And the Winner Is...

Some tips for creating the kind of hype that attracts business from the founder of The Webby Awards, the premier industry awards for Web sites
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4 min read

This story appears in the June 2000 issue of . Subscribe »

There are two kinds of awards shows: First, you have industry awards that only you and your colleagues have heard of. You rent a tux or don your only cocktail dress for a really dull evening of (hopefully) free booze and hour-long diatribes by people who probably received a C in Speech 101. Then you have the Hollywood schmoozy style-fests that we peasants enjoy from the comfort of our armchairs. And then there are The Webby Awards.

With a fine mixture of kitsch glamour and serious accolades, The Webby Awards are becoming the premier industry awards for Web sites. Tiffany Shlain, the award's 29-year-old equally glamorous-in-a-fun-way founder and director, has brought the ultimate in hype to an overly hype-driven industry. That is, the good kind of hype, where there's actually something worth checking into beyond the surface.

"I really think The Webbys struck a chord because we're building hype, but also making a tongue-in-cheek reference to how much hype there is in the industry," says Shlain, who began the awards ceremony in 1997 while working as a design director at the now-defunct The Web magazine. The publisher gave her its proprietary word, "webby," and The Webbys were born.

Hiring fake paparazzi to snap the pics of attendees who usually spend their days glued to a screen (not projected from one), Shlain has created such trademark elements as five-word-only acceptance speeches. Yet at the same time, she's also created a new benchmark to celebrate land-mark sites like, Baby and the Internet Movie Database. "I'm trying to create new heroes-to shine light on people I think are new heroes and have them be recognized by the masters."

So in an industry that's full of incomprehensible ads and expensive launch parties your customers will never attend, how can you create the kind of hype that makes sense? Here's Shlain's advice:

Mixing the elements: "A combination of an offline and online promotion is really important. As we all saw this past holiday season, spending a bunch of money on TV ads isn't gonna work," says Shlain. "No matter how much this industry is virtual, real buzz is created by real people being in the same place." So try to creatively mix it up with a print campaign, an online campaign and a live event that you can then milk on your site.

Shining stars: When Shlain began to choose judges for the awards, she went beyond the surface of the Web to the content. "The first thing that was extremely important to me was to make sure I didn't just get Internet experts involved," she says. "I felt the strength and foundation of The Webby Awards needed to be built on Internet experts coupled with experts in traditional fields."

Thus the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the organization Shlain co-founded to host conferences, publish papers and oversee The Webby Awards judging) includes director Francis Ford Coppola judging film sites, Max Azria (BCBG) judging fashion sites,
The Simpsons creator Matt Groening judging humor sites, Tina Brown judging print and zine sites, and David Bowie judging music sites.

"Any site can [tap into] those strengths," says Shlain. "They should look at what the subject matter is of their site and try to draw upon the masters of their particular field."

Dim bulbs: While Shlain advises you to not underestimate the powers of celebrities, do remember to use your superpowers only for good. Your wildly successful IPO may allow you to hire a former Growing Pains cast member as your spokesperson, but why would you want to? "It makes no sense," says Shlain. "You can tell when they're just using a star for some gimmick that's not gonna have legs in the long run. I think that's silly and transparent."

Simply the best: "You don't need all the bells and whistles," says Shlain. Her example? Earthlink's recent sublimely simple print campaign comparing their services to AOL: "" vs. "" and "" vs "" "You need to be direct and know that the promotion and creativity of the piece should make sense with y our overall message. There's a fine line between assuming the consumer is intelligent and [being] so obtuse and abstract that they're not gonna get it.

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