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Entering the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards? We asked the chairman of the judging panel how to stand out from the crowd


It’s the 20th year of the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards and the fifth year of our partnership with headline sponsor Ulster Bank.

Our awards are the longest-established and most respected in the Northern Ireland business world.

There are 14 categories to enter, including the new category of Special Recognition Award for Climate Action, which is supported by Ulster Bank.

Our panel of distinguished judges is led by Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean of Ulster University Business School.

This year marks Prof Durkin’s third year as chairman of the panel, and he has some sound advice for entrants.

“Of all the lessons I’d like to impart, my number one piece of advice is to entrants is to please follow the criteria within the category you’ve chosen to enter.

“People always will have a story about how good their company is in a particularly area. But sometimes they tell you that story without tying into a particular criteria - but to give yourself the best chance of succeeding, always follow the criteria as set.”

However, on the other hand, entrants - even those who are household names - need to be careful not to assume the foreknowledge of judges.

“Don’t assume we know all about you already,” Prof Durkin states. “In fact, we can only go by what you tell us, therefore write your entry up fully.

“Lastly, stick to the word limit of 2,000 words! You should be able to fit everything in - don’t be tempted to keep writing to 3 or 4,000 words. Distil want you want to say according to the criteria and what you’re being asked.”

The Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with the Ulster Bank have always been one of the biggest events in Northern Ireland’s business calendar. But Prof Mark Durkin says that after a year which has presented business with the toughest challenges they’ve ever faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, they’re now more important than ever.

“It has been very challenging for people working from home and running certain types of companies remotely,” he explains. “People may have had staff furloughed, they may have had to make staff redundant, they may have had disruption to their supply chains.

“Keeping all of that on the road is an amazing achievement and really speaks to the innovation and resilience of our business sector”.

“What you’re doing by entering the awards are not just something for yourself and your staff, but you’re also a role model and an exemplar on how things can be done.”

Everyone in business needs the morale boost of talking about their achievements, he says.

“People are feeling remote and isolated from their sector, their suppliers, workers and even their competitors, and it’s been very difficult. So the more we can look at how they have managed and led, and succeeded through all of this, makes a great story.

“None of us saw the pandemic coming so in a way it’s been a great leveller and no-one has been exempt from it, so we’re all in this together.

“If through this we can show what has worked well in different sectors, then that’s very important.”

Prof Durkin believes the new category of Special Recognition Award for Climate Action is an important one.

“I think the whole area of climate change, sustainability and how we do business in the world going forward is going to be hugely important area.

“We’re going to be much more sensitive to the environment and the wider sustainability agenda than we have been to date. Organisations will be asking themselves, how do we embrace sustainability and make ourselves better citizens in the world? Those questions have come to the fore more than previously. To find some role models for that through these awards would be really illustrative for people.”

Prof Durkin also describes the impact of Covid-19 on business as the epitome of the VUCA abbreviation - the phrase which sums up the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of times like this.

“There are more opportunities which will emerge through this chaos. There will be new ways of working, and customers will behave different in how they want to consume, supply chains are shortening and people will source more locally. All of these will be in the mix so when it comes to how we deliver in the market, we have to be sensitive to all those things.”

He concludes by sending all entrants his best wishes.

“Best of luck to everyone who enters the awards. The judging panel looks forward to your entries!”

Are you thinking about throwing your hat in the ring? Here are the categories that you should consider entering. And remember, the closing date is Thursday 6th May, 12 noon.

Categories and their sponsors

Best Large Company: Wilson Nesbitt

Best Agri Business of the Year: Asda

Retailer of the Year: Retail NI

Excellence in Exporting: Invest NI

Excellence in the Development of Management and Leadership: Ulster University Business School

Excellence in Health and Wellbeing: Hastings Hotels

Best Use of Digital/Social Media: Sparq

Excellence in Innovation: OSG Cloud

Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility: Queen’s University, Belfast

Special Recognition Award for Climate Action: Ulster Bank

Young Business Person of the Year: Smurfit Kappa

Excellence in Marketing: Belfast Academy of Marketing

Best Small/Medium Business: Prescient Data Centre

Best Emerging Start-Up: Scottish Provident Building

Enter the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards here.

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