It used to be that the Gift of the Year competition (or the ‘Gift Award’ as it was once known) was entirely judged live. When the volume of products began to reach into the hundreds, however, it soon became clear that there needed to be a shortlisting process.
This is the first stage of Gift of the Year judging. When the competition closes in late November, the judges are given online access to your entries. They see your product details and description, and can look closely at the images you upload. Each judge then has a number of nominations they can make for the shortlist in that category. The top ten or so (depending upon the size of the category) are then placed into the shortlist.
“In an ideal world, we would love to have multiple live judging stages,” says Luke, project manager for Gift of the Year. “Certainly there are products – such as scented candles – which do best when viewed in person. But given that we are now talking about over a thousand products each year, and knowing how busy our judges are, it is more feasible to have an online stage.”
The remote nature of the first round means that entrants have the additional challenge of selling their products through words and pictures alone. This is no bad thing, as Luke puts it: “It means companies who really know their products, and who have employed stunning visual design, will be noticed by the judges. And after all, the judges are looking for products that intrigue them – they aren’t picking winners online!”
Once the shortlist is compiled and announced in mid-December, the call for physical entry samples is put out. Over the holidays, products are boxed and shipped to GA headquarters in Birmingham, and in the new year the Gift of the Year team carefully catalogues and sorts every sample that is sent.
In the second week of January, the ‘big day’ arrives, at least as far as organising the competition goes. A select and representative group taken from the larger judging panel is invited to come in person and view the samples that have been sent. This entails around 200 products, and is a popular event among our veteran judges. Natalie Yates of Gifts from Handpicked says, “[Judging day] is a lovely day out of the office, networking with other members of the gift industry and most of all seeing great new products from a variety of suppliers.” More than once, judges have requested the contact details of entrants, even those whose products have not been shortlisted.
Every live judge may vote in every category, and they award points to their top three products. The team then totals the votes, and each category’s winning and highly commended products are revealed. The last stage happens just after the judges’ well-deserved lunch, when every category winner is put on display and the judges must, between them, choose which of the category winners is declared the Judges’ Choice.
Of course, winners do not find out until Spring Fair whether they have won, but we will let entrants know if their products are finalists.
With the judges’ work done for another year, the Gift of the Year team must prepare for the awards themselves. With only two weeks between judging and the awards being given out at Spring Fair, there is not much time to spare, and the winners are taken to a nearby photography studio the very day after judging to have premium images taken in preparation for the Winners Brochure. Trophies are commissioned and the awards event is co-ordinated, all while the rest of the Giftware Association team prepares for a busy Spring Fair.
After the awards are given out and all of the entrants celebrated over bubbles and nibbles, the Gift of the Year team can take a breath… until Monday morning when they begin promoting the new winners, and scouting for the next competition’s star products.