Crystal myth: Want this award? You can buy it

Everyone gets a trophy, including companies.
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Sample award — available for purchase from the U.S. Trade & Commerce Research Institute.

Most of the handwringing about our everyone-gets-a-trophy culture involves children.

But what about the adults? And I don’t just mean the country music singers.

The business world is replete with awards programs. The industries in which I have spent the past 20-plus years – journalism, advertising/public relations – have been more than willing participants.

I’m not wholly opposed to people being recognized for doing great work. It’s just that most awards programs are watered down if not meaningless, too often sought for publicity’s sake and created to generate revenue.

This is not a new phenomenon. A New York Times article from 1988 (“Ad agencies’ obsession with winning awards”) noted that “Top agency executives are saying that the industry has become too obsessed with awards competitions, which now number more than 500 … .”

I haven’t a clue what that number is today; I’m guessing it has not declined. I recently read about a central Pennsylvania ad agency winning an international award for a logo redesign, from an organization that dubs itself the “premier arbiter of creative excellence” among small and mid-sized ad agencies.

What’s the value?

But does a client – current or prospective – really care? What’s the value of that award: more business for the agency or the client?

Which brings me to the pursuit of New Hampshire Excellence.

A lump filled my throat on June 24 when I received an email from a Charlotte Miller with this subject line: “Goulet Communications selected for 2013 New Hampshire Excellence by USTCRI.”

Wow, I thought to myself, what an honor. And what is USTCRI?

I grew up in Maine, which borders New Hampshire. I’m a fan of the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester. But I literally didn’t set foot in the Granite State in 2013; I merely drove through it for the 10 minutes between Maine and Massachusetts.

It must have been some seriously good driving to make such a favorable impression on USTCRI. Actually, I suspected a scam, although there is a Goulet Communications Inc. in New Hampshire. It apparently is involved with telecommunications.

USTCRI is supposed to be the U.S. Trade & Commerce Research Institute, which describes itself as “a leading authority on researching, evaluating and recognizing the spectrum of industries that meet its stringent standards of excellence.”

The email from USTCRI included a draft news release by which the other Goulet Communications could announce its big victory.

“Goulet Communications has consistently demonstrated a high regard for upholding company values. This recognition by USTCRI marks a significant achievement … various competitors and is setting benchmarks that the industry should follow.”

And this: “Small businesses of this caliber enhance the consumer driven stature that New Hampshire is renowned for.”

So true. When I think of New Hampshire, its consumer driven stature readily comes to mind. And it’s about time that companies start upholding company values.

Crystal award for $147

USTCRI’s website notes three ways in which it generates funds: industry-focused research and analysis, consulting, and the “production and sale of USTCRI Excellence Awards for selected firms.”

It’s truly not just an honor to win something from USTCRI; you get to have your cake and ice it, too. You can purchase a “press release campaign” for $97, or a crystal award for $147, or a press campaign, two framed certificates and two crystal awards for the excellent price of $588.

As near as I can tell, USTCRI is at best an awards mill, at worst an alleged scam. Either way, it’s reflective of a culture in which every kid and every company gets a trophy – even if it has to pay for the prize.

I wrote back to “Charlotte Miller” at USTCRI, suggesting that her organization was confusing my company for Goulet Communications Inc.

“That said,” I wrote, “do you have any awards for Goulet Communications LLC?”

I haven’t heard back from her. I hope I do. I want to share with her some of the things that we’re renowned for.




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