Top 10 tips on how to win a professional PR award

I’ve judged a lot of PR awards and the most important thing to remember is it’s not always the best public relations work that wins. Don’t get me wrong, it has to be excellent professional work to win, but that’s not enough on its own. You’ve also got to master the art of writing an award winning entry. These are my top 10 tips which will be useful if you’re entering the Global Digital PR Awards which celebrate outstanding digital PR.

How to win a PR award spoiler

Results, results, results. I don’t have time to read every entry in depth. Has that shocked you? I start by looking at the objectives and then jump straight to the results. That’s how I create my shortlist. I deliberately don’t want to be swayed by a brilliant creative idea or stunt, if it didn’t actually work. Once I have my shortlist I will read the bit in between and that’s where your creative campaign might help push you into pole position if there are two entries that both achieved great results.

Awards judges are typically volunteers. We give up our time for free to judge your entries. We aren’t going to spend longer on it than we need to. Don’t get me wrong, we also get benefits. The main one is we get to see lots of great work which inspires and informs us, so hopefully our work gets better. Lots of the great work I see I turn into tips I share on my PR training courses or use in my public relations consultancy and strategy work with clients.

1) Read the rules

Read the rules. How hard can it be to read the rules and stick to them? Surprisingly hard is the answer, given the number of entries I’ve seen that over shoot the word count or restrictions on pages, attachments or links.

I get that you’re excited about your work, but if you can’t summarise it then don’t bother entering. Judges are usually doing this voluntarily, so why should they waste their time on your entry if you can’t even be bothered to do something as simple as follow the rules?


2) Enter the right category

Which category should you enter? Sometimes it is obvious and there is only one suitable category. Other times, you might have to choose between different categories or enter it in more than one.

Which is likely to have the most competition? In some awards I’ve judged some categories have 50+ entries and others just four or five. Typically, generic ‘campaign’ categories have lots of entries, while more specialist discipline related categories don’t.

Which do you most want to win? Is it one that highlights a particular specialism. Or one where you want to grow your business and need to recruit new people or win new clients? You decide.


3) Customise your entry

If you do enter the same work in more than one category, then make the effort to rewrite it for each category. Even in the same awards programme, the most important factors in one category will be different to those in another category.

If you’re serious about winning you can’t be lazy so take the time to customise each entry. And please, please don’t just recycle the same entry into lots of awards programmes. Remember tip one as they will all have different rules and different scoring criteria.


4) Tell the truth

It can be tempting to guild the lily. Don’t. Just don’t. Trust me, experienced judges can see through your hyperbole.

My ‘spider sense’ starts tingling if I think you’ve ‘reengineered’ the objectives to fit what happened. Wow, isn’t it amazing how they had such a specific objectice and just happened to achieve it. Really?

I’ve penalised more than one good campaign just because the entrant decided to try and make it seem even better than it was. Who knows it might have won if I hadn’t spotted their dishonesty.


5) What’s the story?

Judges have lots of entries to judge. We don’t have time to spend ages agonising over every entry. Tell it like a story and make it interesting. Make the objectives clear, share anecdotes and examples, paint me a picture in words, tell me how you succeeded.

And please make it standalone. Paint me a picture in words. Don’t force me to look at attachments and definitely don’t make me watch a video as if there are dozens of entries I won’t have time to watch it. I will look at your attachments and videos for those I’ve shortlisted, but you’ve got to make your entry standalone and good enough to get that far first.


6) Stuff happens

The most exciting part of most books or films is when the stuff hits the fan. The nightmare stage when it all goes wrong. Stuff happens all the time. No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Yet you expect me to believe everything you did was perfect. If your entry includes what went wrong and how you fixed it then that’s far more credible, memorable and impressive than if it all went perfectly.


7) Credit where credit is due

Wow! You did all this on your own. I’m gobsmacked. The client didn’t contribute any ideas at all! You didn’t use any freelancers, associates, contractors or work with other agencies or people from other departments.

Great work is rarely a solo effort. Credit everyone involved. It’s better to share the success than not to win.


8) So what?

So you did some good work that achieved what it was meant to. So what? That’s your job. You don’t deserve a prize for just doing your job. You should strive to make all your work wonderful. For wonderous work you deserve to win.

Award winners need that little something extra. Was it achieved in a frantically short timescale? Were you David fighting Goliath? What makes this work different and worthy of an award?


9) Check it

It’s inevitable that as I explain the importance of checking and proofing your entry that some bright spark will pop up to point out the mistakes in this article. It’s a blog post folks and I’m writing it on my own. If you’re submitting an award entry then get it checked before you submit. Don’t just check it for mistakes, but more importantly to make sure it makes sense. You know the work inside out. The person approving your entry knows it inside out.

You are getting permission from your client or boss to enter aren’t you? I’ve seen a winning entry withdrawn after shortlisting as it turned out the agency hadn’t got permission from its client.

Before you submit your award entry you need to get it checked to make sure it makes sense to someone coming to it for the first time with only a few minutes to read it and understand it.


10) Results, results, results

Results, results, results. Did I mention results? If it didn’t have an impact then I’m not interested. I’m not that interested in your vanity metrics. You had a million views of your video. You had 10,000 retweets. You had 100,000 likes or 15,000 shares. Shut up! I’m really not that interested.

What I want to know is did it make a difference to the organisation or business? Did the road safety campaign result in fewer accidents or deaths? Did you get more sales leads? Did you sell more widgets? Did the government amend the legislation? Did you reduce contract churn? Business impact means far more than just sales, but you’ve got to tell the judges what it was.

Did I mention results? Results are so important in winning awards I’ve written about it before in my ‘How to win a PR or social media award using objectives and results‘ article.

Sometimes this means waiting before you enter awards as there might be a lag of months between doing the work and being able to see the impact.


Global Digital PR Awards

Global Digital PR Awards 2021

This year I’m one of the judges of the Global Digital PR Awards which celebrate outstanding digital PR. These awards are focused on “digital PR that drives search visibility, traffic to websites, raises brand awareness, and delivers exceptional ROI”.

Entries are welcome from anywhere in the world, so it’s a real opportunity to pit yourself against the best and show the world what you’re made of. There are 32 categories for different types of campaigns as well and agency, team or individual awards and a software award category.

The global digital PR campaign of the year sector categories include retail, ecommerce, entertainment, travel and leisure, food and drink, public sector, finance, automotive, fashion and beauty, FMCG and technology. There are also categories for evaluation and analytics, research, creativity, innovation, low budget and local campaign. There are also platform categories for Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, but strangely not LinkedIn.

One particularly interesting category is for ‘Global Digital PR Tool or Software’. It is for “a PR tool or piece of software that has transformed how PR agencies and in-house teams work. That could be related to research, evidence, creation of campaign or other.”

The final entry deadline is 8 October or save yourself some money and get your entry in by the early bird deadline of 1 October.

So what are you waiting for? Enter the Global Digital PR Awards now. Good luck!

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