AWARDS CAN GIVE COM­PANY BOOST

Honors bring recog­ni­tion, but also make an im­pact on po­ten­tial clients.

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Joyce M. Rosen­berg

Af­ter Fine­gold Alexan­der Ar­chi­tects be­gan win­ning awards for its work on syn­a­gogues, calls started com­ing in from con­gre­ga­tions around the coun­try.

“‘You clearly know how to de­sign a syn­a­gogue. Can you talk to us?'” firm part­ner Tony Hsiao re­calls the rab­bis and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors ask­ing.

The Bos­ton-based firm has won more than 150 ar­chi­tec­ture-re­lated awards for a va­ri­ety of build­ing projects in its more than 50-year his­tory, in­clud­ing 15 in the past three years. The honors have brought Fine­gold Alexan­der a con­sid­er­able amount of new busi­ness.

Awards can be just plaques on a wall, but also can be a cat­a­lyst for growth. They can get a small or mid-sized busi­ness no­ticed, help cre­ate or buff up a rep­u­ta­tion, and catch the eye of prospec­tive cus­tomers. And — crit­i­cal in a dig­i­tal world — any pub­lic­ity, on­line ar­ti­cle, so­cial me­dia men­tion or blog post can help a com­pany im­prove its vis­i­bil­ity in on­line searches.

Honors that in­clude cash prizes also can give a small com­pany the needed cap­i­tal to ex­pand. In some com­pe­ti­tions, busi­nesses vie for grants for spe­cific projects, but by win­ning, they also get the ben­e­fits of recog­ni­tion.

“There’s so much noise and com­pe­ti­tion, and your cus­tomers are just look­ing for a bit of a dif­fer­en­tia­tor, that lit­tle ex­tra bit that sets you apart,” said Gene Marks, owner of The Marks Group, a small-busi­ness con­sult­ing firm based in Bala Cyn­wyd, Pa.

Awards vary widely in pres­tige. Some are well-known, like the Small Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Small Busi­ness Per­son of the Year awards or Inc. mag­a­zine’s rank­ings of the fastest-grow­ing small com­pa­nies. Some are rec­og­nized within spe­cific in­dus­tries, such as ad­ver­tis­ing’s Clio awards. Cham­bers of com­merce and other lo­cal busi­ness groups of­ten hand out prizes as well.

But some can be scams, as when a busi­ness is ap­proached about win­ning an award, and gets a plaque or cer­tifi­cate in re­turn for a mon­e­tary pay­ment.

“If they ask you for any money other than postage, then it’s a disin­gen­u­ous award scheme and not worth your time,” Marks said.

Awards are part of Julie Aus­lan­der’s mar­ket­ing strat­egy for her com­pany, cSubs, which man­ages mag­a­zine and other sub­scrip­tions for clients in­clud­ing large cor­po­ra­tions. It has won small busi­ness awards in­clud­ing sev­eral from the con­sult­ing firm Ernst & Young and the phil­an­thropic Al­fred P. Sloan Foun­da­tion. It also was named one of Inc. mag­a­zine’s 5,000 fastest­grow­ing com­pa­nies.

Aus­lan­der chooses com­pe­ti­tions that will win the no­tice of dif­fer­ent cus­tomers; for ex­am­ple, she pur­sued the Inc. award be­cause it would make an im­pres­sion with cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives.

“If you just go ap­ply willy-nilly for awards, it won’t give you the ben­e­fits you want,” said Aus­lan­der, whose com­pany is based in Mont­vale, N.J.

Com­pa­nies also need to as­sess whether an award is worth the time in­vest­ment to ap­ply, Marks said. Many, if not most, re­quire a com­pany to put to­gether a sub­mis­sion or be nom­i­nated by some­one else. A sub­mis­sion, which in­cludes an ap­pli­ca­tion and doc­u­ments to help a com­pany make its case for win­ning, can be time­con­sum­ing — hours of es­say-writ­ing, ac­cord­ing to Aus­lan­der.

Hajj Flem­ings won nearly $165,000 from the Knight Foun­da­tion Cities Chal­lenge com­pe­ti­tion last year for his pro­posal to help small busi­nesses in Detroit de­velop an on­line pres­ence and a brand. The money is in­tended for the project alone, but Flem­ings, who runs sev­eral ven­tures to help peo­ple mar­ket them­selves, has been able to make con­tacts as a re­sult of the award.

“The fact that we are a Knight Cities Chal­lenge win­ner opens up me­dia op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Flem­ings, who didn’t think he had a chance to win and had to be per­suaded to en­ter. “It gives us in­stant cred­i­bil­ity.”

Hajj Flem­ings won nearly $165,000 from the Knight Foun­da­tion Cities Chal­lenge com­pe­ti­tion for his pro­posal to help small busi­nesses in Detroit de­velop an on­line pres­ence and a brand.

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