ADDYs. Silver Anvils. Tellys. A Lion or two. Winning awards sometimes seems to be an agency discipline unto itself. I know of at least one large firm who employs a full-time awards coordinator. It’s serious business (well, in the minds of some, at least).

agency-award-trophyI have one question: With all this firepower, with all of this creativity, with all of these resources, why in the name of all things good and great are the majority of awards entries so lackluster?

OK, you’ve caught me climbing onto my soapbox. But stick around for a moment; as a long-time judge for a number of global, regional and local competitions, I’m trying to help.

Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to serve as a judge for a national competition focused on a conservative but somewhat creative industry. The first few entries were duds — the luck of the draw, we figured. As we dug deeper, the entire lot turned out to be just mediocre or less. This marked the second time in recent months where my fellow judges and I deemed no entrant worthy of an award. There was a trend afoot.

Ignore best practices — no one seems to care. Instead, how about I share a few ways to guarantee that your awards entry is tossed aside? With real examples included, yet masked to protect the not-so-innocent, here we go:

  • Ignore the Business Proposition: Make sure to leave out any description of the business challenge at hand and just assume your client is funding the project for the sheer joy of it. Keeping using “N/A” in entry fields where you’re not certain of the answer.
  • Fudge the Budget: Most judges have no idea of typical budgets for projects and programs, so feel free to lie to make your program appear to have a higher return on investment (ROI). That national, six-month campaign only cost $8,900? Sure.
  • Don’t Quantify the Results: Quantitative metrics mean little. Instead, simply share a vague anecdote or two like, “My client noted this was AWESOME,” and “We showed a truly significant impact on customer acquisition.”
  • Fake the Research: When the program was conducted nearly a year ago, make sure your research samples include websites carrying a “printed on” date in the footer, a date that shows they were output just a few days prior to the awards deadline. We won’t notice.
  • Include All Your Clips: In the media relations program entry, just copy your clip book without bothering to sort through it. Because we won’t actually look at the pages showing the highly negative coverage comments from prominent national media outlets that fly in the face of your campaign objectives.
  • Liberally Incorporate Eight-Point Type: During the fifth hour of judging, as the post-lunch doldrums rear their heads, there’s nothing a judge loves more than opening an entry to find a two-page “executive summary” written in eight-point type stuffed into a high-glare sheet protector.
  • Ignore the Category Description: Don’t believe that the category description on the entry guidelines matters. Just check off a random box and be confident that the awards organizers will move your entry to the category more befitting of your program. That internal video entry placed into the national media relations category? Sure, we’ll move it for you (to the reject bin).
  • The Final Review Goes to the Junior Staffer: There’s little need or value in having a senior member of the agency review the entry when a junior team member can be tasked with it instead. Because the junior team — or that summer intern — clearly understands the underlying strategy that sets the campaign apart from the other 40 entries you’re up against.

Let’s face it. Winning some of the more prominent awards competitions is no cakewalk. Doing so takes time, senior-level review, and yes, a compelling program and entry that showcase groundbreaking work.

Put in a respectable effort, and you’ll come away holding a statuette. Put in anything less and watch me continue to kvetch.

Originally published Dec 1, 2011 6:26:01 AM, updated December 02 2014