How to Produce Winning Award Submissions and Avoid Embarrassing Your Brand

The 2017 Awards season is in full swing, and that means there will be just a few days without a bevy of tweets, emails and LinkedIn posts promoting award entry deadlines or celebrating award winners -- and with good reason. Not only is the awards market an incredibly profitable business for those who produce them, it provides winning companies incomparable third-party recognition and validation.

Unfortunately, before that inevitable onslaught of celebratory tweets and emails, awards judges like me will be presented with a slew of poorly-produced submissions that are nothing to rave about. For example, internal notes in a submission, like “Ask Barbara* if we can use these numbers”, or not including a video of a campaign in an entry for “Best Video”, or ignoring all category requirements and submitting an irrelevant submission anyway.

For the first fifteen years of my career, I was either directing or creating these award submissions. Trust and believe me, I know the angst of creating award submissions: The hours of data collection, messaging strategy, result analysis and ultimately, the packaging of the overarching award-worthy story. I also know that as challenging as the internal reviews are to navigate, the customer approval process is even more precarious.



For the past eight years, I’ve been on the other side, and that evokes a slightly different kind of angst when it comes to awards today. As a judge for technology, business and advertising awards, my apprehension exists because judging awards is an extremely time-consuming endeavor. Judges know the stakes are high for those who enter; therefore, we take the review process quite seriously. 

However, for every stellar entry I have the pleasure of reviewing, there are usually five completely irrelevant or sloppy submissions. Can you believe that? That’s not a ratio any industry should reward. Put simply, the clutter of bad submissions can make the process more cumbersome than it needs to be.

Want to make sure your brand or your clients’ brands aren’t contributing to the scourge of bad submissions? Here’s my winning awards submission check list: 

  • Cut the jargon: Your submissions are critically reviewed by industry experts. Show them you know your market, customers and company using real words that mean something.
  • Answer the questions: Thoroughly consider the questions the awards organization has posed for each award nomination. If you can’t answer the question, it’s probably not the category for you.
  • Be succinct: It’s about quality not quantity. Answer the questions that satisfy the category, but just because there’s a word count maximum doesn’t mean you have to meet it.
  • Be selective: Judges typically review award submissions for several categories which means when you submit for multiple awards, they may see every one of those redundant submissions. While it’s certainly acceptable to submit the same campaign or product for multiple categories, ensure the submission is tailored for each category.
  • Proofread your work: We notice your mistakes. While we know mistakes happen, judges also note the sloppiness and chances are, even things like typos and misspellings will count against you. We all work in the same sector and we remember what your submissions show us about your company, even when it’s not complimentary.
  • Show AND tell: Always err on the side of showing the work you are describing. You are asking judges to imagine what you are describing; make it easy for them by bringing it to life. If you are submitting for creative awards, this is essential.
  • Prove results: This is one of the biggest areas of criteria for a winning submission.If you or your client are concerned about results data leaking, place a note in your submission that states the results are completely confidential. 
  • Stand out: Even if you have done everything mentioned above, get creative. Develop a voiceover sizzle reel that summarizes the campaign or attach a press release detailing why you won the award, for example.  Make it clear why your submission should win.  

Look, we all know why awards matter. They promote industry community and boost team morale, allow senior management to recognize employees and showcase company uniqueness and leadership. So, if you are going to dedicate significant time and resources (i.e. funds) towards entering awards, make sure you put every effort into developing a winning submission. 

*Actual name was changed here.

1 comment about "How to Produce Winning Award Submissions and Avoid Embarrassing Your Brand".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Mack McKelvey from SalientMG replied, October 23, 2017 at 6:12 p.m.

    Thank you Paula! 

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications