Over the past 25 years, the HKMA/TVB Awards for Marketing Excellence have given due public recognition to organisations and individuals whose creativity and foresight have had a marked business impact, and helped to set new benchmarks for the profession. But, while the winners fully deserved their kudos, the awards have also sought to promote the Olympian ideal that there is just as much to be gained from simply taking part. 'We have found, especially in the past five to 10 years, that many companies see the value that participating brings,' says Cheong Shin-keong, general manager of broadcasting at TVB and chairman of the awards organising committee. 'They find it very useful to go through the evaluation process because it allows them to critique themselves, examine the reasons for their success, and be in a better position to plan what comes next.' He adds that since marketing is so dynamic, success is never a given. So many factors can have an impact - among them timing, concepts, choice of media and competition - that it always pays to analyse precisely what works and why. By-products of this process include not just a clear understanding of what really adds value, but also better communication, a sharper focus and a greater facility for appreciating the end-user's perspective. Regarding this year's finalists, Cheong believes all six ran excellent campaigns, making it very difficult for the judges to choose between them. What stood out, though, particularly against the backdrop of a recovering economy, was the measurable impact certain campaigns had on market share and the corporate bottom line. 'Sometimes this was astounding,' Cheong says. 'In terms of actual proven sales, beyond any reasonable doubt, they showed not just a 5 or 10 per cent gain, but much more.' Maxim's Caterers, for instance, with their 'Angel and Devil' cake campaign, boosted total cake sales 28 per cent in the course of a year. BOCG Life saw its share of the local life insurance market climb from 4 per cent in 2008 to 12 per cent this year, thanks in large part to the 'Endless Love' promotion, which emphasises that long-term investing to benefit one's family is by no means an 'emotionless' decision. And McDonald's, a comparatively late entrant in the home delivery market, exceeded its initial sales target in this sector by 50 per cent. Similarly impressive were other initiatives, less easily gauged by standard metrics, which used innovation and imagination to raise brand awareness and public recognition. Clearing one or two regulatory hurdles, Standard Chartered Bank came up with the HK$150 note, a real collector's item to mark the bank's 150th anniversary. Cathay Pacific is continuing to catch the eye with the second phase of its warm-hearted 'People and Service' campaign featuring staff in on- and off-duty photos. And the Hong Kong Jockey Club celebrated its 125th anniversary by highlighting its past contributions to the community while also looking to the future. 'Overall, the results were outstanding, there is no question about it,' Cheong says. 'We believe excellence can be explained, and part of the skill of the competition is to communicate effectively with someone [who is] not in your field.' Therefore, in assessing contenders, the six-person judging panel gives equal weight to written submissions and presentations. They also specifically brief finalists to avoid industry jargon and hard-to-understand details. 'It takes time to prepare,' he says. 'But we know that all the companies involved regard the awards as very important because they are so well-established, and marketing plays such a big part in business success.' Clearly, the tools and techniques used to build a brand or deliver a message have changed substantially over the years. In the past 12 months, Cheong has specially noticed the increasing use of targeted internet tools and social media, and more interest in getting 'free' advertising through positive, news-related coverage. 'I think this has been a common thread in all of the work seen in these campaigns,' he says. 'Marketers have to keep increasing quality and impact, but at a reduced price and usually with a declining percentage of the sales budget. So, they must become cleverer to deliver more bang for the buck.'