Helen Bee, Peter Dickson and Hugh Edwards

Awards Ethics – a chat with OneVoice’s Peter Dickson and Hugh Edwards

There are many and various awards open to voiceovers across the globe. So what makes the OneVoice Awards any different? Helen chats to OneVoice founders Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson to find out if you really can make an awards ceremony open to all and ethical.

My career started as a graphic and web designer working for various advertising agencies. I’d seen my employers put in for awards many times, but knew there was something I didn’t like about them. Not only did they only allow their most senior creative teams to work on the briefs, the cost to enter and attend was high. There were some awards that only considered you for a nomination if you booked a table at the awards night. Some ceremonies were better than others, but the feeling that awards were effectively being bought has never sat well with me.

Fast forward to 2018. Rob and I headed to London to attend the first OneVoice conference and awards. Rob was doing a talk, and I came along too. The conference was great, but what struck me was the awards. The ceremony started with a film explaining the entry and judging processes. It was like nothing I’d seen before.

Having now attended all the OneVoice conferences and awards, I jumped at the chance to chat with founders Hugh Edwards and Peter Dickson about why they decided to do things so differently.

There are many other voiceover awards – both UK and international – why did you start the OneVoice Awards?

Hugh: We started the One Voice Awards UK because, even though there are different awards ceremonies, what we saw were people effectively either buying their wins. Or they were corrupt because the judges were all made public before the judging even started. Anyone could just phone up a judge and start having a chat. It was very much open to manipulation.

We decided we were in a position – with creating a conference – where we could hold an award ceremony as well and this time we were going to do it the right way. To lock it down so that it was absolutely impartial and had 100% integrity.

Firstly, no judge was going to be made public before the event. In actual fact we make all of our judges sign NDAs so that they won’t disclose that they are a judge. We don’t want to allow anyone entering the awards to try and influence those judges.

Secondly, the judges don’t know who the other judges are. So they can’t collude and discuss – influencing each other. One of the things I don’t like – even with the really big awards shows – is that the final bits are done by committee. Judges influence each other and that is not right in my opinion. It should be based on pure opinion and merit.

The third part was that the submissions should be confidential and anonymous. That stops judges seeing one of their friends entering, and thinking; ‘I really like them and even though it’s not the best take in the world, I’m going to bump up the score a little bit.’ Even if an individual judge did recognise someone’s voice, not all the judges will so it is still fair.

No judge can see other votes or scores. If they did, that could mean they influence each other. The idea is that it’s a completely impartial and completely fair points-based system.

At the very, very end when we have all of the scores, we tally them up and then give that to our solicitor who is obliged by contract to check and highlight any errors, inconsistencies or if they think something has been changed. So the awards are independently verified.

Peter: We thought we’ve done all this process and put careful thought into making sure it’s fair and equitable for everybody and there could be this little loose link at the end that could be exploited. We decided to make that as transparent as possible.

Hugh: It proves that the awards actually mean something. It means that if you win Voiceover Of The Year Award or Best Audio Narrator – whatever it is – you absolutely deserved it. It’s impartial, no one has influenced it and therefore it’s something to hold high as an accolade.

Helen: Another benefit to your impartial and anonymous judging is, if you are worthy of winning every single award category, you’re going to win them. There is no deciding, ‘they’ve already got 3 awards, they can’t have anymore.’

Hugh: Exactly, and that did happen in year 1 where Toby Ricketts won lots of categories. But that was because he was the best in those categories.  

OneVoice Awards night 2019. Photo by Above Air Media.
OneVoice Awards night 2019. Photo by Above Air Media.

‘No pay to win’ goes against how other awards are run. Why was this element so important to you?

Hugh: Gravy For The Brain is in a unique position – we’ve held very strong ethical values from the very beginning. We have not tried to monetise the industry. When we released our first subscription model there was a big reaction against us in the training industry because we broke the existing model of £400 for 1 day of training. We gave everything to everybody for £29 per month. It really annoyed a lot of people! Our idea was people will stay with us if we’re giving them good content at a reasonable price. It’s made everything more accessible. I think the old training model was elitist.

Peter: It was exploitive as well. Some people get into serious debt with the amount they spend with some training companies.

Hugh: Gravy For The Brain has done well. We’re now in 48 countries around the world, we’ve trained over 55,000 people. That has afforded us the opportunity to give something back. We don’t make a profit from the OneVoice Awards. There’s an awful lot of time and effort that goes into it. Last year we had over 2,000 entries – just to pre-screen them took us over a week with a team of 8.

Another thing that really annoyed me about the other awards institutions around the world is the price to even enter is high.

Peter: Then, assuming you’re lucky enough to win – they then charge you an astronomical amount to have your trophy!

For anyone looking to enter the awards this year, how can they and when is the deadline?

Hugh: OVC Awards in the UK is already open – you can enter here (final date for submissions is 6th June, 2021)

You can enter the USA awards are on the same site (final date for submissions is 13th June, 2021)

You’re allowed 10 entries in total. It’s up to you how you distribute those 10. If you want to put all 10 into 1 category fine. If you want to put them across all 10 different categories that’s also fine.

The OneVoice Awards also have categories for job sites and service providers. Why were these important categories to include and how are they judged?

Hugh: In year 1, we made a bit of a mistake. It was a public vote that allowed businesses with the biggest databases to ask their members for votes.

We’ve now changed that. We feel the best people to judge who the best job site or service provider is, are the people who are submitting for awards. The first thing you do when you submit for an award is vote for the best service provider and the best job site. Then you submit your own nominations. It’s a kind of pseudo public vote, but it’s not now open for people with big databases to manipulate it.

Rob and Helen at the virtual OneVoce conference 2020.
Rob and Helen at the virtual OneVoice conference 2020.

What impact do you hope a nomination or win will have on people’s businesses or careers?

Peter: We wondered that very question and I decided to interview past winners. We contacted the 2020 male and female Voiceover Artist of the Year winners and asked them.

Both said very positively that it had made a huge impact. They had been able to promote it on their social media and websites. One has secured some high level worker as result. Having that validation and being able to talk about it means something. It has had a positive impact, not just on the winners but the runners up as well. It’s a force for good.

Hugh: It also helps the OneVoice Awards as well. Alexia Kombou won in year 1, her agent put it front and centre of their page. The amount of work she got increased radically, but it also made everyone else in the agency think; ‘this is serious and is really working’. Then they started to submit to the Awards. Our submission numbers went up and the overall quality of submissions increased. Because there is an ethical framework underneath it, everything is building and getting better and better each year.

Peter: It’s lovely to see winners reactions knowing they have the acknowledgment from the industry.

Hugh: Ben Wake, who won Best Newcomer of the Year in 2020, has said that that’s really given him a huge lift. People don’t just think of him as a newcomer.

Winners of the gaming awards have told the developers and the publishers and they’ve used that as marketing and PR for their games and they’ve sold more units.

I think it does a good thing for the industry in a whole.

What’s your favourite memory from previous years’ awards?

Hugh: You can go first Peter!

Peter: Hugh came up an idea – it was me missing the start of the awards ceremony. We had to film this sequence in advance of the actual show, so during the conference. When people were in the bar – I was forced to run through the bar in my underpants and a string vest covered in baked beans.

NB: Helen tried really hard to find a photo of this moment, but failed. Maybe that’s a good thing?!

Hugh: We had to film it whilst the whole conference was set up and run through the Expo area. Peter literally runs straight through the bar in his pants in a string vest!

Peter: And nobody noticed it! The next year I got a mate of mine to take Hugh up in a stunt plane, flying upside down and hurling him around the sky while he was trying to read the judging rules. He secretly enjoyed it very much but pretended he hated every second of it.

Hugh: I think my favourite memory is this. Each year we have the industry legend award and I knew that Peter had to get it at some point. I colluded with the entire office – everyone in the team was on it. We said that it was a bit shameful. Peter was like. ‘Yeah, okay, fair enough. I take your point. I quite like it, but fine if you don’t want to do.’

Just before the awards show ended, I stopped the show, walked onto the stage, and said, ‘I’m sorry that I’ve had to stop the show. Peter and I discussed this voiceover legend thing and decided not to do it, but I lied!.’ As soon as I said that the whole room went up and then we played the VT. As we were watching from the stage, Peter leans over he went; “Bastard!”. It was very funny, but that was probably my favourite moment.

Peter: I was genuinely taken aback and did not expect that to happen at all!

Peter Dickson receiving Voiceover Legend Award 2019
Peter Dickson receiving the Voiceover Legend Award in 2019. Photo by Above Air Media.

What would you say to someone considering entering the Awards this year?

Peter: Go ahead and do it. Enter your very best material and rest assured that it’s going to be judged on a level playing field.

Hugh: If you look at the sheer volume of entries that come through, if you’re shortlisted but don’t win, you’re at the very, very, very top of a massive group of artists.

Peter: Nobody even knows if you’ve even entered.

Hugh: You can lose nothing from entering. Everything is confidential, nothing is ever released afterwards, there’s no written feedback – all the data is destroyed afterwards. You almost can’t lose.

Awards ceremonies can be ethical

So there you have it. Proof that awards ceremonies don’t have to be just about buying your awards. A huge thank you to Peter and Hugh – I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.

Credit and thanks to Theo from Above Air Media for use of the photos from the 2019 Awards ceremony.

B Double E are very happy to be sponsoring the UK OneVoice Conference again this year. We hope to see some of you there. And maybe we can celebrate your awards win together in August too!

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