Six Ways to Win Professional Awards Competitions

Over the last 15 years, I’ve been involved with awards programs in almost every capacity — entrant, organizer and judge. I usually have the opportunity to judge a few different awards programs each year, and I jump at the opportunity. It’s a great way to see what other professionals are doing and what creative ideas and approaches are successful. It’s as valuable as any professional development you can find.

As part of being an entrant, organizer and judge, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. If you’re submitting your company or organization for an awards program, here are six tips for you to follow in putting together a winning entry.

Presentation Counts — and Counts a Lot. There is generally no direction in an entry form for presentation, but it definitely makes a difference if your entry looks great and is well organized. I know a home builder who before judges evaluated his home for a construction award used a vacuum to clean the lawn. He correctly knew that if judges drove up to his home and saw an immaculate lawn, it would subconsciously impress the judges. Having your entries professionally designed or staged is a savvy move. Too often we throw together entries at the last minute … and it shows.

Give Specific Goals and If You Met Them. Too often judging marketing and PR awards I see the goal of “promoting awareness” or “increasing recognition.” So one person aware of your cause or mission is a success? I know that you didn’t embark on your project hoping to win one mind, so tell me how many you want. You have target goals for sales, impressions, visitors, attendees … whatever it is you are judging success. Tell us what your target was. If you set an ambitious goal but don’t meet it, that’s not necessarily a disqualifier. As a judge, I give more credit to entrants who have specific goals versus entrants who set vague, adjustable goalposts.

Show Your Work. No project just comes out of the ground with no forethought or challenges. Demonstrating your preparation and research establishes credibility and commitment to your project and client. A frequent complaint I heard from home builders was that judges could not know what was behind the wall regarding construction techniques and standards. One builder overcame that challenge by taking photos during construction and documenting what materials went in to the home to save energy, improve efficiency and reduce costs. Those materials were then repurposed for consumers. In marketing, I want to know your analysis of the competition, what your learned about your own product or service and how you found the solution you developed.

Don’t BS a BS-er. One of the worst things you can do is trying to monkey around with metrics to make your entry seem more successful than it was. I recently judged a public relations awards program and was pleasantly surprised and relieved that no one used ad value equivalents  to measure success. But I still see examples of people promoting a 50 percent increase in social media engagement, and then I go online and see they raised their Facebook likes from 24 to 36. A few years ago I judged an entry promoting their Twitter engagement, then I searched online and found that virtually all of the Twitter engagement came from accounts created at the same time that had no followers and only Tweeted about the PR campaign in question. Don’t fudge results or point to irrelevant or questionable metrics to make your entry seem more impressive than it is.

Don’t Enter Everything. Not all of your work is award-winning material. I’ve never been a big fan of entering more than one entry in a category. Most awards are evaluated by a small panel of judges that will review all the entries in a single category. Unless your multiple entries are distinctive, they will look the same to the judges and less impressive — you’re essentially competing against yourself. That’s not always a hard and fast rule. In some contests, there’s no real disincentive to enter more than one award in the same category. If you do, just make sure they standout and don’t look like cookie-cutter entries.

Follow the Rules. Can’t tell you how many entries I’ve seen disqualified or punished by judges for failing to follow guidelines and standards. I’ve seen home builders lose awards because they used the garage for storage, even though the rules clearly stated that was not permissible, since judges needed access to the entire home. The year we changed a marketing contest to all-digital entries only, one longtime entrant showed up on the deadline day with their portfolios because the didn’t pay attention to the rules. I generally try to be lenient if all the information is there, but I’ve seen judges hammer marketing entries for not clearly stating their goals, research and mission statement if those were required by the rules.

%d bloggers like this: