ANALYSIS: PRWeek Awards 2003: the only way to win is to enter

As PRWeek launches its call for entries, Jonah Bloom looks to last year's judges to offer tips on what it takes to bring home the most coveted trophy in the PR industry

As PRWeek launches its call for entries, Jonah Bloom looks to last year's judges to offer tips on what it takes to bring home the most coveted trophy in the PR industry

While the winner beams beatifically at the camera, reveling in the glamour and glory of their shiny new accolade, PRWeek's editor is collared in the corner by a disgruntled punter. "We should have won in the consumer category," grumbles the boutique agency chief. "What campaign did you enter?" asks the beleaguered editor. "Oh, we didn't enter this year," responds the complainant. "It's not worth it. We never win anyway - the big agencies always win the prizes." Defeatist as it may sound, this exchange is true to life, and highlights the most important point about landing a PRWeek Award - you have to be in it to win it. It also highlights one of the biggest myths about the awards: that they are skewed toward big agencies and big budgets. Randy Gayton, VP of Fletcher Martin Ewing, a small full-service agency that won last year's Product Brand Development award, debunks that myth: "We've judged awards before now," he says. "What you learn is that it's about having a great campaign, and not about the name above the door. We knew we had executed a great campaign [for the MC Lady Golf Ball], so we had no fear in going up against the biggest agencies." That attitude paid dividends, as the agency saw off 96 other entries, including many from multinational shops. The size of the budget is equally irrelevant. Keith Lindenbergh, SVP of Waggener Edstrom, and one of last year's panel of more than 60 judges, says, "It absolutely doesn't have to be a big-budget campaign. The judges are all experienced PR pros - we realize how much more difficult it is to rise above the noise when you are working with a limited budget. In fact, entries that got strong results on a limited budget caught my eye." Wes Pedersen, communications director for the Public Affairs Council, and another former judge, agrees, adding that "ability to win media coverage at minimal cost to the client" is one of his key criteria for judging entries. Including a budget - or at the very least, a budget range - is essential to allow the judges to compare campaigns at different ends of the spectrum. But bigger is not necessarily better. As Marlene Saritzky, communications director for Business 2.0 and a judge in 2002, points out, it is not necessarily about big or sexy brands, either. "It's tempting to think that well-known brands are more likely to win. For example, when we saw an entry for the Blackberry, we all thought 'Yep, that must have been successful,' because we all knew the product. But when we thought a bit more about it, we realized this was about the product, and not just the campaign. There were other campaigns that excited us more, even if the Blackberry was the most exciting brand that was entered." In the end, Saritzky and the other judges of the hi-tech category gave the award to a smaller agency, Carter Ryley Thomas, for its work with the little-known start-up called Tridium, which develops software that allows businesses to control building systems over the internet. Proof, if it were needed, that the judges are too wise and wily to be swayed by the brand alone. Address your audience Of course, that doesn't mean big brands can't win. As 2002 judge Carl Folta, SVP at Viacom, says, "Anyone can win if they bear in mind their audience. You have a bunch of judges who've seen a lot of campaigns, slogging through lots of entries. The first thing to bear in mind is that simplicity and clarity in the presentation are everything, and the entry really needs to fit with the criteria of the category." This is a theme that comes up repeatedly when asking the judges what impressed them. Despite the fact that the Entry Kit - this year's is bound into this issue of PRWeek - clearly states that the entry should be a clearly headed two-page document, with supporting material supplied separately as an optional extra for the judges, some entrants were long-winded and tried to supply too much information. "Presentations that were clear, concise, and thoughtful appealed to me most. I was not impressed by page after page of information that was neither informative nor convincing," says Lindenbergh. Saritzky agrees: "Entrants have to realize that they are trying to impress a bunch of jaded, sarcastic old-timers, and yet their entries were often packed with jargon, not substance, and failed to cut to the chase. They were too obviously written by junior people who did not really understand the campaign and could not, therefore, summarize it well. If the entry can't explain in three sentences what the campaign was about, then how do they explain these things to journalists? Entries should be short, snappy, and easy to read." Irv Schenkler, professor of media and management at NYU's Stern School, adds, "The actual quality of the written application is very important, as is the question of whether it was entered in the right category." Casey Kaplan, political communications consultant and 2001 winner of the Young PR Professional category, advises, "Pitch the judges like you're pitching the media. If you don't captivate your audience in the first 30 seconds, you'll probably lose them." Assuming the entries are presented in this way, the next thing the judges look for is results. "What was the payoff? The impact? We're accountants at heart. We want to know the bottom line," says Pedersen. "I always begin judging by looking at the statement of results. If they are truly impressive, I go back to the statement of objectives. How clearly are they spelled out? How well do they match the results?" Matching objectives and results might seem obvious, but it was a flaw in many of last year's entries, says Lindenbergh. "There were a number of submissions that boasted results that did not map back to the objectives. That really surprised us. Objectives and matching results are the most important aspect. Creativity is only impressive if it achieves good, strong results. What good is a creative PR program if you aren't helping your client achieve its business goals?" Wow the judges with creativity Creativity nearly always seems to be the final ingredient in a winning entry. As Folta puts it, "Once they've overcome the first hurdle of effective presentation, and the second hurdle of delivering results, you are looking for that wow factor. Most of the campaigns that came close to winning were good, tried-and-true campaigns. But the ones that actually won had that little extra, either in terms of employing a breakthrough idea for the client, or in terms of using new or innovative techniques." Saritzky agrees, "You are looking for that little nugget or stunt that makes the campaign special." The Hoffman Agency, a winner of PRWeek Awards in three continents, has one person assigned to the process of winning awards. Jennifer Miu, who holds that role, is under no illusions as to the winning ingredients. "You need senior input. A senior-level person brings the big picture to an entry. You need good exhibits to back up a short, clear entry. You need to be results-oriented, and you need a gem to the campaign." Based on the comments of the PRWeek judges, she's got the right recipe. Follow it, and be the person on the podium - not the one grumbling in the corner. ------------------------- Tips for would-be winners 1 Do enter the awards. It may sound obvious, but you must be in it to win it. Too many miss out because they simply don't try 2 Do state budgets, or at the very least a budget range. Otherwise, it's impossible for the judges to compare entries, and they tend to discriminate against those that do not disclose a budget. Remember, all information that is submitted is confidential 3 Do focus on clear, measurable results, and ensure the results match the objectives. Outcomes will tend to win over outputs 4 Do enter campaigns that have something different about them - a little standout goes a long way when you're a judge plowing through 150 entries 1 Don't believe the awards are only for large firms. They're open to all shops, in-house teams, or charities. If you have a campaign you're proud of, you're eligible 2 Don't worry if the brand or product at the center of your campaign isn't a household name. The judges are experienced pros as intrigued by a new b-to-b service as in a famous mainstream consumer brand 3 Don't blind with science or jargon. The judges are way too savvy to fall for marketing-speak and long-winded terminology. Keep it clear and simple 4 Don't wait until the last minute. The Entry Kit is bound into the center of this issue, so you have no excuse

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