Over the last 18 months or so I have judged PR and social media industry awards for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Public Relations Consultants Association (last year, not this) and the Some Awards. As a result I have seen hundreds of award entries ranging from the brilliant to the mediocre. Over the years I have also entered and won a few modest awards of my own. These are just a few thoughts that have accumulated as a result of this experience.
1) Stick to the rules
You would be surprised how many entries you see that have simply not obeyed the rules. It shouldn’t be hard to stick to the specified word count, use the headings/sections required and provide any supporting material in the right format. If you can’t even get the basics right why should the judges waste time on your entry when there are dozens and dozens that have obeyed the rules?
2) Customise your entry
You will possibly want to enter the same piece of work into more than one category and into different sets of awards. That doesn’t mean you can just keep recycling the same old entry. On the most simple level, the rules for different sets of awards are frequently different. You’ll also need to rewrite the entry for different categories. The focus and elements that you might want to highlight for ‘Best International Campaign’ might be different to those for ‘ Best Technology Campaign’, even though it is for the same campaign.
3) Make it perfect
Do you really want an award entry that is meant to showcase your excellence to contain spelling and grammar mistakes (I know as I type this that I’ve inevitably made a mistake in this post)? In any industry sector mistakes would be a problem, but when you are entering awards for excellence in the communications industry you’ve got to show you can communicate perfectly.
4) Get permission
In the frantic dash to get your entry in before the submission deadline it is all too easy to miss getting permission from your client or boss. Don’t. Many companies and organisations have rules and policies for how, when and even if they enter awards. Your relationship with the client or your boss is far more important than winning any industry award. I’ve seen winning entries withdrawn because the PR agency didn’t get permission from the client before submitting it. Some clients are happy to just give permission, others will need to approve the entry, especially if the campaign involved more than one agency.
5) Give credit
Your excellent work is rarely, if ever, a solo effort. Make sure you give appropriate credit to everyone in the team. This includes junior team members, suppliers and freelances, as well as the in-house team at the client that made all your great work possible. It also includes other PR agencies, design or digital agencies that worked on the campaign.
6) Tell the whole story and make it standalone
When judges have to look at dozens and dozens of entries they don’t have time to go off and look at all the supporting material. The entry on its own has to be enough to grab the attention of the judge and convince him/her that the entry is worth considering. The supporting material will only become useful when sifting the final shortlist.
7) Tell the truth
However tempting it might be to ‘gild the lily’ or spin the results – don’t. It was always ethically wrong, but now it is much easier for judges to research the campaign themselves. Remember ‘Google never forgets’. The internet is also a mine of publicly available data. If judges smell a rat they can and often will check for themselves. I’ve been on judging panels where we’ve eliminated entries for inflating the results or making claims that are obviously spurious.
8) Make the objectives match the results
For me, and I do know other judges who differ from this opinion, the most important elements of an award entry are the objectives and the results/evaluation. It doesn’t matter how creative or impressive the actual campaign was unless it actually delivers tangible results that meet the objectives set. The best objectives are usually communications objectives that can be measured. Superficially setting business objectives (e.g. sales) can appear to be better, but you have to make sure that the work you actually did was the main contributor to achieving that business objective. Usually entries don’t because they can’t. And a word of warning – judges can often tell if you’ve written/altered the objectives to fit the results.
9) Say why it is different
You don’t win awards just for doing good work. All your work should be brilliant. You should win awards for doing things that go that one step beyond. Perhaps it is that the odds were stacked against you and you overcame them. Maybe it was a frantically short timescale to deliver. Is it the first time something has been done this way? Whatever it is, make it clear why it is different.
10) Explain what challenges you had to overcome
Judges live in the real world. We know that things rarely go 100% to plan. S**t happens. It’s how you pick yourself up and fix the problem that is impressive. Don’t be afraid to use your entry to share what went wrong, just remember to say how you turned adversity into victory.
These are just a few quick tips off the top of my head. If you’ve got any more tips then please leave them in the comments.
UPDATE: New blog post on How to win a PR or social media award using objectives and results.