Quality, not quantity

While there's no exact formula for winning a PRWeek Award, Chris Daniels gets tips from former judges that will help awards submissions rise above the competition.

While there's no exact formula for winning a PRWeek Award, Chris Daniels gets tips from former judges that will help awards  submissions rise above the competition.


Every December, PR leaders from the corporate and agency side, in addition to industry associations, come together in New York City for the PRWeek Awards judging.

Their task: evaluate more than a hundred submissions in a variety of award categories to determine who wins the top prizes in March.

"There is so much value from a judge's perspective. We have the opportunity to look at the breadth of work being done in PR. It is exciting, and to see the evolution of the campaigns affords a judge an incredible vantage point," says Christine Cea, senior director of marketing communications at Unilever and this year's PRWeek Awards chair of judges.

While there is always healthy debate among the judges about the merits of entries, judges of PRWeek Awards past say strong submissions quickly ascend to the top of the consideration list. The best submissions, says Matt Harrington, global COO of Edelman and a former judge, are the ones that have been crafted into a carefully constructed narrative. This includes the written component as well as supporting collateral including press clippings, videos, social media pages, and websites.

"A submission needs to be presented as a coherent set of documents that tie together," says Harrington. "I am surprised by how many agencies throw pages together in a three-ring binder, add some tabs, and don't bother to tell a story."

A key component of any submission should be the metrics, says Gary Sheffer, VP, corporate communications and public affairs for GE and last year's judging chairman.

"I want to see an entry demonstrate how client work made a difference and, if it did, to what degree," Sheffer says. This means going far beyond media impressions.

"More and more, I look for metrics in both traditional media and digital and social media that show genuine, meaningful, and lasting stakeholder engagement," says Sheffer.

Submissions need to stand out

Gary Sheffer, (standing) and Gail Heimann, (far right), judges at last year's awards, look for outstanding results in campaigns

Winning a PRWeek Award has as much to do with putting together a well-articulated submission as it does selecting work that is truly award-worthy.

Gail Heimann, a former PRWeek Awards judge and global vice chair of Weber Shandwick, recommends that agencies review the work they've produced over the past year through an industry, rather than agency, lens.

"It has to stand out. Judges look for work that had truly exceptional results, met extraordinary objectives, or was done in an extraordinary way," says Heimann.

Last year's awards chair Gary Sheffer, VP, corporate communications and public affairs for GE, says agencies have to demonstrate what the campaign did for the client beyond media impressions.

"You want to look for campaigns that made a difference to clients, things outside the routine." he explains. "Ultimately, you need to show the work made a demonstrable difference to the organization and can be pointed to as a reason for some of their success."

Once an agency has identified possible contenders for submission, Matt Harrington, past judge and global COO of Edelman, recommends they approach the client.

"Better submissions often include research from the client's marketing department and other areas of the enterprise outside communications," says Harrington.

On their own, however, metrics only tell part of the story. Metrics included in a submission should be directly tied to the objectives of the campaign, advises Kathy Cripps, president for the Council of  Public Relations Firms, and a judge for last year's PRWeek Awards.

"I found some submissions didn't necessarily correlate results with objectives, but that is one of the first things that I look at," says Cripps. She says agencies also need to ensure they include details that help judges understand the parameters of the work they did.

"Agencies that don't include a budget in their entry, for instance, do themselves a disservice," she says. "Judges want a perspective on how much money the agency had to spend to accomplish what they did."

While it is important a submission includes the required components, when it comes to content, judges say typically that less is more, which means being succinct as possible in the written portion of the entry. 

"You begin to suspect the quality of the work isn't what is being touted when they have to overwhelm you with volume," says Sheffer.  Agencies can strip down their submissions by resisting the urge to embellish.

"I see a lot of entries with too much hyperbole," adds Sheffer. "I'd rather see an honest assessment."

Gail Heimann, global vice chair of Weber Shandwick and a frequent PRWeek Awards judge, also cautions agencies to watch out for overuse of jargon.

"People, myself included, have fallen in love with some of the language used in social and digital media. I think that's where some of the lack of succinctness comes in," says Heimann. "This new lexicon can verge on the mumbo jumbo."

Supporting collateral should also be kept to a minimum, say former judges; showcase work that truly supports the written submission. If you're going to include video, for instance, make sure it doesn't come off as an in-house sales pitch.

"Judges tend to watch the video together and often you see the kind of video that might be shown at a management meeting," says Heimann. ÒIt just takes one person to go, 'eh.'"

As well, collateral material won't make much difference if your binder entry isn't rock solid.

"The binder has to entice judges to look at the video and other material," Cripps says. That is why it's so important agencies devote the appropriate time and resources to put their most persuasive case forward, she adds.

"There are lots of agencies out there that do great work," Cripps says. "Unfortunately, that isn't always clear from the submissions that come in."

Making the most of an award win
Agencies submit work into the PRWeek Awards in large part to get recognition for their staff, say agency and account leaders.

Those who have won in the past say there are ways to maximize the value of winning, particularly inside the agency.

When GolinHarris won a PRWeek Award last year for "Public Affairs Campaign of the Year" for client Waters Corp, for instance, Michael Schmidt, executive director and client lead for Waters, says the agency celebrated with a party for the team.

More importantly, though, the award was recognized by senior leadership, including in an email to staff worldwide that was sent from Fred Cook, president and CEO at GolinHarris.

Edelman, which has won a number of PRWeek Awards, also celebrates winners through in-office celebrations and its in-house newsletter, says Matt Harrington, global COO of Edelman.

In addition to internal communications, agency pros tell PRWeek there are opportunities to maximize the value externally, such as in client pitches that can help an agency illustrate its experience with a particular tactic or industry.

PRWeek Awards 2013
Entry deadline:
Friday, October 5, 2012

How to enter:
Download entry kits at prweekus.com/awards

Entry and event information:
Adele Durham, senior events manager
adele.durham@prweek.com
646-638-6157

Sponsorship information:
Lauren Lombardo, advertising director
lauren.lombard@prweek.com
646-638-6032

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