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As you venture out to finish (or start?) your Christmas shopping, you will notice the seals of various "awards" emblazoned on toys, baby products, pregnancy products, parenting products and the like. iParenting Media Awards (IPMA), Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA), National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA), The National Parenting Center Seal of Approval and the list goes on.
These "seals" look very impressive. I can't paste them into this blog post for reasons that I will explain later. I had always thought the product had actually won an award, like an actor wins an Oscar or like someone wins "Business Woman of the Year". You know, a "no strings attached" kind of award because you actually did something really well?
Back-track to September 2008: I was at the ABC Show and while I waited in the Starbucks line-up, I started a conversation with another exhibitor (those were long line-ups!) Her product had won numerous awards a number of years running. I was very interested in the exposure that she said the awards had given them, so when I returned home, I looked into several of the award programs for PumpEase. To my surprise, you had to PAY to apply and the fees ranged from $275 USD to $450 CAD per product.
Money was tight then as a start-up, but I felt I had to "play the game" - you know, save face amongst my competitors. Wouldn't the consumer wonder why my competition had received awards and I hadn't? From the research that I've done, most consumers do NOT know that these "award programs" are really not awards at all, but high-profile, paid product reviews (just sayin'). We had no money, so I filed it in the back of my mind for a while...
This year, I decided to go for it. I conducted what I thought was thorough research, bit the bullet and applied for an iParenting Media Award. Note: for the remainder of this post, I am ONLY speaking about the iParenting Media Awards program unless I mention another awards program specifically.
I was required to send in 4 identical samples - the same size; the same colour; the same style. I also had to submit a product graphic electronically and of course include my cheque for $300 USD.
The communication from iParenting Media was very good. I got automated messages when they received my entry, when they were shipped to the reviewers, and when they were being evaluated by the reviewers. I also received an email from Jeanne Murphy, Program Director, requesting information from me as follows:
- Where did you learn about the iParenting Awards program?
- How would you rate our customer service to-date on a scale of 1 - 5 and why? (1 being the best)
- What tradeshows do you exhibit at or plan to exhibit at in 2010?
- Do you submit your products to multiple awards programs? If yes, what is your criteria for choosing?
- Do you have any specific comments or requests of how we can serve you better?
I answered every question and got a nice thank you email back from Jeanne. And every email that I received reminded me that I could login on Wednesday, November 11th, the day the winners were announced, to see a "snapshot of feedback" from the reviewers.
Fast-forward to November 4th. I got a voice mail from iParenting Media stating that I still had to pay the $300 fee. When I called them back, I told them that I had sent a cheque along with my submission, but they said they never received it. After checking that the cheque hadn't cleared my account, I paid the fee with my credit card over the phone.
Now it is November 12th. I had completely forgotten that the awards were announced on the 11th - too busy at Remembrance Day celebrations with Girl Guides I guess. The morning of the 12th, I logged into my account and there was nothing there. I went to the announcement page and I was not on the list of winners for the Feeding category. I checked my account again. Nothing. No feedback. No "you won" or "you didn't win". So I emailed "firstname.lastname@example.org" at 7:52 am:
I am logging into my account this morning and see no feedback for my product PumpEase hands-free pumping supports at all.
Please get back to me asap with an explanation.
Wendy Armbruster Bell
I RECEIVED NO RESPONSE.
I called their "Hotline" 1-888-808-IPMA (4762) and reached voicemail at EVERY extension that I tried. I left two voice mails.
I RECEIVED NO RESPONSE.
On November 13th at 8:27 am, I emailed Jeanne, the nice woman I had corresponded with a few weeks prior:
I logged into my account yesterday morning and saw no feedback for my product
PumpEase hands-free pumping supports at all. I called two different people and sent an email and got no response.
Can you please tell me why there is no feedback? I am wondering if my submission got messed-up somehow as I had sent a cheque WITH the product, it got lost, and then a week or so before winners were announced, I was called to say that I hadn't paid. I then paid my credit card. But it looks like my submission was overlooked.
I would really like to hear from someone before the weekend. You can call me toll-free at the number below.
Wendy Armbruster Bell
I RECEIVED NO RESPONSE.
On Monday, November 16th, I checked my account again. Feedback! And this is what it said:
Thank you for participating in the iParenting Media Awards program. Your award status is determined by the results of surveys that were answered by three independent, external evaluation sites. The reviewers answered many questions about your product that contributed to a score for your product. They also offered subjective feedback which is shown below. We provide this information as a courtesy to your company. The feedback does not count toward determining your score and award status. They are just the opinions of our reviewers. (OK, so how is this feedback useful to me then?) It went on...
What features would you add, remove, modify or enhance about this product?
1. The only recommendation I can come up with as far as the PumpEase hands-free pumping support is the packaging that the product arrived in was damaged and open with the product falling out of the bottom of the package. I'd suggest marketing the product in a more stable package for the sales floor.
Ummm... I shipped my 4 samples in a sturdy box that I regularly use for media samples. Proper packing materials were used so that nothing could shift during the shipment. Therefore, the only explanation to this feedback is that after receiving my samples, iParenting then shipped the individual PumpEase out to their reviewers in unsuitable packaging - perhaps an envelope? My packaging is a BOX, similar to boxes that you buy regular bras in. I challenge iParenting Media Awards to find ANY bra box that would have survived being mailed in an envelope! Secondly, we don't ship to our retailers in envelopes; we ship to them in cardboard boxes (obviously). In fact, our retailers LOVE our packaging as it is attractive, chock-full of information, merchandises well and has an oval cut-out in the front so that consumers can see and feel the fabric. How an improperly packaged "one-off" shipment can be compared to bulk shipments is beyond me (note their statement that "the package should be more stable for the retail floor").
2. This product would occasionally slip as the pumping process would go on. The clips held it snugly in place; however, the tube had a tendency to fall, especially as the cups became fuller during the pumping process. Modifications to hold the product in place better would be nice. While I loved the vibrant colors, it might be nice to see the product come in a more neutral shade for occasional discretion.
If the PumpEase was slipping during the pumping process, then the reviewer was wearing the wrong size. Due to the fact that our sizing is based on the customer's bra size and the fact that over 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size, sizing is a challenge for us for our online sales, but a challenge we have risen to quite nicely (if I do say so myself). I can proudly say that we currently have a return rate of 0.25% for sizing AND manufacturing defects combined. We have 3 size charts on our "Fitting Room" page and a video demonstrating how to measure yourself for a PumpEase. We also work with customers over the phone and/or via email to make sure they have the correct size if they are unsure. Did the iParenting Media Awards people even consult the size chart on the back of our box? If they did, were the reviewers confident that they were wearing the correct bra size? Did they take a simple Overbust Measurement to make sure they were getting the correct size? Something tells me... No.
And as far as the "neutral shade" - we already have one. It is black with white binding. It is called Tuxedo. It is one of our best sellers. Did the reviewer even check our website before deciding that the print we sent was our only offering? Remember, the 4 samples I sent had to be identical in colour, size, style. Something tells me... No.
3. I would suggest offering better packaging: show some kind of detail on the front of the packaging to actually reflect the use of the product. Also offer a list of breast pumps this support works best with. This did not work well with my pump.
The detailed image reflecting the use of the product is on the back of the package - there is only so much real estate on a product package. Our packaging was professionally designed by Pencilworks Studios Inc and we get nothing but compliments on it by consumers and retailers alike. Funny that this reviewer states that the PumpEase didn't work with "her pump" but neglected to state what brand of pump that is. Hmmm... how convenient. We GUARANTEE PumpEase to work with ALL breast pumps on the market therefore this feedback is kind of irrelevant in my opinion. We have sold close to 10,000 units in our first full year of business and NOT ONE of our measly 0.25% of returns was because it "didn't work well with my pump".
So obviously I was quite deflated by this feedback. This is my invention and believe you me, a lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into it. As I read and re-read the feedback, I realized that every point was entirely moot: I should redesign my packaging because iParenting Media doesn't know how to properly package something for the mail? And I should redesign my product and/or adjust the sizing because the reviewer was wearing the wrong size? Or maybe I should offer yet another neutral fabric because they can't read my website? Finally, I guess I should redesign my product to "work with the mystery breast pump".
And then on top of all that, I realized that I never received any answers to my custom question - something that was supposed to be included in my $300 submission fee. I guess I could ask them about that if they would actually return my phone calls or emails.
As a heads up, you CAN resubmit the same product (and yes you have to send them another $300 to do so) but ONLY if you change something. So I had another question: Do I have to change something that was mentioned in the feedback or can it be anything? So I called Jeanne Murphy citing that I had indeed received my feedback (albeit 6 days late), but that I had questions about the process. That was on Monday, November 16th.
I HAVE RECEIVED NO RESPONSE TO-DATE. TODAY IS DECEMBER 15th.
If there is one thing that gets my goat is poor customer service or in this case, NON-EXISTENT customer service. It is appauling that this business (and yes, this "award program" is just a business) is falling over backwards to help you UNTIL they get your $300 in their hot little hands and then you are completely ignored.
With the risk of sounding like a sore loser, I wanted to make you, the consumer and fellow Mompreneurs and inventors, AWARE of the truth behind the iParenting Media "Awards". I was discussing the situation with my husband and a colleague of mine, attempting to justify (to them and probably to myself) choosing iParenting Media Awards over the other programs. I told them that iParenting Media Awards was the only one that was ISO9001:2000 certified. My husband, who works for Toyota Canada Corporation (who is ISO 14000 certified), reminded me that being ISO certified ONLY means that they follow a set of standards for their business processes, NOT that they have any integrity! (touché honey!)
And here's the clincher... I have since found out from several recipients of the award that after you "win", they send you an 8-1/2 x 11" certificate and about 6 of each of their two styles of seal stickers (the regular IPMA and the "HOT"). Then they advise you that you can't USE said stickers on anything but demo products and promptly try to sell you a licensing package, starting at $1000 USD and UP, to use the iParenting logo. That's right folks. You WIN the award but you are not allowed to use the seal without paying them yet even MORE money. You can't use it on your website; you can't use it in a press release; you can't use it on your packaging; you can't use it in your trade show booth. You CAN use the words "iParenting Media Award winner" and you can display the certificate in public and that's it.
Funny how that wasn't mentioned anywhere in the submission process.
In fact, I had to dig through the deep, dark bowels of their website to find ANY mention of it at all. I found it under Customer Service/Benefits and Promotion of Award Earners. As you can see below, they gloss over the point, not mentioning a dollar amount at all, but only vaguely mentioning a "licensing package". Make no bones about it, these paragraphs are written "just so" so that unless you have prior knowledge of the licensing fees (and thus can read between the lines), it is easy to misunderstand what they are stating:
Do I have to pay to promote my IPMA Award if I win?
No. iParenting Media provides all IPMA Winners with a permanent Award Certificate and we encourage you to display the certificate when promoting your Award. IPMA winners have equal opportunity to participate in on-camera interviews at industry events. iParenting Media also provides each Award winner with a document that clearly provides the proper way to maximize the benefits of your IPMA Award at no additional charge. Additional promotional opportunities are available for purchase.
So they give you a paper certificate like this one: But you can only use it at trade shows or other public events. You can't put it on your website or in a press release or anywhere else for that matter. You can't give it to all of your retailers, because you only get ONE copy and are not permitted to reproduce it in any manner.
Are physical stickers available if we want to put them on our winning product?
Yes. Each iParenting Media Award winner is provided with a courtesy supply of both Classic and Hot award stickers for use on their demonstration units. Additionally, each IPMA winner is provided the opportunity to purchase additional seals at any time in the future for the winning product as long as the product is not modified from the award-winning version.
I wonder how much these stickers cost? Oh and if you pay the licensing fee for the digital images, you can't make your own stickers with it - you have to buy their pre-made stickers.
Are digital images available if we want to put them on our website, print materials or packaging?
Yes. iParenting Media Award winners may license the Hot and Classic IPMA Award images. A variety of packages are available to suit your needs.
Again, no mention of the cost and certainly not that the licensing will cost you more than three times the cost of the product submission itself!
Then I found this gem here:
Do you require final packaging?
We do not require final packaging, only final product. Our philosophy is that some companies with outstanding products may have large marketing budgets or recognizable characters to influence a consumer's purchase. Therefore, the packaging is not included in our criteria.
So the packaging is NOT included in IPMA's criteria, yet 2 out of 3 of the feedback that I received was regarding my packaging. Hmmm... I think iParenting Media Awards is talking out of both sides of their mouth.
I say BUYER BEWARE.
I have since done extensive research on some of the other award programs mentioned at the beginning of this post and I can tell you that they are NOT all alike. As an example, PTPA discloses the licensing fee in detail and UP FRONT for the use of their logo if you win their award and if you don't win, you can resubmit within 6 months for NO EXTRA CHARGE. You also get your evaluator feedback in its entirety and TWO custom questions.
So will I submit to another program? A few weeks ago I said, "ABSOLUTELY FREAKING NOT!" Obviously, my perception of these programs was "slightly" skewed by my experience with iParenting Media (duh). Now that some time has passed and I can look at the situation more objectively, I will say, "Never say never!" If you can look at the process with your eyes wide open, knowing up front the ENTIRE cost that is potentially associated with it, considering the accompanying PR and exposure that is received as a "winner" (which is usually very good), then you can make a sound business decision on whether you want to pursue it. On the other hand, if you go in thinking it will be a $300 deal only to find out that in order to promote your winning product you have to cough-up big bucks (big-non-budgeted-for-bucks), then they kind of have you by the balls, don't they? Anywho, if I take the plunge again, you'll be the first to know!
Have you had any experience with these awards programs? Not yet perhaps, but were considering submitting? Did you think they were real "awards" like I did? Drop us a comment below. We'd love to hear ALL about it!blog comments powered by Disqus