Why Submit for an AACE?

Today, we’re featuring a guest post by Rod Reinertson, Director of Automation at Van Meter Inc., Cedar Rapids, IA. He authored a recent column in the January 2014 ESOP Report, the newsletter of The ESOP Association, about the AACE Awards and why submitting an entry is an important step in creating your ownership culture.

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of the ESOP Report, the newsletter of The ESOP Association. 

Don’t forget, the deadline for the 2014 AACE Awards is February 14th

Each year, The ESOP Association presents their Annual Awards for Communications Excellence (AACE) at the Annual Award’s Ceremony that kicks off the Association’s Annual Conference in Washington, DC. The winner of the Annual Employee Ownership Month Poster Contest is also unveiled at this great event.

We started our ESOP Communication Committee in 2003. From a committee perspective, we wanted to make sure we were educating and communicating the ESOP and employee ownership in everything we did. One of the first things we did to engage all the employee owners was to hold our own Employee Ownership Month Poster Contest and this is something that we have continued annually. We then select our company winner and submit it to The ESOP Association’s Poster Contest. Four years of winning posters are displayed at all 13 of our company’s locations. Several of us attended our first Annual Award’s Ceremony that next year and it was an eye opener for us. Even though we didn’t win the national poster contest that year, all the ideas we received by looking at all of the creativity put into the posters and AACE entries was invaluable. We talked with the winners and networked with the other entrants to brainstorm employee ownership communication ideas to bring back to our ESOP Communication Committee. At this point, we were too young in our journey to even think about submitting for an AACE, however, it was at that same time one of the AACE judges asked me, “Why didn’t you submit for an AACE in the category for ESOP Advertising/Ownership Marketing for the division of websites? Your company clearly presents employee ownership and integrates it well in your company website.” So that very next year, I made our first AACE submission only in this category and we won! All kudos to our marketing department!

Now what? It’s nice to win and celebrate an award but I had to remind myself that our main purpose of our ESOP Communication Committee was to educate and communicate the ESOP and employee ownership. We wanted to develop an employee ownership culture that would help us be a more successful company. Then a light bulb went off for me. The AACE has many categories. There are so many ways to communicate the ESOP and employee ownership to our employee owners. Do we have gaps in communications? I thought this may be a good way to evaluate our overall and total communications methods. So let’s look at the categories:

Category 1, Total Communications – In my mind, this is the top award for recognizing the company with the complete communications package to both its employee owners and the public. This would be inclusive of all the following categories we will discuss. All the categories have two divisions, Division A for 250 or fewer employees and Division B for companies with more than 250 employees (Except for category 5 which the divisions are defined differently which we will discuss later). Also, please note, categories 1, 2, and 4 have new entry procedures this year so please make sure to read the following document for details: http://www.esopassociation.org/docs/default-source/awards/2014-aace-awards-brochure.pdf

Category 2, Presentation Videos – This award is for the best use of video to promote the ESOP concept inside or outside your company. Beginning this year there is a five minute time limit requirement and entries must be uploaded to YouTube.

Category 3, Printed Materials – This award recognizes excellence in the use of original, printed informational materials which are used to promote the company’s ESOP to employee owners, customers and the community.

Category 4, Intranets – This award recognizes excellence in using the company intranet to communicate and educate about the ESOP and employee ownership.

Category 5, ESOP Advertising/Ownership Marketing – Division A: General – This award recognizes excellence in print advertising in newspapers and magazines, on company vehicles, banners, marketing brochures, etc. that are used to promote the company (and must reference the ESOP) to the outside world. Division B: Websites – This award recognizes excellence in the creative integration of the ESOP concept and ownership into your companies’ website.

Category 6, Special Events & Promotions – One Outstanding Event – This award recognizes excellence in the organization and creativity involved in one significant ownership event, such as a special celebration, ESOP community service day, parade float, etc.

Category 7, Special Events & Promotions – Series of Events – This award recognizes excellence in the organization and creativity involved in a series of ownership events. Employee Ownership Month events are often entered in this category.

So where are your gaps? We have now won three AACEs, one being a category 1, and we are still continually reevaluating all the different communication methods to educate our employee owners on ownership and our ESOP. So use this entire process to organize, review, and evaluate your methods. Your entry will give your company a chance to network with other companies, get new ideas, and improve your own program.

One of the other things we did on our ESOP communications committee was to elect a historian. Basically, the historian would organize everything you did throughout the year, create an archive that keeps you from scrambling at the end of the year getting your submission in, and from an AACE judge’s perspective, this is very important. Judges spend two full days looking through all the submissions so you want your entry organized and clearly labeled so they totally understand what your message is. A brief commentary page is recommended to be submitted with each category as a way to clearly and directly communicate your message to the judges.

Finally, the deadline this year for AACE submission is February 14th (Valentine’s Day) which is a few weeks sooner than it has been in past years. Good luck! See you at the Awards Ceremony on May 7th.

Rod Reinertson is the Director of Automation at Van Meter Inc. (VMI), Cedar Rapids, IA. Rod joined VMI in 1992 and is a charter member of their ESOP Committee that was formed in the summer of 2003. Rod has served as an AACE Awards judge. He currently serves as President of The ESOP Association’s Iowa/Nebraska Chapter and has been a member of The ESOP Association’s Ownership Culture Committee since 2006 and was recently selected as Chair. Rod has written many articles and speaks at conferences on different ESOP topics relating to communications and ownership culture. He was named the “Outstanding Chapter Officer” by The ESOP Association at their national conference in Washington, DC last May. Van Meter has won several of The ESOP Association’s Annual Award for Communications Excellence and won the AACE for Total Communications in 2012. Van Meter was presented the “Company of the Year” award by The ESOP Association’s Iowa/Nebraska Chapter in both 2008 and 2010 and was selected as the national “Company of the Year” amongst the other Chapter winners by the Association at the national conference in 2011.