Independent Thinking: A Judge’s Perspective On The Henries Greeting Card Awards

The finalists have been announced, the DJ/posh frocks are being readied for a trip to the dry cleaners (or 80s-themed outfits organised) and so the nervous wait for those heading to this year’s Henries begins in earnest, each fostering hopes of bagging an ultimate prize.

Mark Janson-Smith (centre front) considering entries to The Henries with some of the other judges.
Mark Janson-Smith (centre front) considering entries to The Henries with some of the other judges.

For many attending The Henries 2018 ‘big bash’ on Thursday 4 October the journey to this year’s 80’s extravaganza at The Royal Lancaster Hotel started months ago, when they took the simple step of filling in their entry form, choosing their samples and popping them in the post.

I’m a huge fan of The Henries, and not just because it’s such a great night out (which it is!) but also as the entry and judging process is invaluable to publishers and the retailers who get to judge them.  Each and every entry received, irrespective of the size or success of the company behind them, are given the opportunity to have their actual card samples put before a judging panel made up entirely of specialist buyers – from small independents like us, to some of the biggest card buyers in the UK – a judging process that gives publishers a focused exposure and feedback that money just can’t buy.

I have been fortunate to have been asked to be a judge of The Henries for a number of years now and for me it just gets better every time I take part. So much so that now it has become a very important part of our buying calendar as I have found so many products that I would never have discovered had it not been for The Henries’ judging day.

As buyers we all have our preconceptions about publishers and the sort of cards/ranges they produce. This probably isn’t something we’d like to admit to ourselves very often but we all know there are stands at trade shows that we don’t visit for this reason. You don’t go on the stands as you feel they won’t have anything to fit your shop’s style or you’ve walked onto their stand so many times in the past and not bought anything that you now can’t face explaining why you won’t be purchasing their cards…again.

Inside Postmark’s Greenwich store.
Inside Postmark’s Greenwich store.

For me, what The Henries judging procedure does is take all those preconceptions and throw them out of the window. How?  By making the judging anonymous.  Each and every entry into The Henries sees the cards in each entry mounted on large boards (with their identities concealed). These are then displayed alongside all the other ranges entered in that category.

As there is no indication of who the cards are published by all you are left to consider are the designs you see on that board as well as the RRPs, which are featured at the top of the board underneath the entry’s special number,

Unlike at a trade shows where you might see one design that catches your eye on a stand and not stop as you’re not keen on the rest, at The Henries judging you are presented with 6-8 cards in that range and so you can take your time and look at these products being presented to you in a different way.

Don’t get me wrong, I love trade shows but they can be exhausting and you often spend a lot of time stopping and chatting (well I do!) whereas The Henries judging offers a more focused experience which for me, which as a buyer is perfect. We get to see literally thousands of designs in one day – from publishers we would often not even consider or who have never exhibited at a trade show – completely uninterrupted.  We (the judges) all take photos of the boards (with their entry numbers) we like and afterwards are then sent the database so we can contact any publishers we would like to follow up with.

Mark Janson-Smith (right) enjoying a chat with fellow indie, Stuart Delahoy and of Set Design and Melinda Stead at The Henries judging.
Mark Janson-Smith (right) enjoying a chat with fellow indie, Stuart Delahoy and of Set Design and Melinda Stead at The Henries judging.

With such a great chance to push products to key buyers in the retail industry this really is an opportunity most publishers should be jumping at (and hundreds do), yet when I mention it to others who contact me looking for advice on their product they are hesitant about entering.  Many believe they’ll never have a chance of getting to the judging process, let alone winning or it’s not something for them as they are too small/new. I’m always happy to put them straight on all of the aforementioned and tell them their assumptions are incorrect. While their ranges may not make it to the finals (admittedly the competition is stiff – something we should all be proud of!) what matters, and what is very much worth their while entering is getting their products in front of 50+ specialist buyers from across the UK, all just for the cost of their stock and a few stamps to get them there.  It really is a no-brainer.

So, for any small (or big) publishers out there who haven’t entered The Henries before, or who have entered but not made the finals, I say get ready for 2019. Every single buyer seeing your products is a potential customer and there are many products out there we have missed or not seen before so please put them in front of us, we really do want to see them!

And for those who did enter, thank you – it was so heartening to see such creative vitality, and I am glad to say I was put through my paces, eager to discover the identities of some outstanding entries, from which will certainly be ordering.

 

* All the finalists in The Henries are featured in all their pictorial glory in the September edition of Progressive Greetings (which is out now).

* The winners of all categories will be announced on Thursday October 4 at a lavish awards event, on an 1980s Electric Dreams theme, taking place at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. For tickets call Clare Davies of Createvents on 01183 340085 or email clare@createvents.co.uk.

 

Top: Mark Janson-Smith with Sarah Jane-Porter, Moonpig’s head of licensing, at The Henries judging.

 

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