MWW, Makovsky, Others Have “Oscar Moments” – Stevie Awards Founder Gallagher Shines Spotlight on PR, Marketing

Brian Pittman’s exclusive interview with Michael Gallagher, Founder, Stevie Awards, American Business Awards

PR and marketing professionals grabbed their fair share of the spotlight this past week—thanks in no small part to a former marketing exec whose mission since leaving the profession has been to give business professionals of all stripes a shot at their own “Oscar moment.”

Shining a spotlight on the best and brightest execs, organizations and employees in America, The 10th Annual American Business Awards announced Stevie® Award Winners last week at the first of two gala award ceremonies taking place this year.  It took place in New York City and honored winners in categories that included corporate communications, marketing and PR. Winners in all new product and technology-related categories will be announced at a new event in San Francisco on Monday, September 17. 

Among the winners in the integrated marketing, communications and related disciplines: iPioneer Financial Services (for CSR Program of the Year), InterContintenal Hotels Group (Online Marketing Campaign of the Year), MWW Group (won four Gold Stevie Awards), more than any other organization, and Makovsky + Co. (winner of two Gold Stevie Awards).

Here, Gallagher, who founded the Stevie Awards in 2002, gives us the inside scoop on everything from the program’s origins to how the organization is marketing the awards in its 10th year. He also offers several marketing and PR lessons for readers and SMBs. He should know. Prior to founding the Stevie Awards, he focused his energies on marketing, sales, and product development, including serving as VP of sales and marketing with the Hoover’s Media Technologies division of Hoover’s Inc. And most recently, he was VP of sales and marketing with Amazing Media, an online advertising company. The insights start here:

Congratulations on reaching your tenth anniversary. What are you most proud about regarding the Stevie Awards and ABAs? 

I’m proud of a lot of things regarding the Stevie Awards, but I guess I’m most proud of how we’ve grown every year, in the number of entries, regardless of economic and environmental factors. I think that’s a testament to the need for awards programs like ours.

Who have been some past winners in communications-related categories—and what made them standouts?

It’s hard to single out one or two winners in 10 years of giving out awards. The organizations that stand out are ones that do well in the competition year in and year out, that impress the judges every year with a new body of work. Among those communications organizations would be Calysto Communications, Makovsky + Company and MWW Group—both winners this year—among others.

How important is marketing and PR in helping SMBs grow their business? 

More than most of them know and can imagine, which is why we had tracks at America Means Business for marketing and PR. These sessions addressed why and how start-ups should be addressing communications. If any of your readers want to present any of these sessions in the future, they should propose them through the Create an Event link at

Any tips for leveraging PR and marketing to grow a business? 

To paraphrase Ernest Rutherford, “We haven’t got the money, so we have to think.” For start-ups especially, that are usually operating on a shoestring budget, being creative and really out-of-the-box is critical. Virtually all of the major brands that have supernova-exploded worldwide over the past 10 years – Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – have done so by spending close to $0 on advertising. Their brands were made and solidified by word of mouth, consistent user experience, and positive and persistent press coverage. Most businesses should aim to emulate that. Easier said than done, but imagining how that might be done is the first step to doing it.

If you had to pick one winner from the past—who was the most inspiring and what can other businesses learn from this person?

I really can’t pick one or even a handful of Stevie Award winners from the past 10 years. Sure there are companies we’ve all experienced and admire such as Apple and executives such as Steve Jobs, who’ve won Stevies, but there are so many companies that are influential and meaningful in a positive way, that the average person isn’t familiar with, who’ve been Stevie winners. What stays with me, as the originator and organizer of the Stevie Awards, is how meaningful and significant it can be to people to win a Stevie Award. And I can remember several instances over the past decade of remarkable and teary acceptance speeches.

What inspired the awards—and how does that inspiration translate to where we are in business now?

I had spent six years in the ‘80s with a company in New York City that put on awards programs for television, advertising, radio, music, etc. There are so many awards programs in the creative industries that I think if you work in those industries you sort of take it for granted that at some point someone is going to publicly recognize your work with a trophy. When I left that company to do other things, it struck me that there were far fewer opportunities for people in other industries and lines of work to be publicly recognized. So the epiphanous moment for me was the thought, “Why shouldn’t everyone else – engineers, software developers, executives, marketers, etc. – also have their ‘Oscar moment?’”

How are you getting the word out about the awards in general this year from a PR and marketing perspective? What innovative and even fun things might you be doing in terms of PR or social media usage? 

We’ve been blogging extensively since the beginning of 2011 and that’s made a difference in our reach and organic search rankings. We generate a lot of content about ourselves, but primarily about our winners and judges, and showcasing that content and judges’ and winners’ connections with the Stevies has made a big difference. Most entrants “discover” the Stevie Awards serendipitously through searching online.

How are you using social media to spread the word?  

Over the past year we’ve focused on building our social media followings so that people who are interested in following our activities have a variety of choices by which to do so. We’ve gone from zero to about 3,000 Twitter followers and 3,000 Facebook fans in the past year. We’re well over that now, by the way. We have several groups on LinkedIn, and the largest has more than 400 members, but that number is less meaningful since it’s an open group.

How have winners maximized publicity and media value for their wins in the past—are there any creative campaigns you can recall?

My philosophy is that awards are tools, and like any tool an award is worth what you do with it. We make available to our honorees things like press release templates and winners’ logos, and many of them use them. 

Have any of them tapped into social media to drive that buzz online? 

We’re seeing the most creative use of social media in voting campaigns for our People’s Choice Stevie Awards programs. We have three of them now, for Favorite Customer Service, Favorite New Products, and Favorite Companies, at different times of the year, associated with different Stevie Awards programs and nominees are encouraged to launch their own get-out-the-vote campaigns. Some companies are just remarkable in how well they can activate their customer bases to vote for them. I think that comes from having a ready channel to turn on to reach those customers in the first place.

What do you love most about the program and doing it every year? Least? 

When I was working for that awards company back in the ‘80s I realized how much fun it was to make other people happy. It’s a powerful thing to give someone a huge, beautiful trophy like the Stevie and to give them an opportunity to make an acceptance speech. The most rewarding thing is knowing the positive impact we have and can have on so many people. The thing I like least?  There not being enough hours in the day for all the things we need to do.

What do you do in your free time? How might that inform how you approach your inspiring work with the Stevie Awards?

I read a lot, work out a lot. I played soccer until this year but it’s time to hang up my cleats. I’m a decent tennis player so it’s time to devote more time to that. I pride myself on being open minded and inquisitive and like the fact that year-to-year I’m quite different from the person I was the year before. I’ve gotten into opera in the past year. I think it’s important to try new things, to learn new things and to understand new experiences. Anything successful that anyone has ever done has come from the intersection of the things that they know and the things that they like. So it’s important to keep trying new things.


Aisha Benson, Managing Director, Seedco Financial Services

The American Business Awards honors an all-inclusive spectrum of American business people and organizations—from non-profits, emerging start-ups, major public companies and government agencies, to corner-office executives, corporate communicators, support staff and customer service teams. More than 3,000 entries were submitted to The 2012 American Business Awards and more than 270 executives nationwide participated in judging to determine this year’s Gold, Silver and Bronze Stevie Award winners. For a complete list of The 2012 American Business Awards honorees, visit: Learn more about the Stevie Awards at, and follow the Stevie Awards on FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and YouTube





  1. I have served as a preliminary judge for the Stevie Awards for two years. Believe me, it is no small feat to select the winners. From small to large organizations right down to incredibly talented individuals, the entries are always so deserving of recognition, it’s a challenge to narrow down the field.
    It’s nice to see these people and organizations recognized.

    • Brian Pittman on June 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

      Thanks for the comment, Carole–I couldn’t agree more, and pleased to hear the bar is so high from someone who knows! Cheers to the engine driving our economy! ~brianp