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How to win an estate agency award.
Richard Rawlings

A few weeks ago, I spent a few days concentrating on the entries allocated to me as a judge for The Negotiator Awards. It’s an enormous task and the judges do not accept it lightly.


I’m going to share some insider tips from a judge’s perspective about how you can improve your chances of winning an estate agency award, whatever your size and style of agency.


But first, why enter for an award in any event? There are five clear reasons:


First, in a competitive market where the public struggles to differentiate between estate agencies, an award-winner hits the ground running. Winning an award is a clear sign of competence and provides reassurance and confidence – two critical elements of the trust required to secure new business.


Second, as a result of enhanced credibility and reduced risk to the client, it is easier to secure a higher fee against an average agency who cannot prove their excellence in the same way.


Third, awards generate local PR and promote your credibility as an exceptional agency. Award-winners are positioned as the voice of authority and are often asked to contribute in the media on property issues at both local and national level.


Fourth, awards are great for morale internally. They generate pride among your staff, who will derive satisfaction from knowing that they are working for a respected agency that is going places. The awards ceremony itself is a highlight of the year for those who attend, or as one entrant put it “Not only did we win an award, but it was a helluva party!”


Fifth, even if you don’t win an award, you may still be able to use “Shortlisted for…” material in your marketing, as the organisers are will always provide you with extensive badges, logos, graphics etc to help you promote your business.


So it’s always worth going to the effort to apply for an award. Many agencies do this every year and they have a string of accolades to prove it. Of course, you have to be in it to win it, but don’t worry if you feel you are too small, too new, or too inexperienced - everyone genuinely has a chance to win, especially as there are different levels of winner in each category.


At the outset, it’s important to recognise that the judging process is robust, detailed and, ultimately, extremely fair (although I can only speak about the two awards I currently judge; The Negotiator Awards and The International Property awards). The process of The Negotiator Awards is that hundreds of entries across dozens of categories are allocated to around 30 judges, all of whom are well-known experts in the field and at the very top of the industry. These are major names who offer several days of their year, unpaid, to the judging service. I feel humbled to be included among such glitterati as Nathan Emerson (CEO of Propertymark), Iain McKenzie (CEO of the Guild), Christopher Watkin, Kate Faulkner OBE and many others.  


Each entry is allocated to at least two judges who, after having declared any conflict of interest, work independently of each other (I don’t even know who might also judging my allocated categories).


Using a dedicated online submission platform, each entry is scored out of 100. The two judges’ independent results are combined, to give a degree of moderation, and Gold, Silver and Bronze winners are identified, with discretionary “Special Mentions” where deserved (which usually means a judge can’t decide between two bronze-level entries!)


Judges are asked to write their comments about the top performing submissions. It is these comments that are read out by a sparkling celebrity at the Grosvenor House Hotel on the big night (and if you haven’t yet booked to go this you really should as there is so much to learn (at the preceding Expo) and enjoy. (It’s a great tax-efficient night out). 


So far so good, but from my perspective as a judge, it can be frustrating. For example, when judging the “Best Marketing Campaign” category, one amazing agency might submit evidence of the truly incredible marketing they do, and another submits details of a specific campaign - possibly not as impressive, but of the two, only one read the question! It was about a campaign, not the agency’s ongoing marketing activities!


And how can a small independent compete with a major national corporate firm? Judges do have some discretion here and much of the time it is about asking oneself “is this in the spirit of the awards?” For example, when entering a regional award, a national firm with one branch in the region might make an awesome submission about their overall business, but it is the less ostentatious, heartfelt, entry from an independent firm that demonstrates consistent results from their branch, without corporate clout, that may score well.


Each submission is usually asked to address five different topics, so I create a spreadsheet and allocate up to 20 points per topic. But I hate it when I get a tie - one will live but one must die!! I then have to reassess the entries and eventually judges’ discretion might just kick in and I’ll go with the one I simply like the most. Do they have charm, personality and wit? Are they community-minded? What is staff morale like? Do they love their business? How do they answer the phone?


Different entries come in different formats; some are huge, some are small. The hard-copy entries I judge for the International Property awards arrive in big yellow DHL boxes, where some submissions can include a professionally bound presentation running to 150 pages along with a pre-loaded iPad in a real gazelle-skin case (Kenya entry!)


In theory, The Negotiator Awards are judged on a level playing field, with each topic allowed just 500 words. BUT entrants can include attachments. Although ostensibly designed for uploading images, graphs, charts and tables, some sneaky entrants use the attachment facility to submit a PDF of a 5,000-word entry and a zip-file containing everything to do with their business. Good effort, but give me a break!


So here’s my quick 12-point guide to how to win an estate agency award;


1. Answer the Question. If the question is “What prompted you to start your estate agency?” I don’t need to see a load of testimonials, no matter how passionate you are about your business.


2. Choose your words carefully. Keep your content well-written, succinct, and snappy. The judge is looking for points of distinction and the more points he or she can easily tick, the higher you’ll score. Aim to be factual rather than lyrical. But do try roughly to fill the 500-word allocation. A couple of sentences per topic looks rushed and could suggest that the entry might be light on the commitment expected from a winning mentality. Remember – all we know about you is what you tell us!


3. Win every question. I once awarded 20/20 for an agent in the “List the services you offer” but 0/20 for overlooking to supply anything when asked: “Provide examples of your standard template letters”. If they had scored 20/20 with every other question this would have only totalled 80%, which is usually not enough to secure even a bronze award. 


4. Choose a niche category. The smaller the niche, the fewer entrants you’ll be competing against. An award is an award, so you’ll still be able to shout about it. So if you’re based in Norwich, and there is an east Anglia Estate Agency of the Year Award – go for it! Frankly, you’re only aiming to impress local people anyway!


5. Focus on your wow factors. Good estate agency, per se, does not merit an award. Excite me - what is extraordinary about your agency, or at least some of its attributes? These are the things that will impress the judges and bolster your scores. Demonstrate character.


6. Link your wow factors to your success. Demonstrate how your wow factors have actually worked for you in the field, by supplying evidence of improved metrics, be it property-related (eg speed of sale) or business-related (eg. more instructions/higher fees).


7. Financials. Judges are usually impressed by figures. So, even if you are small, do include your financial metrics, especially where they demonstrate a pattern of growth or efficiency. If your figures are presented in chart form for clarity, then so much the better. (You can be completely assured that any figures you provide will remain 100% confidential solely between you and the judge).


8. Don’t just state what you do. Add why, and what the effect is. But don’t just dump a page of words. Expanded bullet points are fabulous! And if you choose to add something that elevates the status of our industry, then so much the better.


9. Use imagery. Important points, performance stats, marketing leaflets, brand designs and infographics all look better when presented with impact. Call it window dressing, but strong, bold, images leave a better impression than when the information they seek to convey is lost in a load of text. And it’s always good to see pictures of happy, smiling, professional-looking team members who love their job. I checked the website of one agency who especially prided themselves on the personality of their agents, but when I checked their website there was not a soul to be found - just boring pictures of properties! What had been suggested as award-worthy was apparently not evident to the public.


10. Stick to the rules. If it says max 500 words, then aim for 450-500 words, as 150 is unlikely to impress! If you really can’t describe all the wonderful things that you want to share (as long as they strictly relate to the category in question) then add a short attachment containing this. If it asks how you train your agents, then provide this information, even if you feel you may be weak in this area. Something is usually better than nothing.


11. Take the call. I’ll always check an entrant’s website, primarily to see if what is expressed there is in keeping with their entry. Occasionally, I’ll may need to check a point with an entrant. One time I left a message but they never returned my call. I only had a tiny question but guess who didn’t win an award that time? (Actually it wasn’t the only thing they scored low on, but imagine if it had been a tie-break situation!) 


12. Take time. Preparing an award entry takes considerable effort. But if it’s worth doing, it’s definitely worth doing well. Ask yourself - did I answer the question? Would I give myself 20/20 for that one! Maybe ask each team member to score each section before you submit it. You could even use it as a team-building exercise, with several colleagues all contributing. The worst that can happen is that you come face to face with your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. 


13. Check and re-check before you hit send. Spelling mistakes and poor grammar never impress!


So that’s your checklist for next year - I hope it helps!


And if you need a hand with your own entry, please do let me know (although I’d have to declare a conflict of interest if I’m then asked to judge your entry!)

This article was first published in The Negotiator Magazine.

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