Tim Mohler

Are PR Awards Worth the Hassle or Do They Provide Enough Value?

By: Tim Mohler | May 17, 2017 | 
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PR Awards: Are They Worth the Hassle?Awards season is your chance as a PR agency (or in-house PR department) to shine a spotlight on your most newsworthy stories and campaigns.

It’s a chance to get purely self-promotional coverage, a rare and coveted prize.

Of course, PR awards program entries take time to craft, and they aren’t without hassle or risk.

How do you maximize your chances of winning and getting the coverage your agency and clients crave while minimizing unnecessary effort?

A Unique Perspective

I’ve entered awards shows, both as a client and as an agency.

I’ve won a few, lost a few, and served on several show planning committees.

Oh, and I’ve been a judge.

From that perspective, I humbly offer you my tips and tricks to not only getting more value out of your PR awards program entries, but to making the process easier all around.

Why Tell Your Story?

Awards are a great way to differentiate yourself from your competition.

Preparing PR awards program entries offers the chance to build your library of owned content while getting your team into a storytelling mindset.

This is your chance to show off what you can do by sharing why a particularly strong campaign was important and how it affected customers.

Winning PR awards, or even just being nominated, tells people that your work is worth paying attention to.

It builds strong relationships with client partners you submit with.

Potential clients take notice, too.

It starts the all-important conversation, which is exactly why your client hired you in the first place.

Overall, it’s a great way to celebrate the work, the client, and the coverage while potentially attracting new business.

Building an Award-winning Entry

What you do long before the PR awards show will determine whether you receive polite applause or become the star of the event.

In short, you must earn the chance to convey your message.

That takes preparation.

You’re telling a story, and compelling stories require three ingredients to be successful: Characters, plot, and story arc.

Start by identifying the objective of your project and the challenges to be overcome.

From there, gather your information:

  1. Put on your reporter’s hat, and ask your clients the right questions to build the story.
    • What difference did this campaign make to your business?
    • Why was it critical and how did it impact other stakeholders and your customers?
    • What had you tried before?
  2. Understand how this award fits into both your overall agency story and client’s brand story.
  3. Understand the campaign’s analytics, and show how you achieved each of your objectives.

Before the PR Awards Ceremony: Spread the Word

You’ve crafted a great story.

Now it’s time to share it.

You’re doing more than just building a narrative for a PR journal.

This is your chance to tell everyone that you think their work (and your work) is award-worthy.

Involve your team in the application process—this is an exciting experience and they deserve to enjoy the accolades!

Publish your story everywhere, from the company newsletter to easily shareable updates (like social posts) that your clients, partners, and employees can share with their networks.

As you build a plan for spreading the word, keep the PESO framework in mind:

  1. What is worth paying to promote?
  2. What is most likely to earn media coverage?
  3. Who benefits from sharing this content and spreading the word?
  4. What owned assets do we want to produce to support this entry?

Maximize Your Chances of Winning an Award

Here’s my hit list of insider information that will help you hit the jackpot:

Judges, Like Journalists, Must Quickly Cull the Noteworthy from the Mediocre

  • Judges usually aren’t getting paid to do this, and often have 60 (or more!) very long, often tedious entries to review. What would stand out to you?
  • Be very clear up front about why you should win. What was the goal, how did you deliver, and why did it matter to the client?
  • Submitting multiple entries? Customize the first paragraph to the award. If they see something they feel like they’ve already read, they may just skip it.
  • Keep the format consistent and beautiful, on your own template and in one file if you can. It makes your work look professional and that first perception will carry over to future entries a judge reads from you.
  • Tell a great, concise, clear story to pull judges in, use great visuals, and keep any deep dive data or supporting materials in clearly labelled appendices or files.

Be Known for Quality

  • Submit great work. Bad work doesn’t usually win. And, if it does, do you really want it associated with you? (I’m serious about this, I’ve seen it.)
  • If you’re given space, use it. Don’t just write three sentences of boilerplate or you’ve just wasted $75 and an hour of time.
  • Link to your actual work (clearly-labeled in-document hyperlinks are great). If a judge is interested in what you do, they’ll want to read more, so make it easy for them to find you online.
  • Curate your supporting materials; don’t just include every report that relates to the project. If it isn’t relevant or clearly apparent why you’re including it, don’t. It just adds work for the judge.

Widen Your Net

  • Don’t just go for the big shows: Enter local awards shows, industry shows, and shows in your clients’ hometowns.
  • Enter multiple categories: Often one category is overwhelmed with fantastic entries while another has one or two mediocre ones. Enter every category that is remotely relevant (but please do differentiate the entry for each.).

Standardize Your Process to Save Time

  • From the outset of every campaign, have the objective in focus, track results, and gather supporting materials.
  • Go beyond saving press clippings by getting great photos and video, particularly for live events.
  • Save screenshots of websites and social media.
  • Remember to capture all the critical pieces of a great campaign: Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned. Paid and shared are often forgotten.

Win or Lose, You Win

Win or lose, this is your chance to celebrate the best parts of a year’s work.

Celebrate getting short listed like you just won the Super Bowl.

Share it on your blog, on your client’s blog, and through social media.

Decorate the office.

Take your client out as a gesture of appreciation.

Invite your clients to tell their customers—it’s their success, too!

Celebrate attending the event with a livestream.

What if you lose?

Warn everyone in advance that judges can be fickle and their decisions arbitrary.

Live streaming?

It’s okay to look crushed on camera.

Take it with good humor, laugh it off, congratulate the winners and trash talk about why your client really is the best.

Show your client you believe in the work by promoting it and promoting them.

Final Thoughts

Winning is the cherry on top.

Leverage all those invested stakeholders to share the story far and wide with live video and forward friendly prepared announcements.

Link back to the owned content you produced and use those media connections to get the word out.

Want to really amp up the sharing?

Set aside some budget to boost the social posts that perform the best, backed up with a display campaign inviting everyone to check out your winning case study.

Every day, you and your team work hard to build great work for your clients.

Done properly, your award entry can get you much more than a trophy.

Use it to strengthen your client relationships, build trust, celebrate success, and enhance your reputation as an agency that delivers, every time.

About Tim Mohler


Tim Mohler is a marketer that believes that brands should seek to add value, fun, and joy to their customers' daily lives. Currently, Tim is the Senior Marketing Manager at Point It, a digital marketing agency in Seattle. Tim is passionate about building marketing partnerships, experiences, and sponsorships that are relevant to the brand message, exciting for the customer, and most importantly that deliver measurable results. Before he came to Point It, Tim worked for Celebrity Cruises, owned his own business and volunteered for the Puget Sound American Marketing Association. He has a Bachelor’s from Cedarville University and an MBA from Miami Dade University. In his spare time, he likes to hike, hang out with his wife and enjoy the Northwestern sunshine.

  • Great info Tim! This is a must-read for any PR firm and PR pro.

    • Tim Mohler

      Corina, thanks so much! I’m glad that it was helpful.

  • James Earl Jones

    My issue with all service industry awards is the opposite problem I have with the Grammy’s. The Grammy’s actually rewards for sales. Meaning its never the best song or album that wins but the ones that sold the most albums. In fact 97.3% of all Grammy awards went to music I would never ever ever pay for never mind want to listen to more than ….well never. Art is penalized in this case.

    In PR/Advertising Awards generally do not go to who helped the client the most and made them the most money. In fact plenty of failure in the market place has been rewarded with awards. Meaning you can get rewarded for art…..while still failing your client.

    Because of this I am always suspect of the agencies that win awards viewing them more as just being really good at spending their client’s money. Would be better for awards to be based on ROI for the client because as I look for work on the Brand side….that is all I would care about.

    • Tim Mohler

      James, I couldn’t agree more. While the intent of this post was to help agencies earn & leverage awards, winning awards that actually matter to a client’s bottom line is even more important. Demonstrating that bottom line impact can be difficult though. My background includes a lot of B2C marketing on the client side, as well as the agency side – and the value (and client trust) depends substantially on the award won. Case studies (which tend to be more bottom line focused) are a similar proof point, but also suffer from selective reporting. So, unless you’re only after a trophy or a quick press release I think you have to do more work than just enter & win.

      1. Enter awards shows that are respected in your (desired) clients’ industries. Preferably national.

      2. Back up the award with a case study showing the proof, both creative and bottom line impact.

      3. Extend the story into video using interviews with the client liberally (or, in lieu of that quotes – names & titles attached). If a client is willing to publically back up the story in front of their customers, bosses, colleagues it adds a significant layer of trust.

      4. Remember that numbers lie too. Convey the whole story, and why it matters not just to the clients’ bottom line but to their customers as well.

      I hope you enjoyed the article!

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