Among the things I’m known for at Clarity is my ability to write winning award nominations for clients, as well as for our agency. It’s not something every agency does, and, as far as I can tell, it’s not something most PR professionals perceive as a core competency. But everyone loves winning, right? So, perhaps we should elevate the craft to one on par with press release writing and other staples of the PR trade.
Now, I’ve had a lot of practice putting award entries together throughout my career, and because of that I’m more comfortable and confident when doing them. But practice, in this case, at least, doesn’t make perfect. It’s made me faster, but not necessarily better. What has really improved my nominations is the experience I’ve had judging other nominations.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve jumped on the opportunity to evaluate nominations for different Stevie® and SVUS Awards programs, and I dream of someday serving on the jury for Digiday or TheDrum. It can be a big time commitment - I looked over something like 200 PR World/CEO World Award nominations recently - but it’s also inspiring to read about the great work my professional peers are doing. Still, borrowing great ideas aside, the best and inspiring nominations are less of an educational opportunity. I really learn from the ones that are...let’s just say, less inspiring.
But I’ll save all y’all some time and frustration and you can skip the part where you have to slog through the so-so and cringe worthy by offering these five tips for writing a great award nomination:
1. Be Sure You Fit the Category
I feel sorry for the company that shells out hundreds of dollars for an entry fee, then submits for a category they simply don’t fit. In a case I ran across recently, the submitter clearly didn’t know what “Performance Marketing” was, because they entered a campaign they executed to promote a music event.
It seems an easy mistake to make, plus you don’t necessarily know what you don’t know. So I’ve made it a standard practice to look at the past winners in the category I’m considering. In this case, the applicant would have seen that the winners were martech firms or brands, and not theaters and record labels, indicating this wasn’t the category they should enter.
2. Be Relevant
Often, there are a number of different categories in which your product or service can fit, and entering in multiple categories is encouraged. But, during my most recent judging stint, I saw a lot of laziness, and it irked me. Basically, the applicant would just paste the same exact text into each even-slightly-relevant category. No customization whatsoever. Not only is reading the same thing over and over boring, it’s frustrating because there’s more irrelevant than relevant information.
How am I supposed to assess whether you’ve got the best CEO when all you tell me about is your product?
Here, I implore you to address the category directly in each nomination. X should win Y award because Z reasons. If the application asks a question, say something like “what challenges did you have to overcome,” please address that question, not the one you’d prefer to answer. Similarly, if the award has a specific time frame during which the work should have been executed, say something about that time frame.Too many times, I had to Google to figure out if an application met the criteria. Just add a couple dates and you’ll save your judge from a lot of unnecessary leg work.
3. Be Clear
I also refer to this as, “write for grandma.”
The goal of your nomination is to make the judge understand why your product, service, executive or company merits a particular honor. Don’t make them have to parse unnecessarily-complex and superfluous text, or worse yet, a bunch of jargon and marketing speak to figure out if they do or don’t deserve it.
First, don’t assume the judge is a subject matter expert in your area. Make sure your meaning is clear even to a layman. Second, remember that whether something is bad, mediocre or awesome is relative. Give the judge something against which they can compare.
For example, let’s say you increased click throughs by 10%. Well, maybe your rate was way below the industry norm and now you’re just getting to average. Or maybe you’re doing something revolutionary. I can’t tell unless you explain to me why 10% is impressive and/or give me a benchmark so I can really assess.
4. Highlight Results
I don’t want to read a product description or executive biography copied and pasted from your website or marketing collateral. I want to know what impact the person or product has.
A couple of examples: “Joe leads the marketing department.” Well, that’s nice, but it’s not award worthy. “With Joe’s leadership, the marketing department increased sales 100% year over year” is.
“Product X is the first of a kind.” So what? “Product X is the first to include feature Y, with which customer Z reduced spending by 50%.” Now that’s something I can sink my teeth into.
5. Put Yourself in the Judges’ Shoes
Metaphorically, of course. Most people wouldn't want to wear my actual, generally-very-high-heeled, shoes.
When you’re reading dozens of nominations in a single sitting, it can get boring really fast. Imagine yourself as the judge and think, “Is this compelling or would it put me to sleep?” If it’s the latter, for the love of God, please inject some color, humor and personality and make it a good story. A little bit of effort in this regard will go very, very long way.
Length is another issue. Just because you have however-many words doesn’t mean you have to use them. The more succinct you can be, the better. One way to do that is to replace long paragraphs with bullet lists where appropriate, such as when you’re providing all those great metrics to showcase impact.
Crafting an award nomination may not be the most popular tool in the PR box, but it can be an important one. And it shouldn’t be a daunting proposition. Just keep these five guidelines in mind as you write and I promise, you’ll see the difference in the results.
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