The PPS Awards recognise and celebrate excellence across both product and retail, with special awards also covering marketing and individual excellence. The event itself is one of the most exciting in the industry calendar, bringing together the whole preschool sector for an afternoon of celebration and it’s great news the PPS Awards 2021 will return as a live event on Thursday 11 November 2021

In our exclusive interview  with Rob Willis of MaxPublishing, we found out what he’s most looking forward to – and that it’s also not too late to apply!….

Can you give a short background to the PPS awards and who they’re for?

“The Progressive Preschool Awards – the PPS Awards as it is affectionately known – is a cross category awards program which recognises and rewards product and retail excellence across the preschool aged sector. It is totally free to enter and judged by experts, so whilst it is a commercial venture, it’s a brilliantly open platform for retailers and suppliers to get the plaudits they deserve.”

We’ve waited a long time to return to live events: how will November’s event differ from previous live events & what are you most looking forward to?

“The event itself won’t be any different in real terms, the fundamentals of how we run awards will never change. My real hope is that everyone feels confident enough to really enjoy the day. I’m not into cliches but quite obviously we are working closely with our hotel partners to make sure the event will be safe and sound, without losing the noise and colour and joy that the day is normally known for.”

How have participants responded to the idea of a live awards show?

We’re very lucky that our following of friends and clients really love what the awards represent and the opportunities and business it creates for all involved. So, whilst we were lucky that they supported a digital effort last year, it was a unanimous ‘yes’ in terms of getting back to a real live event. Which is good news as it turns out digital events are way harder to organise than physical, something I’d never have guessed. Live events are just brilliant, if you’re going to win something you want 500 people clapping you up to the stage.”

Can you share any information about the judging panel? 

“A firm foundation of all of our company’s awards events are that the judging should be third party – experts judging what they know. Retailers judge product, suppliers judge retailers and so on. We love that even some of the industry’s biggest buyers will actually chase us for judging dates each year; they love the experience and often make a note of products they’re going to follow up on. Entering costs nothing, but you could get spotted by a buyer who has a cheque book big enough to change everything… it has happened before and will happen again.”

The 2020 Awards were online which must have brought its own challenges: how did your team cope with it?

It was really very tough. Live events and connecting people is in our blood, I am sure many folks in the trade would testify that we love to introduce people. The team all coped amazingly well – we’re a family as well as a business and we all keep each other going. We were all very down about not hosting the big bashes we’re known for, but we also said from the beginning that ‘there would be finalists and there would be winners’ and that’s what we did. I slept on the floor of my office after the digital PPS Awards – a personal low but something I’ll remember with good grace the next time I check into a fancy hotel room – we have all learned to be a little more grateful.”

Who were the heroes of the 2020 awards?

“Every awards event has a whole bunch of heroes… people like me get to stand on a stage and say the fancy words but you know what – without the lighting guys, the AV teams, the catering staff – none of it would happen. However, the 2020 awards heroes are our friends in the trade who backed us despite the fact it’d be a much less exciting affair, and also vowed they would stick with us until we could get back to the live event – I am pleased to say we are almost sold out on sponsorship opportunities for this year whilst ticket sales are also at 60% already.

The ‘enemy’ of the 2020 awards was the (really annoying!) person who registered to attend three minutes before the end of the production, which forced the guest ticket counter into the next billing bracket via the software we were using. Little does that person know they cost us a small fortune for their three minutes of viewing pleasure! We had to laugh or we’d have cried!”

And what are you hoping to see in the 2021 awards?

“We know that a number of new ranges were put on hold in 2020 so it’ll be interesting to see how this year’s entry quality reflects that. On the flip side, there’s been a lot of innovation from smaller companies who had no choice but to take more time for NPD whilst retailers were closed. Brand collaborations seem to be resonating well, there is evidence to support that endorsed product sells better during financial hardship… we will see.”

Which category do you usually feel most excited about, and why?

“It’s tough to choose one category, at a push I’d have to say that on a human level we receive a lot of joy from handing out the Outstanding Achievement Award as we know how much that means to people on a personal level. Business wise I’d say any of the independent retailer categories as they’re the guys who have the toughest job for the lowest profit – yet they’re the frontline representatives of our trade and we should always remember that.”

What do you enjoy most about being involved the nursery/ preschool business? 

“I enjoy that the nursery trade makes me feel less of an alcoholic – they join in my pursuit! Actually, I love the collaboration this industry sees; suppliers talk to each other, retailers share advice, even the PPS Awards is something where competition is put to one side and I work with competitors as we all benefit from the industry getting more coverage as a whole. It’s a great trade when it comes to openness creating opportunity.” 

What tips would you give someone considering putting themselves forward for an award?

“Call us! Across all categories we see thousands of entries so it’s impossible to talk to everyone, but for anyone new, or unsure, call and talk to any of the team about which categories you should enter into, advice on your entry and more. We will always guide you in the right direction. PPS’ advertising guru Jo Pilcher has around 15 years or so experience in this sector now, she’s a brilliant person to talk to about getting your entry right. Our PR partner Bump PR are also on hand to help, and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind me saying that almost every PR firm in the trade would be happy to chat and offer advice – most of them including Bump, Media Snug, Azaria, Vista – are all sponsors of the event, showing their selfless commitment to the value of awards in this entrepreneurial industry.”


The PPS Awards is a totally free to enter event and the deadline for entering the product categories is Friday 30 July 2021. For the special awards – including Best Distributor, Marketing and Outstanding Achievement – entries are open until Friday 6 August 2021. The Retail categories, meanwhile (both nomination and self nomination), are open until Friday 13 August 2021.

For more information on the awards, or to apply, visit

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