Too much brand, not enough content: Five lessons from my PRWeek Awards judging experience

As this piece is published, around 100 of the industry's leading players are gathering to judge this year's PRWeek UK Awards; always an energetic and enjoyable day.

Unity was was one of the big winners at the 2016 PRWeek Awards
Unity was was one of the big winners at the 2016 PRWeek Awards

This year my contribution was to dedicate a day to watching over 50 of the industry’s self-selected ‘Best Use of Content’ entries.

What did I learn, and what are the trends across an industry investing ever more time, money and talent in content?

First things first, the most obvious lesson is never, ever, under any circumstances, watch 50 pieces of branded content on the bounce. It brought me out in a cold sweat.

More usefully, here are my top five observations:

1. Over-branded content 

Way. Too. Much. Brand.  Not actual branding per-se, like the old-school days of an over-branded photoshoot with client logos everywhere. Just content produced too heavily on the brand’s agenda at the cost of real audience interest. Put people first, brand second. The content that entertained first stood out a mile. 

2. Production budgets are too low 

£20,000-£30,000 seems to be the sweet spot for one-off pieces of content, or small series. Sorry, this is too low. We all know we can easily get content produced for that budget, and indeed way more cheaply.

But the true cost is creative quality, and in a game where we’re fighting for attention, money invested in higher production values will provide returns. And if you doubt this, look at the budgets of the PR and content category winners at Cannes. Yes, this is another can of worms. But it’s also the competition, both from an agency and audience perspective, so we have to take notice. 

3. Music is too often an afterthought

Nothing kills a good idea more quickly than dreadful library music. Entries that read well on paper were absolutely annihilated by poor music. And these are creative-alongside-effectiveness awards, so it matters. Music can do so much to move people, to prompt recall, to create emotion.  Even in a sound-off world, I think we’re underinvested in music as a creative lever in branded content. 

4. Can we be smarter in distribution?

This may be down to the nature of the award entries and people keeping their killer distribution strategies under wraps.  But, again, those that flexed their muscles on data and targeting to inform distribution, or created a strategic influencer distribution strategy, stood head and shoulders above.

5. Content is more than film

As an industry, our interpretation of content is too narrow. I’m going to spend this year expanding my agency’s content repertoire even further. True creativity will always stand out. Why not start with an entirely different creative asset altogether?

In conclusion, no insider tips for 2017 PR Week Awards Winners I’m afraid. But hopefully some useful advice on how you might get on the list in 2018.

Chris McCafferty is the founder of Kaper

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