The PRos and PRoblems with PRide

PRide 2013 Shortlist Logo

Friday night was the epitome of another year’s hard graft for the local PR plebs, when the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ annual awards ceremony finally took place in the grand surroundings of the Culloden Estate.

PRide NI is an annual black tie, red carpet, too-much-alcohol affair that I personally really enjoy. Not just because it’s one of the rare occasions when I get to dress up, eat a nice meal, drink wine and have a boogie (the joys of parenthood) but more so, because I get to see the faces behind the local work, to meet friends old and new and relish in conversations with people who actually understand what I do for a living!

There are a lot of positives to submitting an entry to the PRide awards, not least for in-house-one-man-bands, small public and voluntary sector teams and freelancers. And it really comes down to the age old issue I regularly rant about on the blog:


Whether it’s because people are too busy to promote it or too fearful of giving their secrets away, the fact remains that the PRide awards are one of the few opportunities the industry has locally to really sit back and appreciate the skill and achievements of some of the work that goes on each year. I myself saw the benefits when I won in the Not-for-Profit category back in 2011. That big glass bookend goes a fair way in helping to get your organisation on your side, to understand the worth of what you’re doing and to get buy-in for your ideas, right up to Board level.

But there remains some PRoblems with PRide.

Much as I hate to admit it, this year’s awards were a tad boring compared to my past experience. Not because of the entertainment, or the company or any of the stuff we usually hear on event feedback forms (my mash potato wasn’t mashed enough, blah blah). No, the boredom kicked in when it became apparent that the awards were mainly a two-horse race between two big agencies, one of whom had been shortlisted no less than EIGHTEEN times (so Lord knows how many times they entered) and in one category, an agency was up against itself as they owned all three finalists?!

Now, I’m not stupid, I know why this happens. I know that agencies have separate account teams and can’t possibly tell one they can’t enter in a category because the other already did. And I’m well aware that agencies get the opportunity to produce work in far more diverse sectors than any in-house team could. I also believe, that it may well be important for them to win many accolades when it comes to tendering for business.

But as someone who not only PRs in-house, but also interviews agencies during tender processes, here’s the thing…

You will be judged on how well you present, on your knowledge of the sector, on the outcomes (not outputs) of your past projects. You will not be judged on the number of awards you have, because quite frankly, you can buy them. Not in a cash-under-the-table kind of way! But if you’ve enough cash behind you to pay £100 a pop per entry and then buy, not a few seats for dinner, but an entire table, well, let’s be frank, you’re not going home empty handed. It’s the simple mathematical laws of ratio and odds.

The other PRoblem comes in the form of something we in the voluntary sector know all too much about – the ability to fill in application forms. It’s a skill, there’s no doubt, and businesses pay big for it. And perhaps I’m being a tad uncouth in my summary of many of the winning entries but, now that I’ve read them online, it’s clear that the results are great on paper yet as someone who lives their working life immersed in social media and local press… why had so many of the campaigns completely passed me by?!

Anywho, I don’t want to be too unkind, I had a great night, I met lovely people and I saw the work of some great PROs recognised, including the in-house team at Probation Board NI and NICCY, both of whom I’ve worked with before and whose credit is well-deserved.

I stick by my guns however. PR in Northern Ireland ain’t no two horse race. We should encourage more people to invest what little they have to spare (in time and money) to enter their work, to diversify the crowd, to really step up our game and make it a competition worth coming out to see!

Not the local PR equivalent of Eastenders versus Coronation Street at the NTAs.


  1. Couldn’t agree more. I was surprised (horrified) to see single agencies take up so much space. I’m not saying they don’t deserve recognition, but the structure for the awards categories needs looked at so that these monster agencies can leave some breathing space for others.

    Meanwhile small businesses, great projects, charities etc went relatively unrecognised…. and as you say, mostly because they don’t have resource to invest in the super slick, professionalised application process (it’s almost an industry in itself).

    I must admit, it’s very nice to win an award and it’s a great motivator for the teams involved, but i don’t attach much weight to them. If an agency, or professional comes to me, i judge them by their work right now. Not by their accolades.

    • Thanks so much for commenting BelfastDad (I often forget anyone reads this!) and I’m glad I wasn’t the only one. There’s bound to be a way to turn these events into something that really shows off the work of all the sectors here – ever the optimist me!

  2. A great observational industry analysis Leanne. Comments made, I agree with completely! Maybe CIPR should consider having both in-house & agency award winners in each relevant award category, especially in small regional divisions like CIPR NI. PRCA runs joint winners in its National Awards. Maybe CIPR UK needs to look more closely at NI’s communications industry landscape and adapt the PRCA approach!

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