In this second part of our 'meet the judges' articles, we ask our panellists how they feel entries have improved over the years, and also what their reply to the dreaded phrase "the awards are a fix" actually is. If you are of a sensitive nature, be warned. No punches are pulled.
There is nothing worse than being a judge on an awards panel, spending hours of your personal time reading through entries and debating them with your fellow panellists, to just be told that the results are a fix.
Well that is what the judges for the CRN Channel Awards have to put up with every year, and they are tired of it.
The two-stage judging process was brought into the CRN Awards around 12 years ago, to combat the mounting complaints over the previous voting system, which was skewed towards the larger players that could ‘persuade' people to vote for them.
After many years' tweaking, the judging system is transparent and completely fair, with entries being judged on merit alone, and not how big (or rich) each company entering actually is.
Reading hundreds of entries, each 1,000+ words long with multiple attachments is not an easy feat, and to be basically told your efforts have been in vain, grates on the nerves somewhat.
In part two of our meet the judges feature, and as CRN gears up to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Channel Awards, the judges discuss whether entries have improved over the years and what they really feel when they hear the word ‘fix'.
GfK's Carl West said entries had definitely improved.
"Presentation has improved, quality gets better each time, the serious nature in which the entries are prepped and the increasing use of data are noticeable," he said.
But he had little time for those that cried ‘fix'.
"Don't enter, who needs you anyway?" he said. "The industry may be consolidating, but there are more and more exciting companies emerging. I don't give up days in my holiday to watch it be changed at the last minute. If you enter, you need to work at it, you are the expert of your company, so if you can't sell your own company, how can you sell your products?"
Former awards sceptic Steve Cox, said his opinion had been changed completely since becoming a judge.
"I always thought the more money you spent on sponsorship, the more chance you had of winning. Since being involved I have seen a different side to it and the amount of work the judges put in. The final decision really does sit with us," he said.
Cox added that the bar has been raised in terms of entry. "What would have won three years ago wouldn't even make the shortlist today," he stated.
Newest judge Paul Lloyd said claims of a fix were nonsense.
"The face is there area lot of established major players in the industry, and these all tend to enter and put in good, well thought out entries, befitting with their business practice," he said. "Every company has a chance to win, but the entry has to look like you mean it and hasn't been done for the sake of it.
"A good, well crafted entry that answers all of the points required will stand a great chance, regardless of who it comes from," he added.
Seasoned judge Eddie Pacey said the results speak for themselves.
"I sit in the review of scores in the first phase of judging, and the banter and accuracy of scoring by judges is quite open and visible," he explained. "Anyone can see that awards in recent years have not been monopolised by a selected minority. This shows that both entries and judging do really work with no undue pressure from anyone."
In terms of entry quality, Pacey said the quality was definitely increasing.
"The overall presentation of some of the entries is delightful," he said. "Some inject humour, while others present exactly what is needed in the right quantity without being cumbersome. Video presentations have been a real revelation for some."
C-View Technologies' Sandrijn Stead said the number of ‘rushed' entries has definitely reduced.
"I think the number of rushed responses have declined dramatically," he explained. "Also instances where an organisation enters three categories with the same response has reduced significantly. We see many more entrants with videos and infographics today, but for me the critical part is the written response, and it needs to adhere to the rules, or else the other media just loses them points."
Stead also said he used to agree with the ‘fix' claims before becoming a part of the judging panel.
"I laugh now, because I was one of those people who thought that before I became a judge. I looked at some of the people involved in the judging process and thought they could impact [the results] but I realised quickly that it would be very, very hard to do," he said.
"The entire prcess is built across so many different people, all with different perspectives and views, and everyone has the same level of impact. I know so many of my fellow judges make a living out of being trusted and if [a fix] ever did happen, multiple people would whistle-blow right away, myself included."
John Toal, business development director at Tharsus, and experienced Channel Awards judge, said entries were definitely on the up.
"We now read high quality pieces that really define how companies are driving success that are fact based and demonstrate a real passion for business," he said.
And as for the fix claim he said: "I've never received any encouragement to judge a category in a particular way. We take judging day very seriously, and spend days before reading through reams of paper. Each entry is marked against strict criteria and if there is a tie we spend a lot of time debating the final decision."
Cloud Distribution's Bruce Hockin had slightly less to say to the naysayers: "Oh purlleeaaaseeee. We need to talk."
He also felt the entries still had a way to go in terms of quality.
"You would have thought that with all the guidance that's available, people would learn how to put their best foot forward," he said. "Saying that, we are seeing more effort as far as presentation and visuals go, and more video than ever, some of which are inspiring, and some of which may have been a bit….rushed."
Industry analyst Bob Tarzey said the whole process has evolved each year to ensure it is inclusive.
"The entry and judging process has been adjusted over the years to improve the prospects for smaller organisations against the giants and to remove bias that could arise from voting by channel organisations/vendors," he said. "This is by putting the final decisions about the winners in the hands of a two-stage independent judging process. Both are big improvements."
And in response to the fix accusations, Tarzey said: "This is simply not true. As a self-respecting analyst, I would not have spent 15 years participating in a fixed process. CRN has always worked with the judges to improve the impartiality of the awards process. CRN staff do not sit on the final judging panels, and always accept the judges' decisions."
IQBlade's Antony Young said credibility was vital when it came to being involved with judging.
"The only conditions I requested when Sara asked me to judge for the first time was that I was allowed to tell people what went on behind the scenes and if I thought it lacked integrity I could walk away."
That was six years ago.
"In the ‘old days' bigger companies would just get their customers for vote for them," he said. "Now, the awards are judged on the strength of their entry. If you don't win, it is because your story wasn't communicated as effectively as the company that did."
He agreed that entry quality was on the up.
"The entries are definitely getting better. Successful entrants now understand that they need to ‘pitch' to win, and as a result, they make sure their value proposition, strategic direction and evidence jump out at the judges."
Finally, Simon Meredith, said that the companies that really do want to win and really believe in themselves, are trying harder than ever.
"There was an entry a couple of years ago from a business leader who just turned a camera on himself and spoke about the business he and his colleagues had set up and why he thought it might be worthy of recognition. That really hit the spot for me."
And to those who cry ‘fix', Meredith replied: "They are not. They can't be. No-one involved in the process has enough influence to sway the whole panel at either stage, even the editor," he said. "Do a great job for your customers and put in a good entry, and you will always have a chance."
So there you have it. If the comments from these plain-speaking judges don't succeed in persuading the doubters that the awards are fully independent, then the only other thing to do is join the panel and see for yourselves. New judges are always welcome.
But be prepared for a lot of hard work - it really isn't an easy job.
To find out more about the process, click here, or visit the dedicated hub on Channelweb which has all the criteria, some fun stuff about the awards and lots more. The deadline is Friday 13 July at 5pm - don't miss out!