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Who’s in the Cool Company Awards 2009? (If it’s not you, here’s why)

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In the next 24 hours, we’ll be informing 24 very cool companies that they have been selected as Finalists for Anthill’s 2009 Cool Company Awards (by way of an invitation to the awards ceremony on 26 November).

If your organisation has entered, keep an eye out for a message from our crew. If you don’t receive a congratulatory note, don’t be discouraged or dismayed.

This is because the vast majority that didn’t make it onto the short-list were, nevertheless, undeniably cool. You might be thinking, they can’t be that cool if they didn’t make the shortlist.

So, let me explain.

A year of over-achievers

Firstly, this year, we received less entries than in 2008. But the overall quality of companies participating was much higher.

We suspect that the economic climate had something to do with this. It’s hard to spend time completing application forms when you’re struggling to keep the wheels on.

However, we believe that the application process (thanks to some very thoughtful preparation) is a rewarding use of time in its own right, providing an opportunity for self-evaluation, reflection and the articulation of future goals. And it seems you agree.

Feedback from many applicants this year (and past years) was that the process (which includes over 100 questions) forces an organisation to look closely at its processes and further refine its reason for being.

Observation #1: If you didn’t make it in this year, don’t dismay. The standard was extremely high (and we’re not just saying that). Only organisations with a proactive outlook or stable business model were able to compete.

A raised barrier for ‘remarkableness’

Secondly, several trends emerged among the types of organisations entering, which made it hard to extract ‘remarkable’ finalists.

It’s important that I explain myself clearly here.

The word ‘remarkable’ is not used lightly at Anthill.

It is not employed as a substitute for exceptional or exciting (even though it can be applied to mean both things). Rather, during the judging, we used ‘remarkable’ in the purest sense of the word by constantly asking ourselves whether what we were reading was worth being ‘remarked’ (i.e. spoken) about? Are we compelled to stop and voice interest in a new point of view, process, product or service?

Once a company has proven its credentials against the award criteria, this factor is often all that’s left to judge it on.

But when many companies fall into a similar ‘category’, they become less remarkable by nature, simply due to the numbers. For example, we could not count on all of our fingers and toes the number of applicants that entered online business directories or meeting places. At times it felt like we were reading from a template:

“Our business is a [online/web-based/digital][community/platform/directory] for connecting [customers/clients/specific industry representative] with [suppliers/service providers/ specific industry representatives] from the [industry type] space.”

Many of these companies were exciting and unique in many respects. (In fact, one such business will be among our Finalists.) But the sheer volume undermined their ‘remarkableness’.

This scenario also played out across several other sectors, particularly among marketing, web development and not-for-profit organisations.

Observation #2: If you didn’t make it in this year, you may simply employ a business model or provide a service that was overly popular this year. Don’t fret. A zebra among hundreds is not remarkable. But a zebra away from the herd is something else.

Missing ‘measurables’

Lastly, many organisations were not able to demonstrate measurable, definitive commercial outcomes, despite clever, highly original and even remarkable products and services.

Unlike most awards programs, the ‘Cools’ look beyond the numbers (and always will). But tangible factors, such as profits, revenues, sales figures, web-traffic, anything that can be measured, are still vitally important. (We’re interested in cool organisations, not cool hobbies.)

This was particularly pronounced in the Commercial Creativity Award category, where entrants are asked to submit a ‘creative project’ to be judged against ‘measurable outcomes’. In many cases, the applicant was able to demonstrate its awesome coolness through the development and implementation of a creative project but failed to demonstrate measurable outcomes (or vice-versa).

That’s why, this year, we have added a ‘Cool Companies to Watch’ category, for organisations that are remarkable but not quite there yet. (Watch this space.)

Observation #3: If you did not make it in this year, for your early-stage, embryonic, revenue-pending cool company, don’t get frustrated. You are now on the Anthill radar. And we are impressed!

Of course, I’ve left the most vital point to last.

If your organisation entered this year’s awards and is not identified as a Finalist, Highly Recommend or ‘One to Watch’, please do still give yourself a slap on the back and share a congratulatory word with your team.

In a year where many companies were struggling to simply stay in business, you were demonstrating your cool cred, refining your message and taking proactive steps to grow your organisation, while the rest contracted.

To you we say, well bloody done. In our books, that makes you very, very cool.

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