Rewarding the effort: how to win a PRWeek Award

How do you win a PRWeek Award? While there's no single answer, there are numerous practical tips that can help your chances.

How do you win a PRWeek Award? While there's no single answer, there are tips that can help your chances. Rose Gordon talks to former judges to gather some advice.

PRWeek Award winners are chosen from among hundreds of entries by a group of the industry's leading communicators from top companies, associations, and agencies. These PR pros will descend on New York City in December to review entries and determine who ultimately will stand on stage next March with trophy in hand.

“The judges work hard to discern the best work and find those outstanding examples of the industry,” says Mike Fernandez, corporate VP of corporate affairs for Cargill and last year's PRWeek Awards chairman.

As chair, Fernandez observed the entire judging process, moving from table to table as judges sifted through materials and debated entries. “They're probing through piles of data, samples of communications work, and measurement of that work,” he says. “They're going from table to the DVD to observe the campaign from investment to execution to achievement of results.”

Advancing from entry point to finalist to the stage on Awards night is no easy feat. “Those who end up as finalists have achieved quite a lot because we're looking at some of the best work,” notes Fernandez.

Past judges and winners offered their perspectives on what catapults an entry to the winners' circle.

1. Start early.
There are two months remaining to submit award candidates before the deadline closes for the 2012 PRWeek Awards. With dozens of categories, there are plenty of options from which to choose, and there's still time to put the final polish on submissions.

Rob Flaherty, a former PRWeek Awards judge and president of Ketchum, the most decorated PRWeek Awards agency winner over the last 12 years, says the firm maintains an internal review process that ensures submission quality. The program provides feedback to candidates before they enter. Firms should allow staff time to dedicate to the submission process, he adds.

2. Pick your best work.
PRWeek Award winners often define the best work of a company or agency. To ferret out those top examples, consider the key characteristics of the campaign and be honest: Is it built on pre-launch research? Does that data inform the execution of the campaign? Is there something unique about this effort that will make it stand out to the judges? Are the results solid or just so-so? Additionally, read category descriptions carefully to ensure entrance to the appropriate group.

“You can't retrofit a campaign to win,” Flaherty adds. “You must develop a campaign that has the characteristics to win from the beginning.”

3. Get permission.
PRWeek hears all too often from agencies who fear asking clients for permission to submit a campaign for review. Sensitive subjects aside, in-house communicators say winning an award provides recognition to their teams. “It's a morale builder because it's such a prestigious award,” says Sara Tatchio, a judge last year and manager of global integrated communications for Ford Motor Company. Moreover, in-house teams often don't have resources to dedicate to award submissions, so a firm's request might be met with a “thanks,” rather than “No, thanks,” she relates.

Flaherty says the agency obtains permission early in the process and it often turns into a “very good client relationship-building opportunity,” particularly if the entry becomes a finalist or wins the award.

4. Clearly state the objective.
Over and over, judges say it's imperative to make the campaign objective clear from the start. “If I read through an entry, I should know how you achieved that goal and how it ultimately helps the business,” says Malcolm Berkley, a PRWeek Awards judge and manager of publications and content strategy for UPS' employee and brand communications.

5. Be thorough in your entry form.
The entry form is the first – and sometimes last – piece of information judges will read. It is your pitch to them. “People underestimate the importance of the narrative summary,” says Eleanor Petigrow, a past PRWeek Awards judge and the creative and strategic planning lead for Chandler Chicco Companies. “These shouldn't be an afterthought. It needs a compelling lead and persuasive opener to grab our attention.”

6. Highlight creativity.
Beyond solidifying the core tenets that build a successful PR campaign, judges seek creative solutions and tactics. Judges review hundreds of entries in some categories, so making a submission stand out is vital. “The Barbie campaign was so brilliant. It was creative, but yet so simple,” says Tatchio about the 2011 PRWeek Campaign of the Year. “When people think about creativity, they overthink it.”

7. Complexity scores high.
Judges are impressed by creative campaigns and those that demonstrate how a team navigates a crisis or other meaty business issue. “The ones that catch my eye are those that try to address a difficult business issue and, through some inspiration, come up with something that is not only creative, but makes a difference for the company or literally drives revenue,” says Fernandez.

Berkley agrees. “For me, it was making the complex simple,” he adds. “For example, taking a complex financial or social issue, pulling out the nuggets that really matter, and laying it out clearly for the judge.”

8. Select relevant collateral.
Videos, clippings, websites, and Twitter streams – these are all items judges must comb through on top of the written submissions. Collateral can help bring a submission to life, but judges caution against submitting irrelevant or too many support materials. “Don't overwhelm me,” says Tatchio. “Make it efficient and compelling. Video is OK, but not a 10-minute video.”

9. Results that impress
Demonstrable ROI that ties back to campaign objectives could be the single most important criteria for judges. “People are sometimes very proud of the creative, but aren't very explicit in the results,” cautions Fernandez. “The work looks great and it's appealing, but we're left wondering if it made any difference.”

Petigrow adds that she looks for “results that demonstrate reach and frequency across multiple channels.”

10. Don't neglect the budget.
Doing more with less often impresses judges, providing effective smaller-budget campaigns a chance to win.

“The expectation is that much higher for big budgets,” says Berkley. He also recommends making it exceedingly clear how much of the budget is PR versus advertising or other marketing expenditures.

“We look to see if the budget was limited and were the teams still able to deliver impressive results,” adds Petigrow.

11. Spelling counts.
And grammar, too. No matter how great the campaign, judges are likely to discredit an entry if it is poorly written, confusing, or filled with typos. Don't submit your entry until someone else has proofread it. “The details are what kill you,” says Berkley.

Entry deadline: Monday, October 3, 2011
How to enter: Download entry kit at prweekus.com/awards
Entry and event information: Adele Durham, events manager, adele.durham@prweek.com; 646-638-6157
Sponsorship information: Joanna Harp, VP of sales, joanna.harp@prweek.com; 646-638-6170

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