articles should provide that understanding.

  5. SHESHASHAYEE VENKATRAMAN
    December 11, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Well scripted, Grant, insightful and incisive!

    Awards are useful, as a recognition (to reward performance) and a motivator (to drive further improvement). However, as in most cases, it is not just what is done but how it is done that defines a situation. You are right in decrying awards that are sponsored and self-nominated; these diminish credibility.

    Also, as you have rightly said, it is difficult, in a B2B industry, to find unbiased evaluations of performance.

    Much to think about, thank you for jogging the grey cells!

    Warm regards,

    Shesh.

  6. Jim Rhodes
    December 11, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    Grant. Spot on.

    Awards can be a profitable business for trade publications with sinking advertising and subscription revenues. (As I’m sure you remember from your days at Seatrade.)

    For the record, I believe your estimate of $100,000 in expenses is way too high. More like $50,000 in my experience. Once you cover the fixed costs for facility, food & beverage, travel and so forth, the rest is pure profit.

    That being said, there are some legitimate awards that are not driven by the profit motive. Take, for example, the annual AMVER awards from the U.S. Coast Guard. Or — in the marine yachting market — the NMMA Innovation Awards or the METSTrade DAME Awards.

    1. Grant Rowles
      Grant Rowles
      December 11, 2018 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Jim, you could be right on the costings – it depends when and where I suppose. I actually got some quotes and advice and came up with around $85k.

      Awards such as the ones you mentioned are the sort of thing this industry should be supporting!

  7. Chye Poh Chua
    December 12, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Thank you Grant for this piece. A timely reminder and wake up call.

  8. Charlie Pesti
    December 12, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    Excellent piece, Grant, congrats.! On the more extreme end of the scale, organizers are even more desperate. They happily inform you that you have been selected as one of the top 20 most innovative, most promising, or most whatever companies of the year. BUT only if you buy one of their advertising packages. So technically you can buy your spot to be the best. Congrats to the “winners” – how credible is that?

    1. Grant Rowles
      Grant Rowles
      December 12, 2018 at 6:00 pm

      Wow, Charlie that is poor. Would love to know who is doing that! Feel free to email the juicy details 😉

  9. Ozgur Dogan Gunes
    December 13, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Great article, Grant! just the day after another maritime awards.

    I find all those events quite cheerful since our maritime industry is social for ages but I’ve one thing to highlight which is the nominees.

    I exclude some events but just cannot remember any candidate who personally pushes at the forefront of maritime practices without any corporate/organization support. My concern is the credibility of winners while I appreciate all efforts.

    A transparency is better to be implemented. Cheers.

    Kind regards,
    Capt. Ozgur

  10. Barry Parker
    December 14, 2018 at 6:39 am

    Good article- the proliferation of awards reflect the nauseous dripping/ seepage of celebrity culture into all aspects of society. At this point, there are more of these shipping awards events than I can click on (social media “outreach” being part of the fun). Anecdotally, this is the same in other businesses. But, stepping back, as pointed out by Dagfinn Lunde, people participate – they like them (and they pay up), so what’s the problem? And in this internet age, people crave real contact, and Award gatherings do provide it. So as long as you don’t take the greater purpose (real or imagined) too seriously, it’s just good old shipping fun- with folks dressed up.