I’m not an awards expert but I’ve been both an entrant (winner and loser) and a judge. Having recently judged the 2017 UK Digital Experience Awards, one thing is clear: the majority of entries seem rushed and could be so much better.
Perhaps it’s the award fatigue, which quickly sets in after reviewing hundreds of mundane submissions. Perhaps it’s the fact that no one seems to put much effort into their entries these days, viewing awards as another advertising platform rather than an opportunity to showcase really great work.
Either way, only a handful of entrants get it right. I’ve rounded up some of their habits and strategies, which you can adopt for your next entry – from deciding which awards to enter, to snapping the judges out of their boredom slump.
To enter or not to enter?
The UK alone has more than 3,000 annual business awards. How do you know which ones are worthy of your time and budget?
- Judge the judges. The calibre of the judging panel is a good indication of the credibility of the awards. There should be a good mix of independent industry experts and business representatives that are not associated with the sponsors.
- Sponsor legacy. If there’s a pattern of sponsors winning all the awards in previous years, you should question the credibility.
- Awards legacy. How many years have the awards been around and how much clout do they have in your industry? The UK Digital Experience Awards is only in its second year but, in my opinion, is already among the most well-run and transparent industry awards. I didn’t know any of the other judges in my category; I independently scored the written entries and submitted my scores online. On judging day, the judges were not allowed to confer and submitted their own scores in a sealed envelope to some higher being who counted and collated. Until that envelope was opened, we had no idea who the winner was. No fixing here.
- What’s the catch? It’s not uncommon to pay to enter for an award but if you also have to pay for a table at the awards dinner in order to be considered, then take your money elsewhere. Paying for a seat at the awards ceremony should not be a prerequisite for winning.
Writing a winning entry
You only have one chance to impress the judges – don’t waste it. Here’s how you can catch their attention:
- Plan ahead. In an ideal world, you’d know which awards you want to enter for the year and start the entry process early. You’d appoint a professional awards team who have great ROI stats, beautiful visuals and have time to write a high-quality entry. In reality, award entries tend to be last-minute efforts that don’t showcase actual results.
- Tell a story. A good story is hard to resist. Take the judges on a journey with a beginning, a middle and an end, complete with twists and turns along the way. Judges will remember that experience when it comes to scoring.
- Keep it simple. No acronyms, please. Also, if you’re going to mention a platform, be sure to explain what it is and how it works.
- Be original. Many entries are copy-and-paste jobs from the company’s website. Judges don’t want to know what your business does. They want to know what business problem you set out to solve, how you solved it and what the results were.
- Include results. If you don’t show results, it’s not likely that you’ll win. The judges are not there to nick your ideas and steal your customers, so share your success. If you can’t, include a reference from a happy client to add credibility to your entry.
Making it through to the next round
You’ve been invited to do a presentation – now what?
- Prepare. It’s amazing how much you can fit into a 15-minute presentation when you prepare for it. One team had four speakers and two videos and it didn’t feel rushed at all. Rehearse your presentation and stick to your time allocation – running over is not a good sign because you leave little time for the judges to prepare for the next presentation – and to score yours.
- Be low maintenance. Set up quickly – you can’t afford to waste time fiddling with cables and technology. Also, don’t try to make conversation with the judges unless you have loads of time; they have a scoring sheet and “ability to do pleasantries” probably isn’t on there.
- Repeat and augment. Rehash what was in your written entry. Judges are tired and will need reminding. Then, make it interesting with dynamic content. One of the best teams that I judged used virtual reality headsets to bring their content to life.
- Include your team. If there’s one thing worse than a badly-written entry, it’s watching a CEO take charge of the presentation while the rest of the team stand around like spare parts. Not cool. Everyone who was involved in the project should have a role in the presentation.
- Give a nod to your client. This is for agencies. Remember that these results are as much about your client as they are about you.
Winning an award for work well done should be an exciting and proud moment for your team – finally, someone other than your mum has recognised your hard work. Yes, you have to be in it to win it, but being shortlisted requires a lot more thought and effort than just entering and hoping for the best.