How Do You Spice Up Annual Award Shows?

By Lisa Cericola February 15, 2010, 8:45 AM EST

Guests watched the Fragrance Foundation's FiFi Awards from lounges.

Photo: Roger Dong for BizBash

Whether they’re distributing Oscars or employee-of-the-year plaques, award ceremonies can be pretty predictable. Although a traditional format gets the job done, it doesn’t hurt to add a few surprises.

After five years in New York, Travel & Leisure moved its annual Design Awards to Miami in February 2009. Pam Norwood, the magazine’s vice president and associate publisher of marketing, says the city reached out as a sponsor, prompting the move to the then newly renovated Fontainebleau hotel. “It was a perfect fit for them and us because Miami is a center point in the U.S. for design, art, and architecture,” Norwood says. Now, as other cities have expressed interest in sponsorships, the magazine is exploring new locations.

At the greater Washington chapter of the International Special Events Society’s annual Capital Awards Gala in April, planners from Capital Decor & Events and Rave Reviews packed the event with surprises. After a preshow cocktail reception at which a violinist performed atop a hydraulic lift, guests helped themselves to a buffet of flavored popcorn to snack on during the award presentation. To enliven the show itself, a Latin trio played as winners approached the stage. To conclude the program, a gospel choir sang George Michael’s “Freedom 90.”

Over the years, the Fragrance Foundation’s annual FiFi awards have evolved from a seated dinner to a nightclublike party with a shorter award program. In 2007, the foundation shortened the show, ditched the dinner tables, and focused on socializing. Following the 45-minute award ceremony was a cocktail party with 30 fully furnished private lounges purchased by industry companies.

“Most guests are there to talk to one another. It’s hard to do business or make acquaintances when you’re in a chair watching an award show,” says Karen Dalzell, president of Dalzell Productions, who has produced the show since 2004.

In 2008, the postshow lounges returned, along with five larger areas for sponsors. Last year, working with a smaller budget, they combined the awards and party, letting guests watch the ceremony from their lounges, which were stocked with drinks and snacks. “I got the best feedback from that,” Dalzell says.

A touch of irreverence can add some levity to an otherwise stuffy affair. Every year, the One Club for Art and Copy holds the One Show to recognize the best work in advertising. The 2009 awards spoofed the underground society that controls the awards with the theme “The Ones.” Promotional materials read, “A shadowy organization does not control the One Show. So says the shadowy organization that controls the One Show.”

The One Club worked with Overland Entertainment Company to extend the concept throughout the show. Banners listing the tenets of the Ones (“Creativity, Creativity, Indomitable Indomitableness”) hung in the venue, an oversize portrait of the Ones in fez-like hats adorned the stage, and attendees watched a humorous video about the group’s history.

“We don’t mind making fun of ourselves,” says Kevin Swanepoel, president of the One Club. “If the show is too stiff-upper-lipped, it’s not going to get people coming back.”   

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