In a recent advisory board meeting I attended, the topic of award entries came up. The perception is that the same names win in their category year after year after year. What do they know that you don’t?
How to win an award
I asked 4 judges, who are also award winners themselves, and 2 writers, who create award-winning entries for their clients, what you need to know. The answers might surprise you…
Meet the Judges
Andrea Michaels, President, Extraordinary Events
Colja Dams, CEO, VOK Dams Group
Tony Conway, Owner, A Legendary Event
Janet Elkins, President, Eventworks
Meet the Writers
Ruth Moyte, Wordmaker, Red Dandelion Creative
Michelle Bergstein-Fontanez, Director of Marketing, Exhilarate Events
What are the biggest mistakes companies make when submitting an award entry?
Not reading the rules!
Colja: Most award entries are turned down even before the jury gets together because formalities are missed.
Janet: Submissions that do not provide all information requested, are thrown together carelessly or are not written within specified guidelines (word counts, layout, etc.) may result in a reduction of points awarded. It is best to read and reread and then go back point by point through your submission to ensure all elements required are included and that any directions provided have been followed perfectly.
Missing the mark
Andrea: Not paying attention to what is really needed vs. the egotistical need to praise yourself into winning, because of course you are the most original, the most cost effective, the most creative and all that bullsh*t.
Ruth: Understand why your entry should be considered to win. What’s the angle – what sets apart your project from the others? If you can’t answer those questions with something other than “because I want to win an award”, it’s back to the drawing board. If you don’t understand why your project should win, most likely a judge won’t either.
Underestimating the power of photography
Michelle: No matter how minute the picture, or even how bad the picture may be, an award entry’s sole purpose is to tell the story about the event. Pictures are really worth a thousand words. As soon as you start planning an event, hire an amazing photographer and, if you can, also get a videographer. Give them specific direction on a shot list – from setting up, challenges, and during the event. Also be sure your photographer/videographer captures the emotion of the event and the artistry, yes that may be a little vague, but get them to capture all the details that went into planning the event. No detail should be left uncovered!
Ruth: Pushing timeframes to the wire, and then writing in a rush is a big mistake. If you’re writing for yourself, give yourself time. If you’re having a writer do it, give them even more time. Editing is a part of the natural writing process. When you don’t give yourself enough time to write, then you’re cheating yourself.
Janet: It is imperative to write the submission specific to each award and focused on the elements pertinent to that individual award. You may develop an incredible submission for one award but use the same thing for another and you may miss key items that the second award calls for or the judging panel may feel that you are just dialing it in rather than truly investing in the submission process. This is also true when submitting an event to different publications, organizations or award presenters. There is an opportunity for cross over in judges and the requirements of submission for one may not match the requirements for another.
Writing a sales letter
Michelle: A big mistake I’ve seen is positioning entry content like a sales letter or promotional piece. This is not an ad, nor a sales campaign, this is an award entry, judged by fellow event professionals and veteran judges. The’ve seen it all, been through it all.
Talking facts, not stories.
Ruth – They should be able to transport me to the event so that I can imagine experiencing everything first hand.
Tell me about an entry that stuck out in your mind, either really great or really bad.
Andrea: I want to be amazed. And there are so very many examples (I’m talking about great right now). Last year for Gala I saw an entry for Venice, Italy where the visuals were so incredible and the scope of the job so amazing, nothing could compare. The film they sent, the photos they took were incredible…you felt the event come alive.
And the bad and ugly? One entry on floral was about three paragraphs which told no unusual story, and a few small photos loosely put into a binder so they were falling out. If the entrant felt so little commitment to the award I didn’t think the entry could possibly be worthy.
Janet: One great entry that stands out for me is one I have seen from Thailand. I feel like sometimes we in the West a bit arrogant about our belief in the ability to produce cutting edge, award worthy events with our access to premier technology and décor as compared to other places and we forget the beauty and creativity that comes from other countries and other cultures. The event I am thinking of was spectacular – starting with great depictions through quality photographs. The event showed the company’s complete attention to detail displaying beautiful work that incorporated creative fabric colors and designs in unique formats while tying in stunning floral elements to enhance the overall look. That detail also showed in the submission of their entry – it was thorough and well organized. Everything supported a central theme and provided multiple interesting visual experiences both for those looking at the photos as well I assume for those who actually attended the event.
What opportunities do you think businesses are missing out on?
Leveraging the nomination.
1. Market not only your award win but also your entry and nominations
2. Use social media to share the news with your connections
3. While at the awards ceremony:
- Share a few highlights about your award nominations
- Thank your clients for allowing the event to be nominated
Janet: It is important to have press coverage of any kind – the more exposure, the more opportunities your business will have. Take the time to submit press releases, photos, blogs, award entries, etc. on all interesting o unique events you are involved in – even if you only produced a portion of the event. Explain your participation and the aspect that your company produced, include photos as applicable. Take advantage of any opportunity where you can display and be acknowledged for your work.
What would you say to someone who says they don’t think their event or business is award-worthy?
Tony: You never get nominated or win if you don’t enter. All business is award-winning if you write it well and submit great photography.
Janet: Let someone else be the judge. If your event or business has any element that is unique, creative or newsworthy it is worth the attempt. Even if you do not deem what you are doing as award worthy, consider turning your submission into a blog contribution or article for a magazine. Remember, press coverage and exposure makes for good opportunities.
Colja: If you don’t try – you will never win.
Andrea: Like everything in life it’s a numbers game and you will never know what judges are looking for. Enter, enter, enter and you’ll each time learn how to write better and produce better photography. And all of us who work at this crazy industry are worthy of an award. And if you don’t think anything you do is “worthy” then start changing what you do.
In order to create an amazing entry, what processes do you recommend a business implements?
Janet: Take a personal approach to each entry, share the mood, the feelings the event was intended to engender. Set the stage that draws the reader in to help them share the experience that the attendees had. The judges may review a large number of submissions, if yours is well written and memorable you have a better chance of standing out.
And, submit it in advance of the deadline just in case there is a foul up to give yourself enough opportunity to make sure it gets there in plenty of time.
Colja: Work on it while it’s still fresh – and make sure you get the pictures needed.
Andrea: Take notes on site so you don’t forget anything memorable. Do a careful outline of everything you want to include. Write the entry then put away. After a while rewrite and put away again. When you think you have the final fabulous entry send to someone to read who has no experience with that event and ask them to tell you everything that could be improved upon. They are reading for content, just like a judge will. And invest everyone on the team who worked on this event to help you with the entry, adding their personal anecdotes. I also recommend making it a light hearted read so judges can have some fun reading it.
Michelle: If you can’t hire a writer to do your award entry, work out a reduced fee for them to proofread it and make the due diligence review to make sure you have all your ducks in a row. At the end of the day, 90% of the process is following the award entry rules to a T, a minor misstep can disqualify you despite how amazing your content is.
Ruth: I believe that you know early on in the process if an event is going to be award worthy from a uniqueness angle. You may not know all the challenges that are going to arise, but to me those are the icing on the cake. When I used to produce, I always knew ahead of time that I’d be entering – or least 99% of the time. The “it” factor would pop on my radar and I’d start paying attention, writing notes, funny stories. Write down notes right after the event while you’re still emotional about it. Or call me and tell me about it so that I can write them down. I prefer to write an event when it is exciting and fresh in everyone’s mind. It makes for a better entry.
Get away from the office when writing. Go somewhere that you are comfortable and relaxed. Grab a glass of wine or a beverage, write from where you feel creative. It should be quiet and solitary so that you can concentrate well. If you like music, turn some on in the background. The key is to be comfortable.
Will you be participating in an upcoming award entry? Don’t miss the upcoming Canadian Event Industry Awards and the Event Marketing Awards (entries are due soon, but you still have time).
(photo via Vitó)