27 Mar 2014

4 things to consider before entering PR industry awards

PR Awards

Fact: most of us at some point or another have entered a PR industry awards competition. That’s because awards are an important marketing tool for agencies: prospects often judge agencies they don’t know by examining their credentials, such as awards. That should be incentive enough to make us want to enter, but let’s face it, writing an award-worthy entry is challenging at best. That’s because many of us don’t quite know where to begin or what makes for an “award-worthy” PR campaign. Having recently served as a judge for the Big Apple Awards was even more of a wake-up call about what judges view as a winning body of work.

This got me thinking: knowing how much time and effort goes into creating a killer award entry and having a better sense as to what judges consider to be award-worthy, it would behoove account teams to do some pre-award planning before committing to enter. Challenging ourselves and each other to consider whether we truly feel like we have an award-winning campaign is a critical but often overlooked first step in the entry process. All too often, we identify an opportunity to enter a competition and quickly decide to go for it, perhaps based on a portion of results from the campaign as well as our gut instinct. The result is often disappointing and de-motivating: losing entries and a disheartened team that spent a significant amount of time against a body of work that might be great but may not be hardware-worthy.

My advice when it comes to award entries is walk before you run. Don’t just start putting pen to paper on an award submission simply because it came across your desk , rather spend a little bit of time thinking about what it will truly take to win.

Based on my recent and past experience in judging awards – as well as actual feedback from other judges – I’ve created a simple checklist of four important criteria for account teams to consider before entering an awards competition.

  1. Solid research. Beyond the basics of media and social media scans, be sure your campaign is grounded in some form of original research that you’ve conducted or gathered from third parties. This is a *major* pet peeve of judges who often see entries that include little more than a sentence or two on things like, “We know our target audience spends a lot of time on the Internet.” Research that ultimately demonstrates cause/effect goes a long way with judges (eg, “We conducted a consumer focus group that showed us XX, which told us that the program needed to address YY”).
  2. Addressing a clear business challenge or need in the market place. Just because you have a lot of media impressions or have generated a ton of Likes on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean you should enter an award competition. Ask yourself if your campaign was born out of the need to solve a greater business problem (eg, capturing market share) or a void in the marketplace (eg, launching a new product category). Campaigns that can tie closely to business-building results (such as sales, trial, store traffic, market share) have a much better chance of being considered favorably by judges than those without.
  3. Clear objectives that can be measured in the results. Make sure you have defined your top 2-3 objectives, and equally as important, be sure that those objectives can be clearly measured in the results section. For example, if objective A is to drive brand preference, and objective B is to increase downloads, then result A must demonstrate a clear measurement against brand preference while result B must demonstrate a clear measurement against downloads.
  4. Making a true impact or changing behavior. While not every PR program is meant to solve the world’s problems, those that can demonstrate a significant impact (or demonstrable change in behavior) will receive considerable attention from judges. Impact can take the form of creative, strategy, execution or results. Ask yourself if your campaign has made a strong impact in the community, marketplace or among a particular demographic.

Developing an award-winning entry is an “art”, but with some due diligence and pre-planning, you can help make it a bit more “science”. The next time you consider entering an awards competition, review this checklist. Doing so can save you time and resources and set you up for a more successful entry.

Alan Marcus
Senior Vice President

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