Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole

EPISODE 1: Putting your brand on a national platform with Sarah Austin, Awards Director at The Lloyds Bank National Business Awards.

August 25, 2020 Donna O'Toole
Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole
EPISODE 1: Putting your brand on a national platform with Sarah Austin, Awards Director at The Lloyds Bank National Business Awards.
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Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole
EPISODE 1: Putting your brand on a national platform with Sarah Austin, Awards Director at The Lloyds Bank National Business Awards.
Aug 25, 2020
Donna O'Toole

Donna O'Toole speaks with Lloyds Bank National Business Awards, Awards Director Sarah Austin as they discuss the awards industry, and the effects of the pandemic on the awards programme in 2020, as well as on the whole live events industry. Plus, Sarah discusses how and why you should be winning awards in 2020, and how to get involved in next years awards, which she promises to be bigger and better than ever.

The Lloyds Bank National Business Awards is one of the UK's most prestigious awards programmes, recognising and rewarding excellence across all sectors. These awards are considered "the ones to win" - all UK companies are invited to enter, regardless of size or industry. The awards have a range of categories suited for any successful organisation to tell their story.

Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.

Show Notes Transcript

Donna O'Toole speaks with Lloyds Bank National Business Awards, Awards Director Sarah Austin as they discuss the awards industry, and the effects of the pandemic on the awards programme in 2020, as well as on the whole live events industry. Plus, Sarah discusses how and why you should be winning awards in 2020, and how to get involved in next years awards, which she promises to be bigger and better than ever.

The Lloyds Bank National Business Awards is one of the UK's most prestigious awards programmes, recognising and rewarding excellence across all sectors. These awards are considered "the ones to win" - all UK companies are invited to enter, regardless of size or industry. The awards have a range of categories suited for any successful organisation to tell their story.

Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.

Donna O'Toole :

Hi, I'm Donna O'Toole and you're listening to my exclusive winning awards podcast. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. I've seen firsthand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community. In this podcast, I'll be sharing valuable awards, insights, tips and inspirational stories to make sure that you get the recognition that you deserve, so that you can go on and achieve your dreams. So what are you waiting for? It's time to start winning. Hello and welcome to Sarah Austin, who is the awards director at the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards, and also now non executive director at the Tate. Welcome, Sarah, thank you for joining me today.

Sarah Austin :

Thank you for having me. It's such a pleasure to be here and see you again.

Donna O'Toole :

You're Welcome, so we've just come straight from our webinar, talking to finalists of the Lloyds Bank National Business awards this year, which is really exciting, isn't it? And so now we're going to talk about the awards themselves and your involvement and how they work and just really get into the nuts and bolts of the actual awards process and ceremony and who enters and everything that we can to really help bring that to life, I think for people, which would be really nice. So first of all, Sarah, how did you get involved with the awards? And how long have you been involved?

Sarah Austin :

Well, it's actually quite a funny story really. I actually came down to London when I was 18 years old, and I did work experience on the National Business Awards, because I knew the Event Manager at the time really lovely lady called Kathleen, who was a friend of the family. And I was this little country bumpkin coming down from Yorkshire. And I brought my black tie, and I came to the Grosvenor House... Oh my god, this is incredible. And at the time, I was just sort of dipping my feet into events. I was more venue side, I was working for a venue called Harewood House just north of Leeds at the time. And I was starting my degree. And and so what happened was, I was just, you know, for 24 hours went into this madness, table planning, helping people with all these queries and really just running around the Grosvenor House in high heels. And it was it was brilliant. And I loved it. And that's when I got the taste. I was like, right, this is what I want to do. I want to work on big live events. So I carried on with my degree and I got in as much work experience in as I possibly could I came down and I pretty much came every year to the NBAs just to help out. Excuse me, I call it the NBA.

Donna O'Toole :

Now I call it the NBA as well. Yeah.

Sarah Austin :

But it becomes part of you. And yeah, then I moved down to London. I actually did a small stint working for a beauty company. And then luckily, a job came up as the event coordinator on the National Business Awards, and I was so happy. I was 21 living in Clapham. Yeah. And so I just worked, I worked and I worked. It was a different way of working back then, you know, we didn't have like, I remember being in that we, our awards team at the time at UBM, who were the parent owner, purchased by Informa. We were actually in the basement of Ludgate House on the South Bank. So it was we painted it all pink and we turned it into this mini awards, extraordinare office. And we all had these massive computers and all our table planning was done manually and there's no, it was just a different world and the amount with all the judging, I used to have to print everything out at least 50 / 60 times. And I was like, everything that I did everything was so organised. So yeah, and it kind of just happened organically from there. I did a few conferences and then I came back to the NBA it pulls you in. And now we sort of it's kind of known for everyone at Informa. Everyone always says that it's sort of my baby. And it really is I know that I have a baby as well and my work baby. And I, honestly even when I was on maternity leave, I missed it. And I I care so much about it. I really do. And I really, you know, it was hard on maternity leave to watch someone else.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, absolutely.

Sarah Austin :

It. It pulls you in, the people you meet are just lovely and they have such fascinating stories to tell. We do an event each year at the House of Commons. So if you become a finalist, you get invited to the House of Commons.

Donna O'Toole :

And I've been to those and they are lovely. I have to say, great, great selling point for the awards, too.

Sarah Austin :

Yeah, well, it's just great. It's just great. And it's also, you know, we get to hear from government, these businesses have got a lot to say. And frankly, so have I. And I just think that, you know, it's really important for us to be in that setting, and to speak to the, to the right people. And, you know, granted with changes each year who you speak to from the government, there's always someone and I think that, you know, when you've got such an important group of people, you've got to be the voice for them as well.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, absolutely, actually, I was just thinking it's really interesting. Your, your perspective on the awards, actually, because that's that, as you say, it's evolved hugely over the years. I mean, the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards have been around all the time I've been in the industry and you know, they're so well known and so prestigious. And so it's such a wonderful event to be a part of. I'm thinking there's so much there to learn from actually, and how do you feel like the awards have evolved? I mean, obviously, 2020 is a massively different year, but, you know, are the aims of the awards kind of the same, do you think or have they changed over time? You know, what do you think you've noticed?

Sarah Austin :

The aims of the awards have always been to celebrate the very best of great British business. And so you can always under that umbrella, you know, there's so much that you can you can work with, my particular themes that I like to bring out in it as you know, to celebrate innovation, ethics, teamwork, you know, very basic fundamentals and values that are important to a successful business. And so yeah, we've evolved over the years and that we, like everyone has, we have to adapt to, you know what our customer wants as well. So, you know, if you think about the NBA as a business itself, you know, we have to make sure that we are, like I said, with our House of Commons Event that we are, you know, being a voice for SMEs that wouldn't normally get that opportunity. We have to evolve digitally, you know, we, we used to have paper entries now, it's all done online. Thank God. And we have to think about our judging panels. And I'm very particular about what happens there in that we have to make sure we're doing the right thing, that we're diverse. I think, you know, many years gone by if you saw our judging panels, they would have looked very different. And, and you have to make sure that you've not got usual suspects in there that just always bringing the same thing you have to bring new people to the table. Sort of in that non exec role to hold people to be accountable, prod and poke as much as they can to get the most out of the panel as well as the businesses that are coming in to make sure that, you know, it's it's worth it for everybody and that they're getting the most out of the experience, even if they don't win, we have to ensure being a finalist is, is still, you know, as it is an incredible achievement. I'm incredibly passionate about ensuring our credibility is upheld at all points. And so again, you'll see that through our judging practices through a lot of heavy admin work, but we have to do it to make sure that everything is above board, and just making sure that we're always doing the right thing. We have evolved quite a bit. I hope that people have seen that and we will be constantly evolving. And 2020 is my God, the most challenging year for us all, but we have, in some ways, I'm actually really it sounds ridiculous. I'm really enjoying it. Because it means that you can think differently. It's that it's not as formulaic as it normally is. And when you know when you're going into the realms of looking into virtual events and things like that you're going beyond your audience in the Great Room. And that's, that's a great opportunity. You know, so not only if you're a finalist or winner, you're speaking to these people, you're speaking to everyone outside that room as well. And the coverage and what the journalists are looking for, as well, you know, we are such a ripe group of people.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, absolutely. You know, you're a hub and a hive of business activity. That's all then being brought together in a really hugely positive way to celebrate whatever's been achieved in that year. So tell us then, so 2020 obviously, we all got the news back in early 2020, that there was a bit of a pandemic going on, and I think it's fair to say that the industry as a whole, the events industry obviously was hugely hit by the pandemic, because as part of the events i'm sure used to being involved in, you know, actual locations and venues and events that are going on live. And I do think I certainly felt that the industry went into shock a little bit for a week or so of, oh, my goodness, what are we going to do? We've literally just paid off our deposits and got all our, you know, everything sorted out for the rest of the year, and suddenly, particularly in the awards side of things, and we have to suddenly plan and we have to repurpose, and we have to think of new ways of doing things that never been done before. So how, how and I know as well, Sarah in 2020, that you, you had your lovely baby last year, and then you went off travelling as well. So I know that 2020 has been a really big journey for you in particular, and for the awards. So tell us about that. What's this year entail for you?

Sarah Austin :

Yeah, I mean, to say it was unexpected an understatement. So I did have my beautiful baby William last summer. And in March or February time I was like, right, we definitely need a holiday. I was on maternity leave. And I'm not very good at doing maternity leave it has to be said. And I found it really difficult to switch off from my work baby. But I just decided no, this is definitely the way to do it. So we booked a week in Florida, and to cut a very long story short in March, well, we travelled it was like at that point it was like it was still a problem on the other side of the world. And it hadn't really hit us yet. And I think it was starting to get bad in Italy, but I was in a frame of mind. You know, I was so tired. I just wanted to get away and I was like, right. We're going nothing stopping me, thinking that you know, we're only going for a week. Anyway, we will blink and we'll come back. And then yeah, cut to 14 weeks later. We we've managed to get back. At first it was a case that we couldn't get back. And then it became a case of right let's, let's just batten down the hatches and stay where we are. Because it was it was really quiet where we were at luckily, we left at the right time. And then it was really difficult for the awards because obviously, I wasn't really gauging the British media at the time, I couldn't really see. It's really hard in America to get any kind of sensible news. And, you know, from what I could hear from my team, it was that it was exactly what it says that everyone sort of went into shock. And I think the awards industry in particular, like with events, people by our very nature, were quite adaptable. So I knew that ideas would come out and we'd be okay but the with the #weareevents movement that's happening recently and it's like the camaraderie between everybody is amazing. And we can see, you know, all the venues lighting up and ready to send their message that we are events. We're ready We are adaptable we can do it. And I think that's so powerful. With my Tate hat on we of course are experiencing problems venue side. And I think that it's, I sent it out on LinkedIn a few weeks ago and I sort of said the hardest bit that breaks my heart is actually suppliers to the events industry, because they don't know what they can deliver. And there's people like me, who are like right now I want to support you. I've got, you're in my budget with doing this. We might adapt it in certain ways, but I definitely want to support you. And it's, it's it's breaking my heart right now that they can't get on with things, particularly the freelancers because they rely on it. But yeah, the NBA is we we are adapting. We have a category called the pivot for purpose category, which is actually it's open for entries. We're accepting entries for all these businesses that have got this really incredible pandemic story to tell. And I think that in some ways we have to pivot for our purpose as well. So we are going to be doing the same and we're going to be telling our story. And hopefully the events industry and everyone within it in particular will understand and the awards industry will as well. I think what happened a couple of months ago is kind of, competitors will just take, take it all away, take it down all those barriers. We're all as one at the moment. We have to be and I've joined a cohort of international awards organisers, I got in touch with the organisers of the Emmys that someone put me in touch with, which was incredible to see what they're doing. And the BAFTAs as well and you know, a lot of us in the business media world or the b2b world of awards, you know, we take inspiration from these guys. So the fact that we're all coming together I thought was really impressive. And in the #weareevents movement, you will have seen someone, I think they work for the Liverpool Echo arena. And they say the problem is, we were first out and will be last in and that really is just like so right. And they've hit the nail on the head and unfortunately for events and Arts were the ones that are suffering at the moment. And yeah, who knows what will happen? I think we had the announcement from from Boris that, you know, business events can take place, but it didn't really give much clarity in terms of capacities, the types of events and what's going on. I think it's going to be a case of it's going to flip, we're going to tell them, you know, what we think we can do, we're going to lobby them, say our piece and hopfully will be able to get some movement and get some live events taking place. And it's just that thing, we just have to have someone be the first one. Yeah. And once they've done it, then it'll open the gate. Yeah, I'm not sure if you saw in Dubai. There's been a couple of events taken place by Dubai World Trade Centre. And in particular, I think informa are starting their events function out there. But I've seen a couple of videos of what happened. And it all looks very sensible. It can be done. You've just got to be sensible.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, absolutely. And also, it's so important, isn't it? It's so important because everything has a knock on effect on everything else. And in business, you know, business events and, and arts events, and all these different events are a huge part of our life and culture. And, you know, we want to get back to doing that. Absolutely. I think for me when, you know, when the pandemic struck, and we sort of felt the reverberations around the world and the shock factor and I spoke to lots of different awards organisers as well, and I spoke to Cannes International Festival and, and everyone was saying, What's everyone else doing? You know? What's everyone else doing? Can we do it? Can we not do it, you know, and it is the uncertainty. I think that's so difficult for everyone to deal with. But I've been really, really impressed with how then very quickly, you know, within weeks, all the awards organisers have actually gathered themselves and thought, right, okay, how can we do this? Let's start looking at new ways of delivering our awards programmes. And actually the process in itself, fortunately, the majority of awards like yourselves are now set up if you can manage that whole process online. You know, your entries are all going in online. And it's more the other end of the the awards journey, isn't it, whether it's live events, but one thing I was going to say that I've always really loved about the Lloyds Bank National Business Awards, and that I think is adds so much value is that you use the awards not just to celebrate and recognise individual achievements and achievements of businesses, but actually to bring businesses together and to help them to make connections and bring even more value in that process so like you said about the House of Commons and you have summer parties and even with the speakers actually that you always have at the awards so inspirational on the night. Last year Captain Tim Peake was just amazing. And Mo Farah, I remember him coming directly from getting his knighthood from the Queen.

Sarah Austin :

You know, what is so funny? And the I always say this, I say quite publicly, publicly all the time when it comes to events. People only remember your keynote / host and the food. And if you win, you remember that as well. But I think so taking awards out of it. Yeah, fundamentals of basic event basics. It's in the keynote speaker, you've got to get it right. On my left, all my friends laugh at me because I have this I seem to always go towards astronauts and space but I just think it's fascinating. Um, and yeah, so Mo Farah as well, he was, um, I'll never forget it before he went on stage, he had to do a piece to camera. And it was so funny because we had the camera in front of me, we were in the G Suite, the Grosvenor house, at which all awards organisers will know, like, the back of the hand. Yeah. And, you know, we put the camera and microphone said, How does it fit, you know, what's your message to business? And he just couldn't get it out. He kept on saying, "my business message" "my Olympian in business", "my..." and he stuttered and stuttered and could not do it. And I was like, Oh my God, this was before he was going on. So what have I done? What have I done? He's gonna go on stage and it's gonna be silence because it was an interview with Naga Munchetty. Luckily, you know, take the camera away from him and put him in front of 1000 people and he was absolutely fine.

Donna O'Toole :

He was honestly it was like a pin could drop in that room when he was talking. I mean, Naga's amazing. Because she's just such an amazing host, isn't she? Yeah, I think I remember was it then? And the next day I was watching the news and she was on it. And I thought, how did you do that? Such a professional

Sarah Austin :

She's absolutely incredible I did an event with her when she'd had a very tough day at work, and she just got on and she's brilliant. Yeah. And then they'll get up at 3am and do all over again. I don't know.

Donna O'Toole :

So okay, what do we have any hints about who might be inspirational speaker this year?

Sarah Austin :

I think one of the things that 2020 is going to allow me to do is have more people involved than we normally would have. So I can't give any names away. If you go by alumni, you will see we have you know, Buzz Aldrin, Tim Peake, Mo Farah. And you know, and that's just the ones that come to my head. There's been some incredible people. that we've had over the years. And I think, yeah, each year, we've got to set the bar, we've set the bar higher and higher.

Donna O'Toole :

Also what's really nice is I think you always connect really nicely to the sort of themes and messages of the year that we're all remembering. And obviously, you know, we're all being drowned in the pandemic noise at the moment and and we know that we're all living and breathing it every day and having to get on with it and adjust our workplaces and our lives and our family lives and everything around it. And we know that but there's so much positivity still out there. And I think that's what you know, we're really lucky because we're in a really positive industry where we're basically here to help celebrate and recognise people's achievements, which then helps them to go on and do the good things they want to do. We've just done something in our business, which is to celebrate when we're working with clients and they win. Every time we get a winner. Now, we're Going to pay for five days business training for a woman in Zimbabwe, because education is really close to my heart. And just I just wanted to feel that actually, helping other people to win could drive good for them. But actually, we could do some good with it as well. So it's giving like an extra layer of incentive to the team here. And an extra, just something extra great to feel really good about for our winners as well. So that's really nice.

Sarah Austin :

Yeah. That's brilliant.

Donna O'Toole :

you know, there's more we can all be doing, I think, to help each other.

Sarah Austin :

Definitely. And I think a lot of it comes down. It's what I'm finding this year. A lot of it comes down to confidence. I think it's, I think it was always like this, but I think we've always been a bit afraid to talk about things. And I think that now that mental health is such a positive thing that we're talking about it people are more openly saying, Well, I didn't do that because I didn't have the confidence to do it.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah. And I think now as well, we were talking about this earlier that I think now there's more scope. Actually people feel they can be more honest, they can talk about the challenges and talk about the bumpy journey and talk about what they've found really difficult to get over and learn from each other than more so because we're all being more open, actually a more accessible, which I think actually is going to make awards even harder to judge going forward. Because I, you know, I judge lots and lots of awards. And you find that you get the ones you know, the entries that are very much focused on facts and figures. And it's the entries with the human stories, and they're really engaging opportunities that have happened between with customers or with employees or anything who really stay with you. And you remember, and you really want them to do and I think this year, that's going to be everywhere, and everyone's just remove the barriers. And a new layer of honesty is coming through which is going to be brilliant for the awards industry.

Sarah Austin :

I think. Yeah, I love it already. I can see it in the entries it was fierce, and so honest. And say, you know, oh, well, our cash flow was down because this supplier didn't pay us on time and then this ripple effect on this. And that's, you know, obviously to be a loss making business is not a it's not award winning, really. But how you cope with it and how you manage that and then come out of it. That is award winning, even if you're only making a small amount, though. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, definitely.

Donna O'Toole :

I think as well. The other thing about the awards, which is always really nice to see is there's a real mix of different types of winners. So you don't have just all you know, obviously, they're hugely popular awards, and they are fierce, it's a fierce competition. I always say to everyone, don't underestimate how well you've done. If you've got into the final, this is already a massive achievement. So celebrate it, share it with the world, get it out there. But actually, when you then look at those finalists, there's a real mix and you've got really small businesses, new businesses, you know, one or two years old, who would just have come up with something amazing. Or you've got these the legacy kind of the more established businesses who are transforming digitally or doing new things for their customers. So, you know, it's a really positive experience for all the different businesses that genuinely evolved.

Sarah Austin :

So that's the beauty of the NBA though as well, because that's you're not just saying you're the best in your sector, and you've gone up against nine other businesses who are similar size, let's say, and you're the best of them and you're also the best in the country. And year, you know, the SME category is always a great example of this because there's so many SMEs, the country is the founders of incredible SMEs. It's our backbone. And, you know, you could have one year we had like a farm, an egg farm company, up against a software company, and then up against I think it was some private equity people and I was just like, oh my god, this is insane. But you can all judge them and it was just, you know, the stuff that what they have to deal with fundamentally is the same thing. But the stories that they had to share was so incredibly different. And to be on a national scale and get that recognition, I think is just incredible that when you need other people,

Donna O'Toole :

yeah. So you so your media partner this year is The i isn't it?

Sarah Austin :

Yes. So we years ago, we were the with the telegraph then we were with the times. And then I actually, I want to commend the I think, in particular, that business editorial team are producing some of the best content that I've seen over this year, you'll hear actually, when not sure, if you listen to LBC. And you listen to a couple of commercial radio, everybody raves about The i. And so they Yeah, it's fantastic. I'm so glad, just brilliant partner, and they really understand the fundamentals of the awards and their business editor loves them. It's just brilliant. And she can't wait to share the stories of these finalists as well. Fantastic. So another good reason for them all to get their name out there once they're in the final. Yeah.

Donna O'Toole :

Fantastic. So Sarah, thank you for being so honest and for inviting us you know and anyone listening to understand the awards more and and how they're so deeply rooted your heart and how you look after them behind the scenes, which we know is a huge job. And, and obviously, you know, this has been a tough year for everybody in business, but we're, we're sticking at it and everyone's doing what they can support each other, which is great. So if you think about businesses now in 2020, and they're thinking like, should I, would I be ready for awards? How am I going to get some recognition? Where do I get a piece of this? What would you say to the businesses that are thinking about entering awards in 2020, but they're not sure.

Sarah Austin :

Now more than ever, we need to be putting ourselves out there and saying, not only are we the best in our sector, but we are the best in the country. You, all of these businesses have something that is unique. And something that will be what perhaps to you is something quite normal. That actually if you put yourself in front of a panel of judges, that work that you do is sensational. You need to be recognised for that. The Lloyds Bank National Business Awards gives a platform for businesses of all shapes and sizes to get on that national platform. We are the biggest. We are the most prestigious we have the most involvement with government and really key senior organisations and of course, our headline partner, Lloyds Bank, we are all here to support you and the coverage that we can get for you the attention and from from personally from me, you know the care and attention that I can give to the entrants and finalists and winners. This is the time, seize the day, get your message out there. Don't hold back if you have any questions let us know it's not that hard. There are people like Donna who can help and it's well there's there's plenty people and there's plenty people in my team as well that can help.

Donna O'Toole :

Sorry to interrupt, Okay. So the programme is going to be open again next year, isn't it so now we can't enter this year but if you're a finalist, you're you're going to be in it to win it for the finals which will be coming up. So the next programme when do you know when the next programme is going to be do tend to open

Sarah Austin :

We are we're scheduling to reopen for 2021 entries in March. So just let us know we'll be able to get you know the update so you get all the information. And we we typically open in March and then close for entries at the end of May. So there's there's quite a big window and then to June so you can you can enter for that period. I think 2021 is going to be absolutely fascinating. Like you said we were we were all a little bit shocked this year. We're working out what we're gonna do and actually for our programme, you know, we saw an uplift year on year in terms of the numbers of entries that we had was just brilliant. And you'll see that our judges are really fascinating people. And yeah, hopefully you'll be able to see the main event. And then yeah, 2021 Here we come, going to be bigger and better. Fantastic.

Donna O'Toole :

Thank you, Sarah. Really appreciate you joining me today, and looking forward to the awards this year!

Sarah Austin :

Good we do. Thank you so much.

Donna O'Toole :

Thank you for listening to this episode of my winning awards podcast. If you enjoyed it and found it helpful, please share it on Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you have any questions, please head over to crafted by Auguste com, where you can find out more about winning awards and contact me on the website. You can also take our free awards test, which will identify your award strength and tell you how likely you are to win. I really hope you can take away some ideas today so that you can go ahead and win awards have an even bigger impact on the world and achieve your dreams. Transcribed by https://otter.ai