There's A Meeting for That

Inside the Oscars of the Oscars

In 1964 a dozen trophy retailers and suppliers got together to form the Northern California Trophy Dealers Association

Illustration by Carmen Segovia.

Awards and Recognition Association (ARA) International Awards Market
Jan. 27–30, 2015
Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino Las Vegas



Rise and Shine:
There’s a lot of sparkle at ARA’s International Awards Market, held annually in glitzy Las Vegas. But attendees and exhibitors also roll up their sleeves and get to work at educational sessions that address everything from sandblasting techniques to showroom design to cybersecurity. New this year: a series of “Learning Zones” on the trade-show floor, where supplier members offered 20-minute demonstrations of new processes and products.


In 1964, a dozen trophy retailers and suppliers got together to form the Northern California Trophy Dealers Association. Since then — and through numerous name changes and growth spurts — ARA has grown to 2,100 company members from around the world. At the 2015 International Awards Market, which combined educational sessions with a tradeshow and networking events, attendees came from 42 countries.

The scope of the industry also has greatly expanded in the last 50 years, according to ARA Executive Director Louise Ristau, CAE, as the industry has grown beyond engraved trophies and plaques to include personalized custom gifts and other items, including clothing. And although ARA is a global organization that stays on top of cutting-edge, high-tech processes, many members are still mom-and-pop shops.


You would expect that the leading member organization for the awards and recognition industry gives out awards and believes in recognizing its members. And ARA doesn’t disappoint — its annual meeting has not one but two awards programs. There’s a breakfast that recognizes members for their technical skill and creativity in categories including “Best Trophy-Engraved Image” and “Best New Product-Imprintable Material.” And at an evening gala awards reception, ARA presents members with Gold Obelisk awards — manufactured by the same company that makes the statuettes presented at the Oscars.


Although many of ARA’s education sessions focus on new technology and improving technical skills — “Understanding Optics and Laser Processing of Common to Exotic Materials,” for example — the awards and recognition industry is inherently emotional. “I cried three times at the gala awards reception,” said Liz Giannini, ARA senior operations manager at Chicago-based Association Management Center, which manages the meeting. Physical awards are “lasting symbols,” Ristau said. “Everybody likes money, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.” A physical award “stays with you. It’s a public display that you have accomplished something.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.