Strictly Business: Are You Certifiable?
Posted Jun 1, 2008

I’m known in some circles as "Doc Yankee." That said, I wouldn’t suggest you ask me to perform any sort of medical procedure, even though I have bandaged a lot of knees and removed a lot of splinters in my day. While the moniker doesn’t tell potential clients anything about my skills as an entrepreneur, writer, producer, and marketing consultant, it might give them a sense that they’re in good hands—unless, of course, they find out I sent for my degree from the back of a magazine years ago.

But that’s another story entirely. What I want to address in this column has to do with your reputation, your bona fides—in short, your credentials and how your prospects and clients perceive you.If you’ve been in the event videography business for a while, chances are you’ve won awards for your work. You may have taken classes that qualified you for certificates of achievement. Perhaps you’ve even received academic degrees in your area of expertise.

Back when I worked in the advertising agency game, the Addy Awards were the ultimate goal. Winning my first Addy suggested to me that I had arrived and that my creative efforts were worthy ones, deserving of recognition. As time went on, the awards kept coming in, and, of course, nothing ever thrilled me as much as winning that first plaque did. One year, I won a total of 17 Addies for my work. In the early ’80s, I won a "Best of Show" and copped a national Silver Addy for a commercial. I picked up a couple of Silver Eagles from the U.S. Industrial Film Fair, a bunch of PROVAs from the old Association of Professional Videographers, and a shelf full of Tellys. I even shared an office with an Emmy winner (you can bet we had that trophy right in our reception room!). I’m not a stranger to having a wall full of awards and citations.

Well, that was way back then … and this is now. I don’t have a wall full of plaques and a shelf full of trophies anymore. For one thing, my clients rarely (if ever) visit my offices. For another ... well, I’ve done this video thing for darn near 40 years. If I haven’t convinced people of my expertise by now, I’d better hang up my hat and look for something else to do.

That’s not to say certifications and awards don’t serve a purpose. Despite the fact that some of your peers tend to be a little cynical about these things—okay, very cynical—most of your prospects will be impressed by them.

People attach a lot of credibility to awards. They are a not-so-subtle reminder to your clients that their confidence in you is rewarded with award-winning work.

Another way to look at this is to think outside the world of videography. When your car needs maintenance, would you prefer buying parts from an authorized NAPA dealer, or a big box store? Does the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval mean—or imply—that you’re getting a better product? How about something that carries Consumer Reports’ endorsement? All other things being equal, which product would you purchase: the one with the award/certification or the one without?

All these things provide validation; they help to assure the buyer that they’re getting a good deal or that they’re getting the best solution available. In short, they’re trusted resources. So why can’t you be your own trusted resource? Use your "authority" to your best advantage! Granted, prospective clients are a bit more savvy than they used to be, but internet research and thumbing through the phone directories still takes time. The more information you can provide your prospects to make their decision easier, the better for you.

Case in point: I recently ran across a still photographer who markets herself as having received the "2007 Photographer of the Year" award from an international photographers’ organization. When I went to the organization’s website, I found that she had indeed won this award, but so had many, many other photographers!

Of course, nothing in the rules of marketing says she needed to include this information. And being the good businesswoman that she is, she whipped up a press release and sent it to the business editor of the local paper. She also uses the award on her brochures and her website.

Now, if I were a prospective client, I might deem myself worthy—even very lucky—to be able to engage the services of the "2007 Photographer of the Year." Or I could settle for less, maybe, and go to the guy with the studio down the street. You know, the one who isn’t the "Photographer of the Year."

Another good thing about awards and certificates is that they wake us up a bit. They let us see what the competition is doing. They also allow us the opportunity to pat ourselves on the back. They serve as a reminder of the excellent work we do. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Let your peers and competition be cynical. Although not all awards and certifications are created equal, each one can be used as yet another tool with which to promote and market your business.

That’s certifiable.

Steve Yankee (syankee at has more than 35 years of video production and marketing experience and is the founder of The Video Business Advisor in East Lansing, MI.