How To Win At Awards

I’ve been judging the annual Mediatel Media Research Awards. Well done to all who entered, taking on what is a major commitment. In the exact opposite of a spoiler I can assure you that this post contains zero details of shortlists, winners, losers or anything else relating to the judges’ decisions.

What it does seek to do is to offer some (hopefully) constructive advice to those entering (not just these ones; I’ve done my share across various awards). What follows may seem obvious, but these points are frequently overlooked.

First, keep to the rules and most specifically the word count. That much is obvious. If you’re allowed to use links as appendices do use them, but not as a way of getting around the word count. It’s an old trick, and judges are wise to it. If you want to include an ad or a chart, make sure the link works. If it doesn’t, you can be sure we won’t bother with it.

Second, don’t spend valuable words telling us how wonderful you and/or your organisation are. That’s for us to decide. If your PR people push you to put in the corporate plug, tell them that you’re less likely to win if you do as they ask. Judges have spent half a lifetime spotting puffery.

Third, please don’t make in-jokes. They might seem hilarious to you and your colleagues; to us they’re both incomprehensible and a waste of words.

Fourth have someone outside your immediate circle review your entry. The majority of entries I read (and not just in these particular awards) are confusing and badly written.

Get someone outside the business to read your entry. Did they understand it? They don’t have to appreciate all the clever technical twists and turns, but they do need to get the drift. If it’s well enough written they’ll get it; if it’s stuffed full of jargon and doesn’t flow as a narrative they won’t.

Next, check the basics – spelling and grammar included. I recall one entry that included charts pulled from a presentation for a different client, with the different client’s name still on the layout.

Making basic mistakes will send the message you don’t care about the detail. Not a good idea if you want to win.

Finally, be aware of who the judges are. I have a memory of one entry once that referenced something I was myself directly involved in with at least one important element misquoted. Just remember the judges are selected because we know stuff; don’t assume we don’t.

This year’s Mediatel awards had over 90 entries. The judges read almost all of them (some of us opted out of a few for reasons such as having a vested interest).  The ones that did well are the ones that (aside from being smart, original and answering a need) read well, were easy to understand, and had a structure. You need a beginning, a middle and an end; what you set out to do, what you did, and what you achieved.

If you entered, well done. Ordering your thoughts, building a case, summarising your work are all great disciplines that will stand you in good stead in your career.

If you hear you’ve been shortlisted, congratulations. Out of 90 plus entries you stood out. That’s a terrific achievement.

If you won – thanks for being the reason why I judge these things: sometimes I read an entry that teaches me something, and at the same time makes my heart sing.