The Harbinger Group

Award Winning Marketing: Best Practices – The Harbinger Group Way

Golden Apple is a partnership that The Harbinger Group has fostered for over a decade. This year alone, we have been awarded three of the highest industry honors for our marketing communications work with the nonprofit, whose mission is to be a material solution to the teacher shortage in Illinois. Our award winning work with Golden Apple is for the Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership, which honor teachers and school leaders for their dedication to the classroom and commitment to bettering the education system. With over 13 years of experience marketing nominations and award recipients for this program, we have discovered four keys to conducting award-winning work within this space.  

How We are Award-Winning at Awards Marketing

There are four best practices that we use to thrive in our awards marketing campaigns: planning, telling, amplifying, and reinforcing. Our strategy was to leverage the various public-facing announcements and finalist stories generated throughout the Awards process, as well as the events at which educators learn they have been selected as a Golden Apple Award winner, to secure media coverage that increases awareness of Golden Apple and their work to elevate the importance of the teaching profession statewide.

Our THG twists, if you will, are the key to promoting effective awards marketing within this highly competitive industry. Each step feeds into the next– planning consists of collecting the details that become the story, which is then told to promote both Golden Apple and the Golden Apple Award recipient, who is then amplified through various media platforms to ultimately augment the work Golden Apple was founded upon. 

The Four Steps of Awards Marketing

1. Planning

The first step to any successful awards marketing strategy is taking the time to plan. Without this initial stage of the process, there’s really no way the show could go on. At The Harbinger Group, there are lots of people and moving parts involved when it comes time for an awards season. Every detail matters—from the location of our client’s event, how to document each aspect of the campaign, carefully sending content to various social accounts, figuring out targeted advertising, and researching local media lists; having a clear and strategic plan is what allows our team to tell the award’s story and continue to amplify the narrative from there. It takes a lot of coordination between us as thought marketers and the clientele we work with.

Our work with the Golden Apple Awards shows just how critical planning is in great awards marketing.

Given that the select educators are surprised with the Awards, much planning takes place to keep the news confidential. In previous years, the recipients were surprised in their classroom by Golden Apple, family members, colleagues, students, etc. In 2020, the planning process was even more complex due to the COVID environment and teachers working remotely. Golden Apple’s Excellence in Teaching and Leadership campaign was centered around surprise visits to unexpecting award recipients. Virtual visits and drive-by celebrations had to be done even more discreetly to maintain the excitement that comes with a standard Golden Apple surprise moment.

2. Telling the Story in a Compelling Way

After we gather our story-worthy material, it’s now our job to share it. Everything comes down to telling the story. The depth of research that is put into the story before this step of our awards marketing process is how we are able to communicate the award recipient’s journey in a compelling way. Taking the time beforehand to research and learn about the recipient– why the work they do is so important– becomes the real genesis for what their story is. With The Golden Apple Awards, we look to take what we’ve learned about the award recipient and translate it into a pitch for different media and marketing channels.

In one stage of our storytelling process, we look to promote who the award recipient is and what they do. We want our audience to get to know these individuals in the way that we know them. This is where through our work, connections begin to form between Golden Apple, the award recipient, and the larger audience. In the second stage, the story becomes amplified even further with the Golden Apple Awards surprise visits. A finalist becomes a recipient, and this is the turning point where the award winner can begin to tell their story themselves. This gives us as marketers even more ammunition in terms of storytelling, what this award means to the award recipient, their journey, and the organization’s mission in the bigger picture.

The storytelling phase doesn’t end with the research we conduct for pitching purposes. Earned media such as newspapers, online articles, and broadcast news all become mediums where the recipient can go the extra mile to share their story and become part of the bigger picture. For Golden Apple Award recipients, they are able to not only share their journey as educators where their talent is extremely valuable, but now they serve as a testament to the mission of Golden Apple– to produce highly effective educators.

3. Amplifying the Story

Our process remains the same in terms of the channels that we use to get our message across. After we tell the award recipients’ story, we need to amplify their voices through earned media, social media, and paid social media advertising. This goes hand-in-hand with how we publicize our work– here, we are taking the next steps to get the award recipient’s story out in the public for people to interact with. 

Regarding earned media, we aim to capture coverage of our client and their award recipient– this becomes the biggest driver in the work that we are then able to share. The social media perspective is a combination of making an announcement of the award with compelling content while finding a connection point to loop back to the underlying work of our client, Golden Apple. This is crucial in generating external promotional traffic. For the Golden Apple Awards, we used videos of the surprise award to support the nonprofit’s comprehensive to establish both awareness and recognition of our client and their award. With paid social media advertising, it’s simply about targeting the right audiences—this is how we are able to go even further to gain greater promotional coverage and push our client’s message towards a wider scope of individuals.

The connections to our clients’ stories are there– we as marketers can see it firsthand.  Now, our job is to allow others to see this as well. In the past, we have enabled this exposure through print/online/broadcast media relations, social and digital media, and email marketing. After our 2020 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership campaign, we documented the increases in traffic due to our amplifying technique since our 2019 campaign. We discovered a 100% increase year-over-year in media coverage with 217 media mentions, a 47% increase year-over-year in social media engagements, a 20% increase year-over-year in new followers across platforms, 30.7K shares of earned media placements on social media, and 119 notes of congratulations submitted to honorees via campaign website.

4. Reinforcing

Finally, we reinforce. It’s always important to circle back to the underlying mission of our client in order to understand why all of the work we’re doing from an awards marketing standpoint is meaningful. Being able to incorporate an overarching understanding of Golden Apple’s work through each story told through our campaign is how we make our impact. With Golden Apple, everything goes back to their mission to elevate education and their desire to be the material resolution to the teacher shortage in Illinois. The stories highlighting these award recipients are the product of the wonderful work Golden Apple is able to achieve. 

Awards marketing is simple if you know how to do it our way; this four step method turns award-worthy marketing into award winning marketing. Take the time to plan, tell the story in a compelling manner, amplify the award through multiple mediums, and reinforce the comprehensive purpose of the client– the best practices are always created with The Harbinger Group.

About the Awards

American Business Awards 2021 Gold Stevie Award for Public Relations Campaign of the Year – Nonprofit The Stevie Awards, known for their premier business awards program, awarded The Harbinger Group for our marketing communications work promoting recipients of The Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching and Leadership. Our team brought awareness to Golden Apple’s mission and promoted the Golden Apple Awards finalists through surprise visits, both virtually and in person.

2021 Bronze Bulldog Award for Best Media Relations Campaign The 2021 Bronze Bulldog Award for Best Media Relations Campaign, presented to us for our exceptional work on the 2020 Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching & Leadership campaign. The Bulldog Awards, a deeply distinguished award known for its prestige, recognizes the latest and greatest in PR and communications campaigns both from individual and agency contributions.

The Publicity Club of Chicago’s 2021 Silver Golden Trumpet Award for Media Relations – NonprofitThe Publicity Club of Chicago’s Golden Trumpet Awards honors notable achievements in public relations, marketing, and communications. The Harbinger Group was awarded this highly valuable honor for how we were able to leverage media relations to highlight teachers and their work through Golden Apple Awards finalists and recipients.