Want to Launch an Award Show? Here's How.

These award show newbies share their advice for planning and executing an inaugural event.

By Michele Laufik March 7, 2018, 7:01 AM EST

The WeWork Creator Awards Global Finals took place in New York after regional competitions around the world. This year, WeWork plans to host eight more regional events, including in Shanghai, San Francisco, Jerusalem, Berlin, London, São Paulo, Seoul, and Nashville. Winners from the regional events have the opportunity to be a part of the next Creator Awards Global Finals, which will be held in early 2019.

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for WeWork

With the 90th annual Oscars in the bag, this year’s major awards season has come to a close. But smaller, niche programs happen throughout the year, with new shows popping up every day across genres including music, entrepreneurship, social media, and more. Here, some award show newbies share the lessons they learned from hosting their first events.

Be nimble.
In January, WeWork hosted its inaugural Creator Awards Global Finals show at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York. The event showcased the work-sharing space’s ongoing global initiative, which gives funding to entrepreneurs, small businesses, nonprofits, and more, as well as offers employment opportunities and learning experiences. Since the program’s inception in March 2017, WeWork has received more than 7,500 applications.

With many worthy applicants, the company faced a tough decision for the final grand prize. “One of the challenges we face with each city is the process of narrowing down thousands of submissions to just a handful of finalists, when so many ideas are deserving to make it to the live show,” said Karly Giaramita, vice president of strategic events for the company. “In fact, at our Global Finals in New York, it was such a difficult decision that our C.E.O. and founder Adam Neumann chose to award two of the finalists, re:3D and Global Vision 2020, with the $1 million grand prize rather than just one.”

Because there was no award show precedent or rigid rules to follow, the company was able to adjust on the fly. “Curating a live award show that is authentic means that we're not rehearsing as much as live television shows or other award shows,” Giaramita said. “The lack of rehearsal means that we have to be flexible and ready for anything to happen on stage. For example, the decision to award two finalists the $1 million rather than just one was made moments before the announcement was made by [Neumann]. This is all part of our strategy to ensure the emotions are real.”

Based on last year’s applications, WeWork also updated the program’s categories from “Incubate, Launch, and Scale” to “Performing Arts, Non-Profit, Business Venture, and Community Giver.” Giaramita said it was a way to “broaden the possibilities and amplify the voices of those in the performing arts, non-profit, and startup communities.”

Break the rules.
In September, Los Angeles-based entertainment company Hunt & Crest teamed up with DJ Paul Oakenfold to host the first EM Awards, a show celebrating the global electronic music culture. Unlike a typical award show, this event, which was held at Willow Studios in the downtown Los Angeles’ arts district, boasted no seats or speeches.

“With the intent of challenging the traditional award show model, we created a multi-stage, multi-host, multi-live-streamed award show event with no sitting down, no acceptance speeches, and roaming hosts guiding the viewer throughout the entirety of the venue grounds,” explained Luke Alan, co-creator and founder of Hunt & Crest. “We're celebrating the electronic music community in a way that's reflective of the community itself. It’s a dance party.”

The show garnered more than 3.4 million views in just over two hours through its Twitter live stream, and it was the first event to live stream performances with the social media platform’s live 360 video. “When [Oakenfold] partnered with us we knew we had to completely change the way an award show was done in order to connect with the modern digital consumer but most importantly cater to the electronic music demographic, our demographic,” Alan said. “Our whole culture centers around a dance floor with our friends. And that was our inspiration.”

For Spotify's first Secret Genius Awards show, head of songwriter relations Tiffany Kumar said the company also aimed to create a relaxed, party vibe. “We wanted it to feel like a celebration, like there were no losers. We also didn't want people to feel like they were sitting in their seats for hours and hours, so the show had a quick pace with only three performances.” The evening event, which took place in November at the Vibiana Cathedral in Los Angeles, featured an intimate dinner for 350 guests, including Frank Ocean, Rick Rubin, Quincy Jones, Babyface, and more.

The streaming music service launched the Secret Genius brand to honor the songwriting community that’s behind some of the most streamed songs on Spotify. In addition to the award show, the program also includes a playlist, podcast, ambassador list, and song shops (a.k.a., writing camps).

Know your audience.
Alan said he knew he would face some challenges with the first show, such as booking talent and securing brand partnership deals and distribution, but added that the real key to a successful show is to “know your history, know your community, and know your consumer. Authenticity and credibility are of most importance.”

Keshia Williams, executive producer of the new BET Social Awards, echoed that sentiment, saying “we looked at what resonated most with our audience. From comedy to social movements, we did our best to make sure the show matched the interests and priorities of our audience’s social media habits. Collaborating closely with our internal social, digital, and research departments made us pretty confident that we put the right show together.”

The network’s inaugural Social Awards, which took place in February at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, celebrated the most memorable social media moments of 2017, from favorite celebrity follows to the biggest memes, hashtags, and trends of the year. The nominees were chosen by an internal committee, along with executive producers Mike Epps and Kyra Robinson, and then voted on by the public. Categories included “Social Hustle,” “LMAO!,” “Baewatch,” and more. To promote the show, the network also curated the Museum of Meme, a gallery of memes, GIFs, and other bits of social media. The pop-up exhibit was open February 9 and 10 in New York.

“We tried to create something that felt a little familiar to viewers who enjoy the energy and excitement of a live award show and also create something fresh, new, and festive,” Williams said.

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