This year, the Emerald City Applause Awards had a new look, starting with its setting. The 11th annual awards, honoring event professionals, was held on April 13 at Seattle Center’s Marion Oliver McCaw Hall for the first time.
“We limited our capacity to 150 people to make it a more intimate experience,” says Suzy Scott, owner of A Well-Planned Event LLC and incoming president of the Seattle chapter of the International Live Events Association (ILEA Seattle), the organization that produces the awards ceremony. “Because the venue is different each year, it’s a whole different set of planning challenges for the technical—as well as the decor and entertainment—aspects. Each venue is unique in what it has to offer.”
McCaw Hall’s event spaces include the Susan Brotman Auditorium, which is home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera. However, the planning committee chose not to take the main stage, holding the event, instead, on three levels: in the lecture hall and on two balcony areas.
“We started out with the awards ceremony in the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall,” Scott says. “Then everyone went up to the Neukom Family Second Tier Lobby for a reception with entertainment and specialty decor. Finally, they went downstairs to the Grand Lobby for dinner prepared by Savor, McCaw Hall’s inhouse caterer, and more entertainment. Some years the event is all on one level, other years it’s all in the same space. I enjoy the different challenges that you have to face [in planning the event], because nothing is the same twice.”
Scott—who is a past Applause Awards winner— along with a committee of seven ILEA Seattle members, began planning the awards ceremony in November 2015. One of the first items of business was choosing an event theme.
“Each year, you want to make it look bigger, better and more exciting,” says Scott. “Something new, so not only are people excited to come see who in the industry wins the awards, but also experience the event itself.
This year, for the first time, we decided to play the theme off of the Emerald City.” This year also marked a change in the number of award categories, which was shortened to 16. “We eliminated a lot of subcategories, thereby increasing competition,” says Shelby Sewell, immediate past president of ILEA Seattle and owner of Foodz Catering.
Last summer, Sewell, a past multipleaward winner, brought together 10 volunteers, representing different sectors of the industry, to review the program and update submission guidelines.
“We discussed why the awards are important, what value they have and why people would want to apply for them,” she explains. “We also spent time evaluating what we want each award to accomplish. We decided we wanted more entries, more competition within categories, to elevate the industry as a whole, to focus on being the best in the Northwest, to create a public record, to develop new participants and to increase the value of winning. There have been minor changes in recent years, but this was the first time we’ve assembled a group to make major changes.”
P.J. Hummel, owner of the Tacoma, Washington-headquartered event planning and production company PJ Hummel & Co., is a 16-time Applause Awards winner. A founding board member of ILEA Seattle and past president of Meeting Professionals International Washington State Chapter, Hummel admits that she applies for the Applause Awards for, among other things, bragging rights.
“It’s a very good business-boosting tool. … It makes for a great awards wall when you enter my office,” she says. “Clients like to see them; they’re impressed. The awards that we won in 2015 for best marketing design and best design décor are near and dear to me because it was one of those projects that, every time I touched it, it made me happy.”
According to Sewell, applying for an Applause Award is no easy task.
“It’s like writing a book: six sections of 3,000 words each. You put together photos and create an application, as an individual or as a team, within whatever category to which you’re applying. We send all of the applications with no names attached to another chapter of ILEA in another state for judging so as to be as impartial as possible,” Sewell says. She also notes that individuals need not be a member of ILEA Seattle to enter. “As long as you’re in the event industry, it’s a go.”
Also new this year was an after-party for everyone who entered. “We wanted to acknowledge the efforts in the events above and beyond just the winners,” says Scott.