The shiny plaque above your desk. The accreditation in your email signature. The splash in the press announcing your accolade. Winning an award is a lucrative business and the payoff is great for any company, but the reality is that behind (and before) every win is hours of research and writing to hone the best possible entry that will convince the judging panel you’re a worthy winner.
Having won a range of industry awards for our vast array of clients, there’s no denying that constructing a carefully written, under-the-word-count entry that scoops you the top prize is time-consuming and takes a bit of practice, but it’s worth it. It’s even better if you make the most of a PR company to do that hard work for you, as the team at Carrington is all too familiar with, but if you’d rather do it yourself then it’s best to be prepared.
Research, research, research
Reflecting on your business, the kinds of industry awards out there and how you can best present yourself if key. As with any project, you need to know yourself and your audience so research is a foolproof way to get started.
Identify the awards you have a chance of winning and establish reasonable, yet quietly confident expectations based on where your business sits in the industry.
Similarly, you should only invest time into entering awards that are worth winning. If it won’t impress your target audience and tell them about the kind of business you are, then it’s probably not the award for you. Take a look at previous winners to get an insight into not only your potential competition, but also the calibre of winning businesses.
Once you’ve compiled a list of potentials, do some admin and create some sort of spreadsheet or document that keeps track of the award and category you’re entering, the deadline for submissions and other key milestones. You’ll then have a simple tracker that you can revisit and add to year on year.
The hard part
The next key step is starting to plan and write your entries. Keep in mind that awards aren’t easy to win. You need to demonstrate why your business is better than the others and that means you need to speak to your team, find some great stories, provide the figures to back it up and write it all up into a neat and tidy, word-limited package so that someone who hasn’t got a clue about your business can understand it.
Interview people within your organisation, focus on the facts and map out exactly what information you can and should include. Keep it concise, to the point and definitely don’t waffle. If you start strong you’ll get the judges’ attention, so be sure to share your success, your story and forget the business speak.
According to Jane Smallwood, regional event manager at Reach plc, it’s important to remember that every category is different and the criteria can be diverse so an approach that works for one entry might not work for another. However, it’s crucial to always explain what you and your business does.
“We always tell businesses making entries to ensure that they give the judging panel an insight into what their company does. It’s easy to forget than an outsider doesn’t have the same level of knowledge as you do, so write your entry with the assumption that the judge is completely unfamiliar with your work. Cross checking an entry against the criteria list is also important, as it will be obvious if anything is missing. Always submit any financials that are requested too,” says Jane.
Keep potential entry costs in mind, plus the price of tickets for the awards event and gala dinner. This is part of the fun of entering awards and the organisers have to cover their costs somehow, so it’s only reasonable to expect them to charge attendees and the high costs can often be justified by the quality of the event and the exposure it generates.
There’s plenty of reward in winning, as Stephen Honey, head of learning at LexisNexis knows all too well from overseeing two prestigious legal awards events – the Family Law Awards and the LexisNexis Legal Awards.
He believes that these awards offer many benefits to the firms that enter: “Most obviously, they can be a tremendous promotional tool. Being shortlisted for an award is an independent and impartial judgement of the quality of your business and the public recognition of your success can set you apart from your competitors. Winning a team award is incredibly motivating and rewarding for everyone involved and can help to reinforce a sense of shared identity. Finally, attending the event itself provides a great opportunity to network with peers and reward staff for all their hard work,” says Stephen.
In all the excitement, you should still keep your head screwed on though: If the organiser is relatively unknown, doesn’t reach your target audience and has a billion categories you could enter and a ludicrously high price then it’s probably best to steer clear of their event, but most are well worth it.
Hopefully, in return for the tickets and publicity, the better events will treat the attendees to a great night with good food, excellent networking and some unbeatable coverage of their own.
After the party…
After months of waiting, shortlisting and finally the night itself, be sure to enjoy yourself with your colleagues and celebrate your success. Just remember to save those outrageous team shots and boomerangs of your boss downing champagne post-win for internal eyes only.
Once you’ve entered and won one award – or even shortlisted – you’ll know that you’re on the right track with your applications and the promised land of plaques and press coverage is in sight.