Awards Programs: It takes more than just a pretty face to win a prize

To win an awards program you need both style and substance

Whether the motivation is ego, a promotion, peer recognition, or kudos from a client, the pursuit of an award takes time, thought and careful planning. Having both served as a judge, and assisted businesses to create winning submissions, these insights will help you to avoid some of the common pitfalls, and position your next awards entry for success.

1.  Choose wisely

Awards programs are sprouting up everywhere because they’re a relatively easy way for the host association/publisher/website to generate revenue via entry fees, sponsorship and event ticketing. Don’t be misled into thinking all awards programs are equal. They’re not. Some are established and designed with integrity; others are downright dodgy. There’s little to be gained from winning a gong from a program which nobody respects. Identify the worthy awards and pursue those.

2.  Comply

Make sure your awards submission is compliant – not partly compliant or compliant where it suits. Wholly compliant. If you are unsure about your interpretation of the specifications, rules or requirements, ask the organisers. Making assumptions could cost you an award, especially in highly competitive categories. And breach of the rules, however minor, could see you disqualified.

3.  Constructive criticism

Give some thought to how you ‘build’ your submission. These days it is common for award entries to be lodged online. If that is the case, your options may be to upload your creative as separate files or to insert and embed showpieces into the body of your submission. Think about two things: firstly, what the technology will allow you to do (say, in terms of file size or format); and secondly, what will make the judges’ task easiest (for example, being able to access all of the content from a single source, or having to jump from file to file).

4.  Weighty matters

If an awards program has published its evaluation criteria and their weightings, that’s a clear indication you should also follow that format. Entries that follow the given structure are generally far easier to judge than those that do not. In fact, entrants that ignore or stray from the weighted criteria can leave the judges frustrated as they’re forced to waste time searching – sometimes without success – for evidence of those elements.

5.  The medium is the message

This often quoted maxim by communication theorist Marshall McLuhan was in reference to his belief that the way we acquire information affects us more than the information itself. Though he was at the time anticipating the impact of television, McLuhan’s theory is also relevant in the context of an awards submission. The branding and layout of any visual communication can help to sell an idea. Consider the presentation of your application and factor in time for graphic design before you lodge it.

6.  Measure up

If any of the evaluation criteria are quantifiable, make sure you report the success of your campaign against hard metrics. Broad statements such as ‘This was our most successful campaign’ or ‘The results exceeded all expectations’ simply won’t cut it. The best submissions present quantitative results (the very best in both real and relative terms), for example, as revenue growth, category growth, product sales, impressions, followers, leads generated, share of voice, market share and so on.

7.  Stand out from the crowd

Awards submissions are in effect sales pieces. Your challenge is to pitch your campaign to the judging panel to persuade and convince them that it is best-of-breed. Write it in a voice that is engaging. Make your case compelling. Remember, in some categories the judges may have dozens of entries to evaluate. Is yours memorable?

8.  Caution! Recycled material

While organisations commonly applaud knowledge reuse, be careful about recycling award entries as the specifications and judging criteria can vary substantially from program to program. Will recycling the submission you developed for some other program really optimise your chances of success or is it just the easy way out?

9.  Collaborate

Most campaigns that are considered award-worthy are designed and executed with the assistance of specialist agencies. If that is the case, collaborate on the award entry as well. It’s far better to share an award than to forego one out of greed. Leverage your extended team’s resources and play to each person’s, or organisation’s, strengths.

10.  Say it with flowers

…or graphs, diagrams, illustrations, audio, video or even emoticons, if you must. Just make sure you incorporate whatever formats and media the guidelines will allow. They’ll contribute to the ‘readability’ of your entry and will help you to engage the judges.

If you have read this far, you’re probably working on something right now that could be worthy of an award this year, or next. Plan ahead to ensure the process, decision making, metrics and creative that you will be asked to talk to in your entry are captured and documented along-the way.