What you are about to read will rattle some cages. For the record, it’s not lost on me that we are in the business of recognition. We’ve been involved with designing and selling hundreds of thousands of awards made of acrylic, stone, crystal, gold, marble, and even custom drumsticks. These “physical high-fives” have propagated countless emotional touch points involving happiness, appreciation, surprise, satisfaction and my favorite, retrospection.

Yet this is the statement that will be met with fiery friction from many of our industry colleagues: I think many company award recipients consider traditional awards a waste of money. Do employees really want an acrylic obelisk for their desk or a wooden wall plaque (with their name likely misspelled) that costs their company money that could be spent elsewhere? These types of old-school awards feel like something that should have been left behind in the Twisted Sister, suits with shoulder pads and Cabbage Patch Kids era.

It’s time to disrupt the old-school awards industry.

If you think it is worth considering a shift, it begs a question: “Can and should we recognize employees in unique, more impactful ways?” The nonprofit, Incentive Marketing Association, says that the average budget for employee recognition is 2% of payroll. That’s a big chunk of change that should drive meaningful change. (See what I did there?)

And it’s not fair to bitch without offering solutions, so here are some new ways of thinking about awards:

  • What about functional awards? Let’s create a new category: Utilitarian Awards. Consider:
    • Bluetooth speakers
  • Check out our Art Jukebox where recipients get originally painted art specific to them!
  • A thoughtful book or subscription to a relevant book club:
  • Offer a super special Master Class with continuing education content to assist in your honoree’s growth.
  • I love an award that delivers on both recognition and function like this high-end oil and vinegar set:
  • Often recognition goes to one person, but there is always a team of people who helped along the way. Provide an experiential reward that can be shared by the team.
  • How about a “hero” sandwich party offsite at a local brewery (with free Uber rides home)?
  • How about VIP tickets to a concert or comedian?
  • Dare I say cash? That could come across as tacky or thoughtless, so be careful there.
  • I am not a big fan of NFTs as gifts (yet) but there is likely an opportunity there, especially if in conjunction with an original physical gift/award.
  • What about commissioning original art by a local artist?
  • Donate to a nonprofit that your recipient cares about for meaningful and personal social impact.

Our friend, Steve Smidt, from St. Regis Crystal says, “Awards, like everything else in the Promotional Products Industry, are continuously evolving both in terms of materials used and decorating techniques. Employee and client recognition post covid is now a top priority for employers.” And this makes me hopeful. Progressive-minded recognition programs are critical for our industry.

Are you like me when it comes to all the “stuff” in our world? I hate thinking about what our families must do with superfluous wall plaques and trophies, postmortem. It feels irresponsible when you think about leaving these physical icons of vanity in your wake.

I believe awards should be experiential, socially impactful, original art, digital and/or functional. Think about it. Have you ever seen a Hearse pulling a U-Haul?

I went through what I will call an “Ego Cleanse” recently. To see if anyone would notice and what it would feel like. I replaced awards with pictures of family, original art from friends, Band Together and UNC memorabilia. [No one missed the awards, and everyone comments about my family pics, by the way.]

I have mixed feelings about the physical award recognition shakedown I experienced. I have so many fond memories from organizations I love and will continue to serve and support. But for reasons separate from recognition.



Marie Kondo and Widespread Panic’s “Traveling Light” song are beckoning. It felt good to make this change even though it was tough. And I hope I am on the right track, personally and professionally.

I believe it’s time for a bit of disruption in the corporate awards industry. We need to challenge corporate buyers of awards programs to think differently. To use their budgets to achieve the outcomes they are hoping for.

And if you ask our team for a mahogany plaque with your top sales performer’s name engraved on a brass plate I bet they will suggest a branded guitar.  

Danny Rosin

Co-President, Brand Fuel