Organising the biggest awards in the industry – the inside story

The ESTAS team and I are now on the final countdown to Friday 20th October.  Having run the event for twenty years now, the team and I have learned a lot about processes, time management and planning.  In fact, we don’t just apply those learnings in the few weeks in the lead up to ‘the big day’, we apply them to the running of the business overall, as the overlap with robust planning processes sits very well with our expanding suite of technology solutions and the development plan for these.  

Now, although as a conveyancer you’re not going to be organising the largest awards event in the industry (That’s our job, so that you can just come along and enjoy yourselves!) I thought that giving you some insights into what we do and more importantly, how we do it, may provide you with some ideas that you can adopt for your own business.  For us, there are three ‘buckets’ of planning required; short term, medium term and long term.  I’ll start, the way that we do it, with the long-term planning first.

With the ESTAS Awards, we work to an immovable deadline. It’s not as though we can just ‘knock it all back a day’ if things aren’t quite ready on time, which means for some things, we have to plan well in advance. For example, the date for the ceremony is always locked in with the venue, The Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane in Mayfair, at least 18 months in advance (the next awards will be held on Friday 18th October 2024, so make a note in your diary!).  This element of long-term planning enables us to batch tasks together that we can ‘get out the way’ months before we get to the more critical, day-by-day logistics involved in the last two months in the lead up to the event.  Working this way gives us more time to focus on priority deliverables the last couple of months before the event,  rather than wading through tasks that are less important and could have been completed months ago.

One of the biggest tasks that sits squarely in the realm of ‘medium term’ planning is the results of the competition which determine the awards allocated and the preparation of the trophies to hand out at the event. Our awards review audit begins in March, analysing approximately 300,000 customer ratings which takes six weeks, with a specialist team undertaking this every year.  From the results, we then compile the regional and national shortlists, ranking companies in each postcode.  The shortlists are announced every May, when four virtual events take place online, featuring a total of 500 firms and individuals.  These events are a mixture of recorded and real time footage in our film studio. Each event is individually scripted with five presenters for each.

After that, across June, July and August the list of winners is produced and scrutinised via a further manual audit of the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners.  Once this is completed the logistical challenge of preparing the trophies for all 300 winners begins.   That’s not as easy as it sounds, we have to ensure that we present the correct award to the correct person on the day (some trophies are presenting on stage, others from our ‘trophy cave’). It’s a complex task, there’s a lot of liaising with the trophy supplier over the course of months, culminating in them boxing the awards in the precise order in which they are presented at the ceremony, it takes our trophy team 3 hours to unpack and displays the trophies in the correct order on the day!

Our learning from having completed this daunting task annually for two decades, which is something that we do throughout our business, is to check once, check twice then check again.  Karen, who manages the trophy process with great aplomb every year has more than once ‘caught the ball before it hits the back of the net’ due to her diligence.  Likewise, adopting this approach when we’ve been developing our software products over the last year has prevented any glitches that have been picked up in Beta testing making their way into the finished live product.

Finally, we’re into the last stages of planning in the eight weeks in the lead up to the event, which we determine as short-term deliverables. As a team we are all ultra-disciplined about deadlines, both in terms of external suppliers and internal deadlines between ourselves.  By applying these deadlines to tasks and sticking to them, it takes the pressure off a little bit, as it then becomes straightforward to create a daily or weekly task list with deadlines and priorities and tick them off as they are completed.  Simply put, if it’s not on a list with a deadline then it’s not a priority.  We’ve applied this approach to all of our software development projects too, and it works just as well and really has enabled us to move forward quickly and efficiently.

By this stage, there’s a lot still to do in the final two months; to give you an idea here are just some of the things we’re juggling on a daily basis…writing scripts, selecting and recording music walk-ups q’s, writing and designing the awards programme, meetings with the venue, security and production team, health and safety assessments (for insurance purposes) and compiling the table plan (with all the dietary requirements – which get more complicated every year!).  The list goes on…but that’s the point.  Another key learning over the years has been that we never assume that everyone in the team has overheard a conversation or been on a call or Zoom, so every update is relayed to the whole team at the same time to ensure that we’re all aligned in terms of what’s required and by when.  Assumptions are one of the biggest issues you can face when you’re working at pace in a detailed, pressure driven environment.

So, that’s us for the next few weeks until you see us on the day at The ESTAS Awards with a glass of something chilled in our hands…if there’s a list in the other hand, now you’ll know why!

Written by Simon Brown, CEO and founder of ESTAS.

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