Sarah Austin is a leading voice of the awards and events industry. In addition to a 12-year career running an international awards portfolio at Informa (formally UBM), Sarah was notably the Awards Director for the National Business Awards.
She has now launched two exciting ventures in 2021 - the first being sarahaustin.co.uk which is a full end-to-end events management consultancy specialising in awards, conferences, virtual events, weddings and private events. Sarah's business has had a roaring start with several projects in the running and her first major project is to deliver (with her team) The Travel Industry Awards by TTG.
Sarah’s other main venture sees the launch of The Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards. In partnership with Lloyds Bank, these awards celebrate the resilience, innovation and creativity of British businesses - whether big or small - an innovative new start-up or an established industry player, private, public or third sector, culminating in the UK’s most prestigious business awards ceremony with a rigorous judging programme and a series of networking opportunities across the year.
In addition to this, Sarah is a Non-Exec Director at the Tate Galleries and also sits on the Tate Modern Advisory Council, which allows her to advise their events team on sales, delivery and execution strategies whilst being surrounded by incredible priceless artwork.
Donna O'Toole is the Founder of August, and she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. She has seen, 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.
Hi, I'm Donna rattle 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, solve problems, supercharge brands, and raise 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 this next episode of the winning awards podcast. Thank you for joining me, and today I'm really delighted to have with me Sarah Austin, who is the founder and director of the Lloyds Bank, British Business Excellence Awards. Sarah has been in the awards industry for over 12 years and is very used to running an international awards portfolio. You may previously know her from informer or which was formerly ubm. Sarah is now launching the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards for 2021. In partnership with Lloyds Bank, these awards are going to be one of the most prestigious Business Awards in the UK, with a rigorous judging programme and a series of networking opportunities available for all entrants across the year. The Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards celebrate the resilience, innovation and creativity of British businesses, whether big or small, an innovative new startup or an established industry player, private public or third sector entering will give your business the chance to be rewarded for its achievements, to recognise its accomplishments and to set your business apart and really drive your team forward for the coming year. So welcome, Sarah, thank you so much for being with us today.Sarah Austin:
Thank you so much for having me. It's wonderful to be here. Thank you, Donna,Donna O'Toole:
you're very welcome. So this is really exciting news, isn't it? A new award a new year, a brilliant way to come out of the pandemic. So tell us about the award and what's happening on all about it.Sarah Austin:
Thank you, Donna. Yes, and it's a shame people can't see me because you probably see the gleaming smile that I have. And this this, this world, you know, 2020, for some of us is something that we'd rather forget. So it's lovely to start. I really feel like this, this new sense of new beginnings. And the British Business Excellence Awards is definitely that. So we have various categories. We've got those ranging from business enabler of the year, we will also be sourcing new entrepreneurs and established entrepreneurs as well. We want to hear from those of you who are exporting tell us your stories. Leading back very importantly, as well to the positive social impact category, what have people been doing there for their communities, and then right up to the categories that are divided by the size of each business. So the SME, very popular category, the scale of Business of the Year, and then right up to the mid market businesses. This year, I'm also very interested to hear about innovation from businesses that, right you know, those and people in that sort of their garagiste, who've been, you know, locked away during lockdown and thinking of all of those things that can help businesses of all shapes and sizes and lots of people coming out of university. And we really want to go you know, speak to those people, you know, who might be funded by the likes of innovate UK as well. And just remembering that, you know, all the good that you can come out of a really challenging year like 2020. And then finally, to sort of nod to that we do have our purpose before profit award, which we will be dividing into actually two winners because it feels appropriate that, you know, we will probably have a corporate winner. And then we'll also have a community winner. Just to sort of delve into those absolutely brilliantly fascinating stories of how people. I mean, I feel like this word is probably a little bit overused at the moment, but it's so applicable because people had to pivot quickly, and they had to ensure that they were doing the right thing. So not only will that, you know, be the basis for purpose for profit, but we'll also be basing that into the rest of the programme as well. I think it's Yeah, I think when it comes to awards this year, particularly Business Awards, judges aren't going to judge in the same way that they have done in the past.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, that's really interesting. You say that actually because I was actually giving a talk this morning about this and talking about the trends in awards right now, and just listening to you talking about some of the categories there that you've got, I think and and your outlook on that, I think you've really harnessed those trends. Because in the last, certainly from our perspective, working with lots of awards, we've seen a real shift, I suppose, in the mindset, both of the judging panels and the awards. So a couple of things. And it'd be interesting to see how these are going to fit with your awards. One thing I've noticed is that awards are really embracing this entrepreneurial Renaissance that we're having right now. And embracing the fact that people you know, in the, in the good old days, it was like you had this solid job with this solid name brand. And it all stayed the same. And now we know nothing stays the same. But everything changes and entrepreneurs have sprouted out of, you know, more, I think there's more entrepreneurs in the last year than there's ever been or something. Yeah, so you know, that that's going to fit brilliantly with some of your categories?Sarah Austin:
Absolutely, we want to hear from them. And, you know, I consider myself one of them to be honest, it's, you know, through times of trouble, it's amazing. What, what can happen and how, you know, entrepreneurs can come out of it the other side and think, well, through that challenge, I learned a lot. And actually, if you take yourself out of the day to day, the norm, and you realise what your skill sets are. And when looking across the board, you know how we're going to be judging these countries, like I said, judges will be judging differently, they will be, it won't all be about the bottom line, we will be asking for financial information, but they will, they will look at it and assess it in a very different way. An example, you know, looking at the employer of the year category, being a good employer is now got totally different meaning. And absolutely, that's a brilliant thing that's come out of 2020. Because it's about the businesses and the business leaders that did the right thing. We were thrown with some immensely difficult challenges. And it's okay to talk about the bad stuff. Well, yeah, definitely, you're not alone, everybody had to make some really, really challenging decisions and are still doing so. But it's how people lead through that, and how they have a plan. Though, it might seem sometimes I'll give you the government doesn't have a plan for the rest of us do. So you know, we just need to we, you know, we just need to enhance that. And you'll see across the board, you know, we, when we looked at the category criteria, and how the judges will be judging, you'll be able to see the different weightings between the different categories. So it's it's quite simple process here, we've got an employee and customer engagement, leaders, leadership and innovation, like I said, very key organisational ethics and policies, that's, you know, that touching on doing the right thing. And then the five financial performance of you know, like I said, the word performance, let's let's really, you know, think about that, because it's the good and the bad, and hopefully a plan for us all to get back to growing and thriving.Donna O'Toole:
I know when I'm judging, I always ask what the greatest challenge has been for the business. Because for me, that's I want to hear about that. I want to hear what you've had to overcome and how you've overcome it. So I always say, you know, don't, don't just stick with this shiny story of everything being amazing, because we're all human, and we know that it isn't, and it certainly isn't, it certainly wasn't in 2020 or 2021 even. But we want real businesses to come through and talk about their real challenges and how they really overcome them. Because they can then be role models for others to follow, can't they you know, that really helps raise their profile, but also get other people inspired to do the right thing.Sarah Austin:
Exactly that and you know, leading back to who we've partnering with obviously, Lloyds Bank there, they're ready. You know, the the TV advert really just say how it isn't 10 they will be by your side, they're here to help, there is a world of expert advice at your fingertips. And the awards are a vehicle to be able to put these organisations together. And then also when it comes to our media partners, we are so delighted to be partnering with the I the the business pages on the I just growing and growing and growing particularly online platforms are just brilliant. And again, that that by itself is a tool for speaking to professionals who can help and give that advice. And by entering these awards, you will automatically be part of that system. And if you become a finalist, you know you'll be able to be featured in the AI online also in print. You know either our networking events, you'll be able to meet the business journalists as well, and just really sort of share your story. They are dying to hear from you.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, it's interesting actually. Thank you for bringing that up because one of the questions I get are Time is, what the top question is probably, how do I know if I can win? And that's the first one? And then do you know what I always say, to stop focusing on the win? But everyone wants to win awards? Okay? Of course they do. And that's absolutely our objective when we're supporting people. Of course it is. But equally, the the impact that you can your business can get from just being part of an awards programme, getting involved in the process, getting into the final can be huge, I mean, that, like you just sit there with the eye, you know, having that kind of relationship and knowing that if you get into the final you're going to, you're going to be featured, you know that that in itself, if you're just paying for that with PR, or, you know, with media advertising, it's just it's worth a whole host more than what you think you're getting just by entering the awards. So for me, like my message to everyone out there is jumping in and start soaking up the benefits right from the start for your business and strengthening your business by being associated with such prestigious awards and great sponsors and supporters and partners. Because the benefit happens all the way through the process, not just at the end when the winners revealed.Sarah Austin:
Yeah, absolutely. So I always say, it's not about the night itself, the night itself, this is wonderful, glittering award ceremony, which we'll get on to. And that's sort of the cherry on top of this epic cake. You're out the front throughout the year, starting in April. So you know, just simply by entering these awards, you will be invited to several networking events, including a terrorist at the House of Commons, Mesa again, all being well. And you will also if you become a finalist, like I said, you'll be featured in national press, you'll get a complimentary place to the main event in November. So you know, you're guaranteed to be there. And that's all included. It's not a it's not a case of you know, you won't hear from us. And then crucially, we will be providing feedback to everybody who enters, you'll be able to see on the entry pages on the website, British Business Excellence was code at UK, all of the criteria, it's laid out very clearly, we've got a beautiful new awards portal that's really easy to use as well. So you'll be able to see those percentages and how the judges will be judging, and then be able to create that feedback for you. So not if it's not necessarily this year, you might know for next year up something and I you know, I care passionately, absolutely passionately about this. And I just think that, you know, just let me know, I always say to people, just let me know, and I'll do my very best if it isn't gonna happen for you this year, we'll get back to you. I'll let you meet the judges, you can speak to them yourselves as well, they'll be happy to do that. And then but hopefully if you get through to, you know, the next round, that's just a whole new world of opportunity for you. Especially following that this year that we'd all ratherDonna O'Toole:
the awards are now open. So Sarah, what tell us when the deadline isSarah Austin:
the deadline is Friday the 25th of June.Donna O'Toole:
Okay, great. So lots of time, lots of time to get organised. And then what happens once you've made your entry what's the next stageSarah Austin:
so you will make your entry submit online and then we will obviously go through all of our rigorous, rigorous, shortlisting processes, and we aim to announce all of the finalists by mid July and that's of course that's quite it's a huge a huge announcement in itself we'll be going out to national press and you know, be able to feature on the website and online obviously Lloyds Bank will be involved as well. So that then gives you the month of August to get preparing for your presentation to the panel in September. Now we are obviously in a world of trying to make all our plans as best as we can at the moment it is likely we will have a hybrid judging model where that the judges will be in the physical room together and then the finalists will virtually come in and out and present online because I'm very conscious of you know, it's quite a lot of time and effort and sometimes cost for these businesses to actually present but you know, this is where I'm you know, we're we're good we're going out to the market. I want to hear from these people as well we get people's opinions on that. It's likely it will be that that hybrid model. We will then in between that time you there'll be several networking events, but online, some in person, please God. And we sort of start the countdown to the main event which is on Tuesday the ninth of November, at the Grosvenor House Hotel. And we will we will aim to have 1000 people in thatDonna O'Toole:
room. Amazing. I for one I'm looking forward to getting back to that. It's been over a year. I'm usually Awards events of winter last winter and I've been to anySarah Austin:
rural desperate, aren't we? I sent out an invite the other day for the event to some VIPs. And you know, typically these things, you know, might take a while for people to get back to you, within 24 hours maximum. And one of the responses quite simply was we're going out,Donna O'Toole:
absolutely, oh, my goodness, it's going to be a party beyond all parties.Sarah Austin:
Trust, I cannot wait.Donna O'Toole:
So for anyone listening who's thinking, actually, these set these words sound good, I want to know more, we are going to be doing some webinars together on way. So we're going to do a webinar about your award entry and how to do that and maximise your opportunities there. And also then a webinar for the finalists, you get to the presentation stage and perhaps feeling a bit nervous about presenting to judges to give them some good tips on, on what exactly to do. So you will be well supported all the way through. And will support Sarah to make that happen for you as well. So it's a it's super exciting, Sarah, I'm so excited. It's so nice to be back in award season, isn't it?Sarah Austin:
Oh, it's wonderful. Honestly, I feel like I've come home in some ways. It's just love to lovely to, you know, be speaking to businesses, and really sort of encouraging people. I spoke to somebody the other day, and I said, Oh, God, you should really enter the this positive social impact category, your business is incredible. And this person paired up just sort of saying, Oh, my God, I can't believe that you think that this would be worthy of an award or that? Yes, you know, this will time. And I think even before the pandemic, we you know, I would always say to people enter awards, because it is a good tool to have a time to reflect on the good, not that, you know, like we said the beginning, not just the not, you know, not just all the good stuff, but also reflect on the challenges as well. And then I think, you know, obviously, we have this big sort of wave hit us. And now more than ever, it's important to make sure that your business is set apart. Yeah. And I really do think that some people get so impatient, you know, sort of bogged down in the day to day, and I'm guilty as well, that actually, they don't take that time to reflect and actually think well, I did that pretty well. And, you know, showing that little bit of a bit of humility and saying,Donna O'Toole:
Well, I think, particularly the British, we do love to, you know, not shout about our excessive successes. And we liked everyone to think that, you know, awards just happened by chance, and we don't actually have to make the effort for them. But I think one thing I was saying, actually, during a talk I was giving today was that what's really important is not to let your good news pass you by. Because awards are on a yearly cycle, and I'm sure you will be or halfway through this year, you'll be planning for next year. But as judges, you know, we can, we're always looking at Well, what have you achieved what's happened in the last year, what's happened in the last couple of years. And for every business out there, whether you're a huge business or tiny business, whatever you are, you have a story that took you through the last year. And as time goes on, that story gets older and you'll get used to that story. And the transformation and change perhaps that you had to make or the or the the reflection on your business that you had to make will not quite be quite the same impact. So if you've got a story now, don't waste it, use it and get everything you can possible out of that story to get all the good news you can to strengthen your business to take you forward into the next year. You know that that's the way to do it.Sarah Austin:
Absolutely. Now more than ever, and you know, when someone lands on your website, and they see that you've won a British Business Excellence Award, and you've got that logo on there, or you've got it on your email, footer, or you've got it in your shop window, you know it, it says to your customers, it says to your network that Yeah, you took the time to make sure that you stood apart from others by entering a National Business programme like this, you know, in this this post Brexit world, I hate to mention the B word it does seem quite applicable. You know, we are we are our own economy. We're a strong economy now. And we need to, we need to have the Great British business come back and this is part of it.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah. And I think actually, funnily enough, I've been asked over the last year by people saying, Oh, I don't really know if it's about time to enter wars. How are people feeling about entering orders at the moment, or I'm not sure it's a pandemic. And I think I can speak I think every award we partner with every award we work with, has said to me in feedback, and also I've noticed in judging myself at all of these awards, that they have more entries in the last year than they've ever had. And that's because there's so many incredible stories being told. And I think a that's one reason I think another reason is this shift, where companies have realised that there their colleagues and their employees and their teams need the recognition to drive them forward. And they want to say thank you. And they want to say, we're grateful for the effort that you put in. And so all of that together has led to, I think, strangely enough, despite the fact that live events got knocked off for a little bit, and the actual entries themselves actually growing huge amount more companies than ever getting awards and getting recognised. And then also in line with that, that awards logo that you get when you're a finalist, or you're a winner, on your website is more valuable, I think, than it has ever been, because we are all so much more perhaps aware that our websites and our social media and our email, and all of those things in this current lockdown world are our shop window. They are where people are finding out about a Sunday. So it's so valuable to stand out in that way.Sarah Austin:
Yeah, absolutely. We're in this, you know, I think we've also learned the importance of digital. You know, I don't think digital, particularly the events will be here forever. But I think it's going to have an important place. And like I said, we take all the really good bits that we learned from it, to ensure that we run our businesses in a much more economical way. But yeah, you're right, it's a digital world, you know how much time a day that we will spend on LinkedIn or on Instagram, I don't know Tick Tock on. It's the dwell time that we have is longer. So let's harness that and use that and use that as your shop window, and get your your business out then.Donna O'Toole:
Fantastic. So thank you, Sara. So just to round up, then the awards are now open, you can start looking at the categories. So if you look up the British Business Excellence Awards, and start looking at those if you're not sure, if you're ready to win awards, or you're not sure what you're going to enter for them, we're here to support you, you can look on our website as well and take our free scorecard to see where you stand in your award strengths and weaknesses right now. So you can go to our website to do that. And then you can start planning and getting involved in getting your brand out there and everything strengthened up ready and start thinking about that big part in NovemberSarah Austin:
lately, and that's like, like you said, this is a consultative process, you know, we're here to help. And so whether it is whether you give me a call, give me a call, you know, we are here. And the team will definitely be able to between all of us will be able to coach you through not necessarily just writing the entry form that's that's going through the entire process. You know, Donna, Please, God will be joining me at these events as well. And also with judging the actual coaching the actual judging presentations in September, so it's really crucial.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, fantastic. Thank you so much, Sara, thanks for sharing your news. And we will look forward to sharing that with everybody. And I look forward to the event later in the year.Sarah Austin:
Thanks so much, Donna. And I just wanted to also reassure all of our listeners today, obviously, we are in the we are please God coming out of this pandemic, we I've already had my vaccination and the second one will be coming soon. The event is in November. And this obviously gives us a good amount of time to make sure that we've done all of our planning. I particularly in my I've been working closely with the DCMS through my work I do at the Tate Gallery as well. And this vaccination passport system may be in place for this event. And it is something that I actually wholeheartedly support, we will do everything that we can to make sure that this event is as safe as possible. I do not aim to do this as a virtual event. I think that is the sort of last scenario that we would like to go through. But you know, when it comes to looking at November, we'll be doing it as safely as possible. And I really do hope from everybody that I speak to in the events industry, which I do daily, sometimes hourly, at this point. Everybody is feeling pretty confident that we will have 1000 business leaders in that room in November networking, drinking champagne, you've got an eating some delicious food.Donna O'Toole:
Sounds fantastic. Fantastic. And yeah, let's just hope all of that goes ahead exactly as we want to. But as I say, you know, whatever happens, it will happen in a safe environment in a way that you can be super confident about attending. And just really relax and enjoy. And I think that's what we all need after this year, isn't it?Sarah Austin:
Exactly that we all need it you and I especially.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, Cheers to that. Great. Thank you Sarah. Thanks for joining us today and we'll speak to you soon. Thank you so much. Thank you for listening to this episode of my winning awards podcast. If you enjoyed it or found it helpful, please share it on Twitter and LinkedIn and if you have any questions please head over to crafted by Augusto COMM 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 strengths and tell you how likely you are to win. I really hope you've been able to 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.