Ten Tips on How to Win Awards

Marketing is a creative enterprise and, when all is said and done,a highly competitive business internally as well as externally. To measure creativity, various organizations hold competitive award shows for the different projects marketing people do. For instance, web design, print ads and of course,  TV show commercials.

By the time most marketers have five years experience or more they’ve participated in, and maybe even won an award or two, from such an event. Of course, if you’ve entered and didn’t win you may be feeling a little discouraged about the whole experience. Perhaps you think you lost because the judges work for a rival company or because they knew the winner personally.

As someone who has judged a number of shows for organizations such as the Business Marketing Association and Direct Marketing Association, I can tell you that while both of these suppositions may be possible, they are highly unlikely. Almost all shows are set up to avoid any kind of favoritism. First, judges are asked to excuse themselves from judging work produced by their own company or by anyone they know well. And in most competitions individual entries are judged on their own merits not in comparison to others.

But there are real reasons an entry can lose even with a great concept and super execution. If truth be told, all too many losing entries are handicapped from the start because they were entered incorrectly. Below is a list of ten guidelines to help you make the most of every competition you enter and seriously increase your chances of winning.

  1. Enter the right show
    Most award shows are geared toward a particular niche in the marketing industry such as highly innovative design or business-to-business marketing that has produced measurable results. So before you consider competing with your peers make sure the piece you’re entering is suitable for that particular competition. No matter how funny that radio spot for a leading toothpaste is, it does NOT belong in a business-to-business marketing show. On the other hand, if you designed a killer trade show display for widgets, make sure the show you’re entering has a category not only for trade show displays, but trade show displays with budgets similar to yours. Furthermore, entering the wrong show is a waste of time, effort and money because your entry may be disqualified before any of the judges even see it. And even if it remains in the competition, the judges will be expecting it to be something that it’s not. However you slice it, this is a lose-lose situation for everyone.
  2. Enter the right category
    Every show has different criteria for each category, and if you don’t pay close attention to these specifications you may find yourself competing on an uneven playing field. For example, it would probably be a mistake to enter a multi-dimensional promotional piece in a competition for direct mail packages. Even if a note or response device has been included with the promotional piece, it still may be an inappropriate entry for a category designed for letter packages. When a piece is entered incorrectly it confuses the judges and this alone will cost you points.
  3. Make your entry statements brief, clear, and memorable
    As in almost all other aspects of marketing, when it comes to award show entries, less is more. Don’t try to impress the judges with your knowledge of industry jargon and acronyms. Just give them as much information as they ask for on the entry form in clear, succinct prose. If you must use acronyms, define them the first time you use them. (Keep in mind that different companies and industries may use the same acronym for two totally different things.) Tip: Include factual data about the positive results the entry has made to your client’s bottom line. It’s amazing how demonstrable profitability can add a patina of beauty to even the ugliest design.
  4. Answer all the questions
    In shows where results are highly valued, answering questions regarding sales outcomes can make or break your chances of winning. Of course, you may not always have results to submit either because they are not yet known or because the client never shared them with you. In the former case, include this explanation in your application. In the latter case, call the client and ask if they have any insights they can share. By the way, it is not enough to say “the client was pleased.” Or that “the piece met their expectations.” Remember, the point of the question is to give the judges an objective measurement of what your work accomplished. So share as much information as you can to help the judges understand why you’ve submitted this particular piece in the first place.
  5. Include all the pieces
    If you’re submitting an entry with several parts to it make sure ALL of them are included in your presentation. Otherwise it’s almost impossible to properly judge the entry fairly and your score will reflect it.
  6. Show the real thing, not photos of it
    Pictures may be worth a thousand words but a two-dimensional presentation is never as effective as one in 3-D. Unless your submission is a trade show booth, all parts of the ACTUAL piece should be included in your entry.
  7. Show “before” and “after” when appropriate
    If your assignment was to update a look, re-brand a product, freshen a logo, etc. show the  project“before” as well as the “after” you worked your magic. It’s much more impressive, especially if the piece you’re submitting isn’t all that creative. You can still impress the judges by showing how much of an improvement your work is over what had been done before.
  8. Take your entries seriously
    Award shows can help you cement current client relationships and develop new ones. After all, leaving a show with an award in hand not only confirms your expertise among your peers, it confirms your client’s good judgment in choosing you as their agency. (Not to mention that clients been known to switch their business from one agency to another based on which Creative Director took home an award!)
    Take some time and effort with your entries. Use the entry form to explain why your piece is better than all others. (Yes, it is extra work but so is a new business pitch.)  Have the folks who actually worked on the project fill out the forms. They know the full story of how and why a piece was created. Inside tip: Telling a good story about the development of your piece can help you win as much as the piece itself. Second inside tip: Brevity is not only the soul of wit, it’s the key to producing winning entries. Third inside tip: Writers are generally better at this sort of thing than art directors/designers. If you’re a design shop and a copywriter wasn’t involved in creating the entry, you might want to consider hiring a wordsmith to help your designers tell their story.
  9. Neatness counts
    Type your entry form if at all possible. Remember the entry form is a marketing tool – use it well.
  10. Don’t hurt your own brand by entering junk
    Every piece you enter in a show is a reflection on the brand and reputation of your business. It’s better not to enter anything at all then to submit less than excellent work. Enough said.

Hope this helps make your next foray into the world of awards a successful one. Good Luck!

Wendy Lalli consults on marketing projects through her own agency, Wendy Lalli Ltd. and is CD of Crux Creative, a marketing agency in Wisconsin.  She also mentors other marketing professionals in transition and wrote on job search for the Chicago Tribune and 25 newspapers in the Chicago Sun Times network.

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