Many of us in the public relations field are busy creating two-page write-ups of our most interesting and successful accomplishments for the year to enter in various awards programs at the local, regional and national level. I always enjoy this time of year and after nearly 20 years in this business I am happy to boast that I have a whole collection of glass and plastic awards in an old Office Depot box gathering dust in my bedroom.
Photo credit: Dayton Area PRSA
Actually, I do have several awards in storage but I do appreciate every bit of professional recognition I have received. And after entering, winning, and judging public relations awards at the state, regional and national level, I have a few tips for those of you who may be new to creating applications and/or are completely unable to follow written directions.
I was honored to accept a PRism Award from Dayton Area PRSA last year.
So here are my hacks for flacks, a list that will help you put together an award-winning entry:
Follow the @#$% directions
Lots of award campaigns have complicated directions like print three copies of schedule B and attach to entry form along with a paragraph summary of the entry and a front-to-back copy of schedule C, if in categories 3, 6 and 8. As crazy as they are, you must follow them To. The. Letter. Or else you stand a good chance of getting eliminated before a judge even sees your information. And NO, your entry fee will not refunded.
Don't throw in the kitchen sink
I don't know how many entries I have judged that include DVDs I didn't watch or t-shirts stuffed in the back that I didn't unfold. Unless something is critical to the entry, don't throw it in your entry binder thinking the judge will be impressed somehow. If you really need to show all the trinkets that were part of your campaign, then lay them out nicely and take a photo.
Label your stuff
When assembling a collection of materials to support your written entry (I know more and more contests are going to digital submissions), please consider that the judges won't know the significance of a document unless you tell them. So be sure to add notes to documents that might be less than obvious to a judge flipping through a binder or browsing your digital files.
Hack the judging sheet
You may be thinking, if I don't win, it's because I had no idea what the judges were looking for. WRONG. The actual sheet the judges use is pretty easy to get. If you or someone you know entered this contest the year before, odds are that you got the entry sheet back with judges' feedback. If not, then look at the call for entries. If it suggests that you include research, planning, execution and results. Then, for the love of God, you need sections in your entry with headings called research, planning, execution and results. That's how you will be judged.
Make it easy for judges to give you the points
Related to hacking the judging sheet, make it easy for the judges to give you their full allotment of points for each section. It they are looking for ways you adhered to your budget. Include a sentence that includes the phrase adhered to the budget.
This is one of the most basic things that lots of very smart and talented PR pros absolutely screw up when writing an award entry. Your objectives for the program to which you believe you deserve an award need to be measurable. Saying that your objective is to raise awareness of _______ is NOT going to work unless you have a way to measure before and after awareness.
Similarly, research. Research, research, research. I know you didn't have the budget for a big survey but did you look and see what worked last year? Did you run it past a few people in your target audience? Did you throw the idea out to a few smart PR people for their thoughts. All of this counts. It's all about how you write it up so the judges can give you the points. If the entry guideline mentions primary and secondary research, then you write about primary and secondary research--using those terms.
Be a judge yourself
Lastly, the very best way to become great at writing award entries is to volunteer as a judge. This is very easy to do, especially at your local PRSA chapter where you are likely to end up with an armful of binders to judge before you can even finish offering to help. I have been judging PRSA entries at various levels since the early days of my career and it has made a huge difference in how I write them for my own projects.
Listen, the cost of submitting an entry can run anywhere from $60 to $300+, so don't waste your money sending in an entry that doesn't have a chance to win. Writing award entries is a skill and I can tell you from experience that entries that make the judges' jobs easier will win almost every time.