I have a tested relationship with industry awards.
On the one hand, the whole process can feel somewhat… seedy. Few manage to shake off the whole ‘pay-to-play, you scratch our back we’ll scratch yours’ vibe.
But they can hold value. If you run an agency, having a few ‘Gold’ logos to slap onto a deck can lend some third-party credibility to your pitch.
Or they can present a valuable networking opportunity with potential clients as part of an awards ceremony.
If nothing else, they give you another opportunity to pay credit to your staff as part of an internal memo.
I recently finished up a stint as a judge for a somewhat well-known marketing award ceremony and saw my fair share of applications – both good and bad.
I’ve also been on the applicant side of the table more times than I can remember and am lucky to say have come away with some wins under my belt.
So here are three tips on what makes a great entry. It won’t guarantee success, but it’ll hopefully get you a damn sight closer.
#1. Tell a Story
Once, after taking home a ‘Best Company’ award (or some other similar grandiose title) I got chatting with one of the judges at the ceremony cocktail party.
Not being able to resist the opportunity to do a little recon for next years’ application, I asked what had helped our entry stand out from the rest.
“You told a story, Jason. Most of the other entries talked about what had happened. You did the same but also covered the why.”
Treat your award entry like any other piece of content you’d put out into the world. If you’re looking for a framework, try the below:
- Describe your protagonist (your company or client)
- Outline the conflict (the challenge they faced)
- Present the inciting action (the event that set everything in motion)
- Highlight the stakes (what could go wrong if nothing were done)
- And share the resolution (how you overcame said challenge).
#2. Use Video
During my time as a judge, I was given 20 submissions to review over the course of a week. You know what the ones I remember had in common?
They all supplied a video component as part of their entry.
Some were simply the written award application spoken by a VO artist with complimentary graphics/stock footage on screen. Others were clearly bespoke assets prepared specifically for the submission. Either way – they got my attention.
You have to remember that judges aren’t just reviewing your entry. They have potentially dozens to work through. And given the choice, most will likely absorb a 3-minute video summary better than reading 1,500 words on the same subject.
So make it easy for them.
#3. Quantify the Results – But Be Realistic
I’d seriously question the worth of submitting an entry that doesn’t include some element of quantitative success.
Without numbers, what you present can (and probably will) be taken as subjective – your opinion – rather than a fact. You need evidence to back up your claims.
But be warned – numbers in of themselves aren’t enough. They need to be impressive.
Your judges will have been selected based on their ability to evaluate the creativity, strategy and critical thinking of the campaign you’ve put to market. That is, they know their stuff and whether a project can be considered a success.
For instance, if the objective of your campaign was engagement on social, you spent £100,000 on creative and distribution, and got 100 shares… you probably should leave it out.
If you can’t get hold of any figures, you need to double-down on qualitative anecdotes and testimonials from clients to establish some form of credibility.
#4. (Bonus Tip) Don’t Be a Sucker
This isn’t so much on the application itself but more of a general warning.
It may not have happened to you already, but sooner or later you’ll get an email from a person claiming that you’ve been selected to receive an award for a “Top 10 in [Your Industry]” or something similar, and for the paltry fee of several thousand dollars you can benefit from the rights to promote that fact.
Don’t fall for it. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a scam – though it’s getting pretty close – but it’s just not worth the money. You’ll just be another sucker in a long list of them.
To give yourself the best chance of success when entering an award, focus on nailing three things – the story, the format and the credibility. Remember that judges will be working through dozens of applications just like yours. Make it easy for them to understand why you stand above the rest.