Making your awards entries shine

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When I used to work in Media Agencies, one of my favourite jobs used to be proofreading and editing the various awards entries we were pulling together from across the agency. It was a great way to see what innovative work was being done by the different teams, work I might otherwise only had a superficial knowledge of.

Over the years, I’ve learned how strategic a process entering industry awards can be.  While having great work to celebrate is a vital ingredient for winning awards, sometimes that may not be enough. A good awards strategy, and strong entry, can be the difference between a shortlist and a win.

Here are my 7 top tips for navigating the crazy world of industry awards. Most of them are common sense, but you’d be surprised (or maybe not) at how often people get it wrong

  1. Be tactical about which categories you target. If you don’t have a huge awards budget,and can’t afford to put a campaign forward in all qualifying categories, be smart about the categories you go for. Look at previous years, and the competitiveness of the shortlisted campaigns. As a very basic rule of thumb, the more niche the category, the smaller the competitive pool.
  2. Get the team that worked on the campaign to write the first draft of the entry, but don’t make them responsible for getting to the final version.  Being as close to the campaign as they are is both helpful and problematic when it comes to writing awards entries. Sometimes it can be hard to see the wood for the trees, if you are familiar with every branch.  Make sure that someone more objective reviews and edits the entry, so that they can make sure it is telling a clear, single-minded story.  While word limits help to keep most entries focused, there can still be a temptation to leave in superfluous details, which can diminish the overall power of an entry. Campaigns are never as simple as the winning entries might suggest.
  3. When writing the first draft, ignore the word count. This is the opportunity for the people who worked on the campaign to share all the elements they are excited about. The more gem-packed the first draft, the more the editor will have to work with. The re-writing process is a lot like sifting for gold, with the editor needing to understand which glittery elements are worth keeping.
  4. Be very clear on the criteria that your entry will be judged against. When doing multiple entries for the same campaign, make sure you are adapting your entries to demonstrate how they deliver against the specific category criteria.  Awards entries are not one size fits all, and don’t assume the people responsible for selecting the shortlist will read your multiple entries (so no story-boarding across entries as a way to game word count limits). There are category based nuances the entry will be scored against. Neglecting to show how your campaign has delivered against those criteria is a sure-fire way to lose points with the judges, no matter how much they may love the overall sound of your campaign.  It could cost you the shortlist, meaning you don’t even make it to the final judging panel. Anyone who has been involved in the shortlisting process for awards will tell you they’ve had to read a huge volume of entries.  They don’t have time to sit back and work out how your campaign might have tangentially delivered against the judging criteria, you need to spell it out for them to avoid your entry landing on the  rejection pile.
  5. Don’t leave it until the last minute. Agency life is full of urgent deadlines, and with heavy workloads it can be all too easy to leave the writing of award entries to the last minute. The best agencies I’ve worked at have a marketing team that will hound the relevant teams into providing a written awards entry nice and early, so they have time to create really strong materials to go with it. Do not underestimate the importance of the additional visual, and in many cases audio-visual, elements at pushing your award over the line with tired judges.
  6. Get the team that worked on the campaign to sense check the final draft, to make sure nothing crucial has been misinterpreted during the editing process. However, make sure they are also doing this through the lens of the judging criteria. This is not an opportunity for them to shoe-horn in some small element they are particularly proud of: if it does not serve the entry,  it needs to stay out.  Just because something was particularly difficult to activate, doesn’t mean it’s going to wow the judges.
  7. Have a small internal team that aren’t familiar with the campaigns read and score the final entries against the judging criteria. This will be your final opportunity to spot any gaps in your entries, and it will also serve as a check that you are putting them forward in the correct categories.

I hope the above information is useful.  In my 20 years in media and advertising, I’ve edited entries for UK, Australian and International (English language) Awards so am thickly dusted with experience. Should you require editing support for your awards entries, please contact me through the contact page here for more information and/or to request a quote.

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