It doesn’t seem like last week since the Performance Marketing Awards was handed its first outing in 2007. For the 650 people that packed into the Excel’s Fox for an added feature of the a4uexpo, it’s probably felt like decades longer - such is the change that has engulfed their industry since that evening.
Now a key event in the calendar of digital marketers, the Performance Marketing Awards was introduced as a way of rewarding success in a space which grew despite a general lack of recognition around the companies in which it was used.
The inaugural event was co-located with the a4uexpo - then recognised as a strictly affiliate marketing conference and exhibition - and hosted by a David Brent impersonator. The occasion has evolved into what stands today: an event staged at The Great Room at Park Lane’s Grosvenor House, attracting 1,000 attendees across a breadth of marketing channels.
From an offering that promised fish suppers for all attendees, the ‘a4uAwards’ showed a rapid progression after 2007. The next event caught Michael McIntyre on an upward trajectory following a 150% rise in entries year on year.
The organisers have since pursued a trend of finding bright sparks right before their rise to the top, giving attendees the chance to see a high-quality act before they 'made it'.
Since McIntyre in 2008, the Awards have been hosted by some of the nation’s best-loved comics, including Jason Manford, Kevin Bridges, Rufus Hound, and Josh Widdicombe to name but a few.
In 2015, Beardyman took to The Great Room, delivering an act that combinations of vowels and consonants simply cannot do justice. It’s probably best you see it for yourself...
As far as comparisons go, the most startling differences between the early ceremonies and the Performance Marketing Awards as they stand today are in the prize categories and the judges that inspect them. In 2008, prizes like the Affiliate Marketing Blog of the Year and Affiliate Manager of 2008 served to celebrate success within affiliate as a standalone.
The last time the awards rolled into London, it catered for a much larger range of companies and disciplines by celebrating achievements in email marketing, lead generation, paid search and performance display - all categories and channels which, through their focus on ROI, were more than worthy of a place on an award reel for ‘marketing you can measure’.
Fast forward to 2016 and categories such as Best Use of Data and Most Effective Use of Programmatic have been added to reflect key areas of focus in the wider performance marketing mix. But those early gatherings sowed the seeds for the Performance Marketing Awards as the concept of “paying on results” entered the fore.
Hundreds of judges have waded through piles of entries over the years - the very first a4uAwards black-tie judging panel comprising of representatives from some of the most important brands, agencies and publications for those carrying a vested interest in affiliate at the time.
You may recognise a few of the class of 2008 as a result of their continued ties to the performance marketing industry, although some have since moved onto pastures new.
After a sell-out in 2008, the same achievement was followed up in 2009, much to the delight of sponsors including Vodafone, TradeTracker, Platform-A, Epic Advertising, LinkShare and more.
But a year later the event became too big for the Hilton Park Lane and moved to Europe’s largest ballroom, the Grosvenor House Hotel; a venue which is set to host its seventh PMAs this year.
The Grosvenor is used by the likes of the Autosport Awards and the National Business Awards for similar events, and every time the Performance Marketing Awards comes into The Great Room with a capacity crowd, attendees are given a reminder of how far their industry has come in such a short space of time.
But to forget scale and growth for just a fleeting moment, acknowledgement must be paid to the prizes themselves, and what they mean to the people and companies on the receiving end of them, no matter how big their industry is.
The last 10 years have seen some of the biggest brands lauded for their progress in measurable marketing, including Sky, John Lewis, eBay, BT, The Body Shop (working with Tradedoubler), Thomas Cook (working with affilinet), Marks & Spencer (working with VoucherCodes.co.uk) and Nectar at recent ceremonies.
The awards have drilled down further into the success formulas of stellar performance marketing efforts on their way to rewarding the very individuals that help power them. In 2010, Naomi Brown picked up Best Affiliate Manager for her work at Firebox.com, with Affiliate Window’s Julie Wood claiming Best Account Manager in the same year.
Much like the Awards’ approach towards its hosts, the event also looks to hand the big stage to those who have showed an abundance of promise in the early stages of their careers.
The desire to reward cutting-edge talent was satisfied with the Rising Star Award - voted for by the performance marketing community - which allows companies to nominate some of the brightest sparks within their ranks.
In its early years, the prize has been handed to James Baigent during his time at iProspect, to Will Goff at Performance Horizon and - most recently - Jenna Pain, senior digital media manager at NOW TV, who talked to PerformanceIN last year following her win.
And what company could forget picking up a haul of accolades? The four prizes scooped by VoucherCodes.co.uk in 2010; the six claimed by Affiliate Window in 2013 - if winning a prize means a lot to the team involved, one can only but imagine the company-wide buzz that arrives in the aftermath of a clean up of the categories.
With that in mind, this year’s PMAs is set to be a big one. Given the merging of activities, the importance of different departments working together and the sheer necessity to run campaigns across numerous channels, 2016 will be a huge year for access to different categories.
A campaign that operated in the affiliate channel, for example, might be more suited to an entry into Best Use of Data. The same likely applies to entries into the Most Effective Use of Programmatic category - data being the backbone of automated bidding.
It’s a far cry from how the awards started out - dedicating its focus to the affiliate channel - but as performance marketing grows and evolves, there is too much good work at play to avoid.
What are your favourite PMA/a4uAwards moments from over the years? Tweet them to us using the hashtag #pmawards .