How to win an industry award (by award winners & winning writers)

how to win an industry awardIn 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!


Getting lazy

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)

Engage!10 Wedding Business Summit – emotion & visual storytelling

Engage!10 Cayman Islands

(Image by Lara Casey)

On June 7 – 10, 2010 I did not attend Engage!10. In fact, they didn’t even have a virtual component to the conference. But I was still part of their virtual audience…a remote and passive group of viewers who witnessed the event through the blogs, tweets, Facebook status updates, pictures and videos of the live attendees.

For those of you who don’t know yet, Engage!10 is a luxury and exclusive wedding business summit that is held twice a year for an intimate group of 175 of the industry’s brightest. June’s event took place on the beautiful Cayman Islands and their upcoming October event will be held at The Breakers Palm Beach.

Now I’ve been involved in many a conference over the years both as a speaker and a delegate – most of which were targeted to the special events community. Two things struck me as remarkable about this event.

Engage!10 wedding business summit

(Image via Avery House)

1. Emotion | As I read the communications from the attendees, I was moved by the passionate words they used to describe their experience: ‘it was the most amazing time of my life’, ‘I made relationships that will last a lifetime’, ‘I had business-changing conversations’, I felt reinvigorated & inspired…and the list goes on.

I asked Rebecca Grinnals of Engaging Concepts who is the brains and heart behind this event, why she thought people were so moved by Engage!10. She modestly ascribed it to something that happens organically when you get this group together. But it became clear as I listened to her speak that it was attributed to a clear and focused vision for her event.

Rebecca shared with me that for many years she felt frustration with the lack of education for professionals in her industry. If you wanted to attend a wedding conference, it was most likely an event that was marketed to brides. At one such event a speaker asked the audience to put up their hands if they were an event planner. Almost 75% of the audience raised their arms. Rebecca knew what she had to do next.

Her vision was to create the kind of event she would love to attend. One that takes the best thinkers in the luxury wedding industry and focuses on inspiring and motivating through high level content. More importantly, Rebecca wanted to create an atmosphere where over the course of the summit attendees could dance with, have drinks with and break bread with the speakers. After all, these one-on-one conversations stimulate some of the best ideas and partnerships…organically.

Engage!10 Wedding Business Summit

(Image by Lara Casey)

2. Visual Storytelling | Take one look at the images from this event and your jaw will drop. No matter who took the pictures, the story is the same…and that’s not easy to accomplish. Every single detail of this event was visually branded Engage!10. Why is this so important? In this new age of social media, the experience of your in-face attendees can influence the desire for your online audience to attend next time around. Photos and videos are very sharable. According to David Kirkpatrick, author of the Facebook Effect, for many years more than 50% of all pageviews on Facebook are of photos! We love to look at photos. I can attest that the many pictures I saw of the event made me want to attend.

Engage!10 Wedding Business Summit

(Image via Avery House)

Rebecca says that the keys to success in visually branding her event were to:

1. Start with a color palette . For this event, Rebecca choose a teal and yellow combination. This palette was chosen when she did a site visit at the Ritz Carleton. The colors were simple and unique and every single detail used this combination – from the website to the programs to the signage to the table tops.

Engage!10 Wedding Business Summit

(Image via Avery House)

2. Have a graphic designer as her right-hand man (errrr…woman) . Every detail was designed by their resident visual brand stakeholder. This ensured consistency and an aesthetic worthy of the Engage!10 name.

3. Think about every single detail . What color is Rebecca wearing at the podium? Why yellow, of course. She laughs when I point out that I noticed this and claims that she doesn’t own another piece of yellow in her wardrobe. But she bought it because it helps tell the story. Just look at the image below in combination with the other images in this post. It all fits.

Engage10 Cayman Islands

(Image by Lara Casey)

Rebecca also sent me a piece from her summit that is amicably referred to as their Face Book. It’s gold for any attendee. Inside is the picture, name, company, location, website and twitter address for every single attendee!! Yes, before you ask, this is a logistical nightmare – ever try to ask 175 people for their head shots? But it provides so much value and reinforces the vision of Rebecca to create high value connections for everyone who attends. Fab!

engage!10 face book

Are you as taken as I am? Then sign up for the next summit being held October 3-6, 2010 at The Breakers Palm Beach.

Check out what some attendees have had to say about Engage!10:

Lara CaseyJasmin Star, Donna von Bruening – Day 1, Day 2 & 3, Momental Designs – Part 1Part 2, Rebecca Davidson – Part 1,Part 2Part 3, David Wolfe Photography – Part 1Part 2Better AngleCelebrations Cayman, Bridal Bar – Part 1Part 2Elizabeth Anne DesignsJules BianchiThink SplendidMccallum SolutionsSean Low

Engage!10 Wedding Business Summit

(Image via Avery House)

I'm baaaaack

I got home a couple of days ago after spending 3 magical weeks in the Philippines for Events Asia 2010. I have some amazing stories and can’t wait to share them with you. In the mean time I put together this video to showcase a smidgen of what Michael and I experienced in our short stay in Paradise.


bucket list

If I had a bucket list, I’m sure that being carried up on stage in a swing by some handsome Philippino men would be somewhere in the top 10.

As you know, I’m at Events Asia 2010 presenting on Social Media. I showed up this morning to do a run-through with the other speakers and learned that I would be arriving on stage in grand style! Three very strong men carried me across the conference room floor using a bamboo rod and a rattan swing. I tried my best to look demure and like I’ve done this many times before…although I’m not sure I pulled that off very well.

So, do you think I should add this to my rider? 😉

Events Asia 2010

I can’t wait to share more photos and videos from the conference…

bizbash Toronto . top 100 events

Last Thursday I attended BizBash Toronto’s Top 100 Events at Brassaii. Despite 2009 being a tough year for the events industry, there was still a great showing of concerts, fashion events, festivals, corporate awards and everything in between. It was a great evening chatting with new and old friends.

After the event, we moved over to Buca for some good eats. It was a short walk through an alleyway to find this hidden gem. I loved the concept of this restaurant, which was launched by the old owners of Brassaii. Meat hooks graced the undersides of tables (get this…they were installed so ladies could hang their purses!), a huge leg of prosciutto anchored the main bar and tables were laden with Italian comfort food. I highly recommend this restaurant!