The secret of winning PR and social media awards is simple. Be excellent. You don’t deserve an award for being good. You’re paid by your employer or your client to be good at your job every single day. Awards are reserved for truly excellent work. Or rather they should be.
I’m a regular judge of PR, digital and social media awards. It’s a hard, but rewarding job, that’s done on an entirely voluntary basis. This year I’ve judged the CIPR Pride awards and the SOME communications awards for social media, as well as PR awards in Ukraine and Bulgaria.
As a PR trainer I love it because the winners should give me a constant source of fresh new case studies to use as examples of best practice. Unfortunately many of the awards I’ve judged recently just haven’t been good enough. Many have been highly creative and initially make me think “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that.”
However, on reflection I’m often glad I didn’t. These are some of the common mistakes you see:
Objectives – we’ve got a few, too many to mention
All too frequently you see weak and confused objectives:
- They fail to align properly with organisational or business objectives – unless you explain to the judges what the business objective is then it’s hard to understand if the work has been successful or not.
- Your PR and communications objectives are not the same as your business objectives – your communications activity won’t be the only factor that enables the business objective to be met, so don’t pretend it is as all it will have done is helped or created a better environment for the objective to be met.
- Be specific and put numbers on it – if you say your objective is to “improve awareness” then from what to what, awareness to who… but more important than even that is why? Why do you want to improve awareness? How will it help achieve the business objective?
- Even if they have numbers, they are pointless numbers that just relate to tactics such as followers, views, likes etc
Strategy – what’s that?
Strategy is one of the most abused words you see in award entries. All too often it’s used to describe the plan – a list of the tactics used rather than telling the judges what the actual strategy is.
It’s not surprising because if you don’t have an objective then you can’t have a strategy. Unfortunately, you can still have tactics. Lots of tactics. Too many award entries consist of an apparently random list of tactics which taken in isolation often look amazing. Huge increases in Twitter followers. Impressive viewing figures for YouTube videos. Lots of likes and even great engagement on a Facebook page. A wonderful social media idea that’s resulted in lots of mainstream media coverage. But taken in isolation they mean absolutely nothing if you don’t given the judges some solid objectives to relate them to. Your objectives shouldn’t simply be increasing the numbers for the things you do as your tactics.
Too much hype, not enough honesty
I’m interested in if your campaign worked. Small numbers can be impressive if you explain why they mean something. If you’re entering general awards that cover a lot of different sectors you’ll often find that most judges understand mainstream consumer campaigns better than more specialist B2B or public sector ones.
One campaign that I liked a lot was for a local authority that was using social and digital as a very effective way to improve community engagement for area based community committees. It saved significant council officer time, elected councillor time and money which with the huge cuts facing local councils is vital. However, the numbers were low with typically less than 100 people engaging with each initiative. For many online campaigns that would be appalling. However, this was about augmenting community committee meetings which in theory are open to the public, but in reality can sometimes have a grand total of zero residents attending and participating. On that measure I’d say the online engagement was a huge success. Less time, less money, more people. A lot more people. However, what the entry failed to do was explain properly what community committee meetings were and therefore going from zero engagement to 100 people was actually a brilliant achievement, which I knew, but some other judges didn’t.
It’s important to make sure that you understand your numbers and don’t misrepresent them. One award entry I saw had an impressively high total for the number of people that had watched a series of very good YouTube videos. However, they’d calculated this total by adding the total views for each of the videos in the series. Really? The videos were to teach you a skill so isn’t it more likely that the same people watched several of the videos? I’d have scored this one higher if they’d considered that issue, even if meant their total was a lot lower. My suspicion was they were either trying to mislead, or more likely simply didn’t understand their own numbers.
And don’t pretend what you’ve done was an amazing achievement if judges can work out it that maybe it wasn’t. Another entry had the objective to be in the top three search terms on Google for a specific term. The results showed they’d beaten the objective and were now number one. A quick search of my own confirmed this to be true. But a quick play with Google’s Keyword Planner also showed me that the term had less than 100 searches a month. For a medical awareness raising campaign targeting the UK’s 40,000 GPs that was less than impressive.
I’ve rarely seen a PR or social media programme that was perfect from start to finish. Where everything went to plan. Be honest and say what problems you encountered and how you solved them. Recovering from a monumental foul-up, even if you partially created it, is more likely to impress me than pretending you’re perfect because I know you’re not.
PR awards go to the best entries, not the best work
Writing entries that win awards is a skill. I’ve judged many entries where potentially the work has been excellent, but it has been poorly explained or the entry simply hasn’t followed the rules. The weakest element of entries, is ironically the most important element – objectives, measurement and evaluation. When I judge awards I create my short-list by reading the objectives and the results. I never read the body of the entries until I’ve got my short-list. I don’t want to be swayed by impressive ideas and creativity, because unless they’ve worked they are irrelevant.
Truly excellent work can actually be very simple in its execution because true creativity is thinking of a simple solution that just does the job – like the humble paper clip.
I’ve written before about my 10 top tips to win a PR award. They still hold true today. If you’ve done exceptional work then follow the tips to increase your chances of winning the award your work deserves.