Award entries: the good, the bad and the ugly


A a few pet hates that I share with several other judges, and some tips on writing a winning entry.

Award entries: the good, the bad and the ugly

Someone told me they saw my twitter breakdown the other week and asked if I was now ok?

While the comment was somewhat tongue in cheek, the question referred to half a dozen tweets I posted while reading a hundred or so award entries, which is enough to send anyone into meltdown.

I dread to think how many award entries I’ve read over the last ten years, but its well into the thousands. Unfortunately many of them, in fact most of them, have been and continue to be pretty awful. I should caveat briefly that I’ve also written dozens of award entries in various categories (many that won and many that didn’t) and have judged awards entered by advisers, insurers and journalists, as well as judging marketing and advertising awards.

So here are a few pet hates that I know I share with several other judges, and tips on writing a winning entry:

  • Take it seriously. If you’re going to enter an award read the criteria carefully and write a relevant entry.
  • Don’t send a sales aid as your entry, and don’t send in an old entry that was written for a different set of awards.
  • Don’t ignore the word count. Those who blatantly go over by hundreds, if not thousands of words are likely to have their entries dismissed.
  • Make your best points first and back up your claims with evidence. It’s amazing how many entries talk about a firm’s good intentions (some call it marketing waffle) without actually including any facts. Not every firm can be a ‘leader in social media’ and every company ‘puts the customer at the heart of its proposition’. Saying it doesn’t mean anything, the trick is to prove it.
  • Be aware that your entries do get read (well, most of them do – some are frankly embarrassing and quickly binned) and that judges may check out your claims. I’ve often sat in judging sessions where we’ve looked up a company’s website or social media account to see if their claims are genuine.
  • Personally, I like stats. “98.7% of customers rated our service as excellent according to XYZ independent research”. But it is disappointing how many entries for areas such as customer service don’t include any information on service standards or how their service is measured. More facts. Less waffle.
  • “Ah, but others have got big marketing departments and I’m too busy.” Everyone is busy. You either want to win the award or you don’t. Regardless of whether you have two staff or 2000, take it seriously if you want to win. Big marketing departments don’t always help. Sometimes entries can be way too slick – a case of too much style over substance. Judges can often spot this and may favour the underdog.
  • When sitting there thinking ‘I don’t have time to do this’ remember how you felt on the night last year when XYZ firm won all the awards. Think about how winning could help with marketing and sales (it might even be one of your targets from that last appraisal).
  • Think about who is best placed to write and approve your entries. Managers and directors always want to win (and collect the trophies) but often leave the task of writing the entry to someone who probably won’t be invited to the ceremony. Hmmm.

Not all entries are rubbish of course. Some are excellent, which is what makes judging fun. You see a company doing really well, you learn from it yourself, and you want to reward their effort and encourage others.

Most of all – if you don’t win (or even if you do) why not ask the judges for feedback so you know where to improve (or what to do again next year).

It’s not about getting knocked down; it’s about how quickly you get back up.

So keep entering until you win.