How not to win a PRWeek Award

The phone lines always ring hot at PRWeek Towers in the week following our annual awards judging, which took place at the Harvard Club in New York City last Monday.

The phone lines always ring hot at PRWeek Towers in the week following our annual awards judging, which took place at the Harvard Club in New York City last Monday.

As soon as the shortlisted entries are announced everyone is either bubbling over with excitement about being nominated or trying to work out what more they could have done to make the final cut.

Clearly, awards judging is a confidential process and neither I nor any of the judges can comment directly on individual entries. However, it is possible to give general feedback that might come in useful for entrants next year.

The first advice relates to something that is relevant to the wider image of PR and its demonstration of effectiveness at the C-suite level of companies. Evidence of the success of a campaign, initiative, individual, in-house team, or agency must be expressed in terms of real business or behavioral benefits, not fluffy imponderables or advertising value equivalency.

How did an entry move the needle in terms of increasing sales, changing behavior, or communicating key message points to a target audience? Genuine effectiveness is the key here, not criteria such as media impressions, Facebook Likes, or Twitter followers.

The second tip relates to presentation. One area that helps advertising agencies come out on top in the PR categories at Cannes is the way they present their entries and package their stories. You can call this a triumph of style over substance, but the fact is that busy judges are swayed by a coherent, well-written, attractive, easy to consume proposition. That relates equally to the written submission, binder of supporting material, and additional material such as DVDs, websites, or videos.

Scruffy printouts from a website, support material in tatty folders, generic videos that bear little specific relevance to the entry, and five-inch thick binders that cause a judge's heart to sink do not cut the mustard. Less is definitely more. Remember our distinguished panel of senior industry judges have dozens of entries to get through and you need to grab their attention quickly and keep the argument succinct.

Thirdly, please, please, please pay detailed attention to spelling and grammar. There is no point having a testimonial from a client on page one of a submission waxing lyrical about how it was a pleasure not to find typos or other errors on copy when there is a great big fat typo on page two of the entry. And it doesn't instill confidence when the entrant spells its own company name in two different ways on one page.

There's no excuse for these faux pas, but both were on show last Monday - and the judges rejected those entries immediately.

Thankfully, there were many excellent entries on display as well to restore the judges' faith in the industry, and I look forward to seeing you on March 1 at the Grand Hyatt in NYC to celebrate the winners.

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