At my last time of checking there were seventeen PR orientated industry awards. These include the AMEC Awards, Bulldog Reporter, Cannes Lions, CIPR Excellence, CIPR Pride, Fresh Awards, IABC, PR Moment, PR Week Awards, PRCA (Dare, Public Affairs UK & EU, City & Financial, Internships), PR News, PRSA, Ragan Communications, and the Suzie Spirit Award.
This volume of accolades has happened for a reason. Being a winner is highly prized, promising a raised profile and possibly some new business leads. That is the perception and for many agencies it represents the majority of their new business development strategy. Although I speak in an anecdotal capacity I believe few (particularly in ‘agency-land’) would disagree. Equally many are of the view that the winning of awards is a prerequisite for success.
I recently judged 30 AMEC and CIPR Excellence award entries. Over the last 10 years I have looked at over 250 entries for various PR awards. After doing some judging last year I wrote on my blog about my experiences.
This year’s blog aims to remind me of what to look for during future judging episodes and to give some pointers to others on what judges are looking for. These tips are not exhaustive but my recollections while fresh in my mind.
- Make it a story. Make it readable and flow. Cut the superfluous details which we can live without. Create a narrative which has pace and tempo, follows a time line and finish on a high. Get this right and you will be amazed how much credit you can gain.
- Follow the award entry guidance. This seems so obvious but you would be amazed how many go over the word-count or number of page allowance. I was recently considering a category which said ‘This entry will require client endorsement to confirm the value to that client’. Four out of the ten entries did not do this.
- Use SMART objectives. That stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic & Time-related. Some entries pay them lip-service. Winning entries set objective which put a line in the sand and contextualise them to illustrate that they pushing themselves to achieve something.
- Is the whole initiative or topic worthy of a winning entry? Consider the category you are entering with care. Many awards like those from the CIPR allow you to view past years shortlisted and winning entries. Get a feel for the topics they have covered.
- Also, remember it will be difficult to stand-out if your entry is likely to cover similar topic areas to other entries. I judged some education related PR entries a few years ago and we had three or four similar entries on how institutions handled the PR on exam results day.
- Show what of your efforts made a difference. Just about every PR award I have seen has a component to recognise creativity. This is the chance to show off a bit and set an entry apart from others.
- Say what you did that was greater than you and/or the team just doing their job. With some entries there is blow by blow recounting of what happened first, followed by this, then that. The aim is to give awards for work which is so good it goes beyond the norm. Be sure the actual work was exceptional and then tell the judges about it. Do this and you should be fine. Most of the winning awards entries are available to review after the event. They are there to promote the standards to which others should aspire. If you are unclear on what this level of work is in your category refer to previous winners for that award.
- Proof read it yourself and then get at least two others to do the same. I know I am terrible to proofing my own work but typos in award entries tend to stick out like a sore-thumb. To help with clear sentence structure try using a grammar tool like Hemmingway app.
- Get the correct balance to your entry. Write in a factual, dispassionate way, but which carries your enthusiasm without over enthusing. Tone is everything. Be confident and sure in your assertions, but don’t be arrogant.
- Tie your results back to your objectives. After setting your measurable objectives don’t forget about them. Most entry criteria suggest a series to sub-categories to follow like Objectives, Strategy, Implementation, Measurement and Results. Don’t follow these too slavishly but do remember in the Results section to tie your achievements back to the Objectives.
- Include supporting material but keep it to the very best highlights. Consider that most judges will probably allow 2-3 minutes per entry to review these so including your top 50 clips would be too much. I would suggest 3-4 pages maximum, maybe including an infographic , a top line graph or table and a representation of your very best bit of coverage. Personally I prefer this to be presented in a magazine style format.
- There are a host of ‘freemium’ and low cost PR tools to help you plan, structure, implement and measure your work. The PR Stack community has curated 250+ of them and produced 2 books on how to use them. The judges will love to hear that you are using the latest tools and will love it even more if you find a new and innovative way to use a tool.
I asked one of my fellow judges from the recent AMEC awards Shonali Burke (@shonali) for her thoughts and she came up with these two additional points:
- “Don’t simply dupe the same entry in multiple categories with no tweaks. If you think your entry is relevant in multiple categories – and it may well be – then you MUST – adjust the entry copy to be relevant to that specific category. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than laziness.”
- “Do make your entry readable. This means, in addition to sticking to the word count and making it look appealing, you have to make it easy to read. When we’re going through 6-10 entries per category, plus supporting materials, the last thing we need is a headache because we’re squinting at your copy. Pay attention to line and paragraph spacing, font size (and choice of font), and margins.”
This is where most of this year’s good entries slipped-up and maybe next time it will be different. I hope this has provoked some thought and I would welcome your comments. Also, please subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out on future posts.
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