If Communicators Follow Award Entry Rules, They'll Actually WinI was recently judging award entries for an industry organization to which I belong. It’s a very straightforward process that I’ve done many times; a couple of dozen entries that all need to be judged on strict criteria outlined as part of the entry process. 

It’s all spelled out for the practitioners submitting their entries and for the judges choosing the winners. It is done this way intentionally so everyone knows exactly what the judging criteria are and has a fair chance of winning as long as they meet that criteria. 

Interestingly enough, creativity wasn’t even a factor, at least not one that was explicitly called out as part of the process. The only thing standing in their way of winning is their ability to meet those requirements through their submissions. 

No ambiguity, everything outlined, and everything equal, which is going to make it really difficult for me to judge the entries. Or, so I thought. 

Unfortunately, not everyone was able to something we learned back in elementary school. 

I’ll admit, it’s tough. 

In fact, throughout my career, I have been known for sometimes not doing this as well as I should. Sometimes I just think I can do it better. And in my personal life, I fight the same battles. And while I don’t always like to do it, sometimes you just don’t have a choice. 

Following the Rules Is Tough

As kids we’re taught some basic fundamentals—stand in line, don’t hit your siblings, color within the lines, don’t speak out of turn, and if an adult tells you to do something, you do it. 

We’re told what we need to do from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed. Teachers tell us what we need to study, parents and guardians tell us when we need to eat, and everyone tells us how we need to act. 

We have to listen to them all, and we get pretty good at it. Many of us even prided ourselves on how well we followed directions. We all remember those kids in class, even if you weren’t one of them. The one that was the first to stand in line, turn in homework, or show that they were following directions. It may be hard to believe, but I could have been that kid! 

As complicated as life is when you grow up, back then, it was actually pretty simple. It all boiled down to following directions. 

And when we followed directions, we got rewarded. We got treats, got extra playtime before bed, got to watch our favorite movie (yes, on VHS), or didn’t have to do chores. 

Following the rules was a great thing. But somewhere along the way, we lose that sense of responsibility toward compliance. 

As teenagers, following directions is more annoying than beneficial, to an extent. The new rule of thumb is bending the rules just enough, so they don’t break. Testing boundaries is the new standing in line, and demanding independence replaces following commands from those in charge. 

We find our own way of doing things, forge our own thoughts on processes, and set the foundation for how we’ll approach various elements of our lives be for decades to come. 

Like I said, following rules is tough.  

But Following the Rules Is a Crucial Element of Success

But, as we enter the workforce, start jobs, and progress in our careers, these traits serve us well in a world that now prides itself on innovation, creativity, and originality. We buck the system, find what we think are better ways of doing things, and push boundaries, just like we did years earlier. 

And let’s face it, the world, and certainly, the communications industry, needs more creativity, better methods, new ideas, and innovative thinking. We need practitioners willing to take chances, step outside their bubbles, and find ingenious solutions. 

Except, we sometimes forget the fundamentals we learned as kindergarteners, including the fact that following rules is important and still a crucial element of success. 

Even if the rewards are different, we need to follow the rules to get them. Creativity and coloring outside the lines is a great thing when it’s done within the guardrails defined by the effort. 

Just like the campaigns that they executed, the award criteria and many of the entries missed out simply because they failed to include vital pieces of information, like a timeline, stated objective, budget, tactics, strategies, or even if their campaign was successful. 

These are all likely pieces of information they have readily accessible but didn’t include. I mean, they have to have these things to execute their campaign, but it’s not in the submission, and it drives me crazy! 

And Following the Rules Can Win You An Award

I want these practitioners to shine and win awards. But, more importantly, we need them to continue to elevate the public relations industry and show off the creative campaigns they’ve worked so hard to plan and execute. Our industry needs these leaders to stand out, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot because we can’t follow directions. 

As I said, I’ve volunteered many times over the years to judge the award entries for chapters across the country. It’s a great way to see how people think, what the latest programs and campaigns are, and what the rest of the industry is focused on. 

But it can also be frustrating to see colleagues and peers getting in their own way of success. 

Unfortunately, I never get to talk to the practitioners who submit the award entries. I do, however, get to leave comments and outline where their submissions miss the mark. I always make it a point to leave comments about missing information and how they could have done better by simply following the directions. I don’t know if they ever read that feedback, but I hope they do. 

To be sure not all of the entries are stellar. It’s not realistic to think that every communications campaign or social media effort will be a success, whether in the real world or applying for industry awards. 

But, by just following the rules they’d be giving themselves a better chance at winning, and more importantly showing off what our industry and practitioners are capable of and why we’re crucial to the success of the businesses and brands we represent. 

Travis Claytor

Travis has led teams that have developed and executed national and international integrated strategic communications plans around some of the world’s top media events, including the NFL Super Bowl and Republican National Convention. He’s also led the international launch of theme park attractions, promoted destinations to global audiences, and developed communications campaigns for organizations like Feld Entertainment, Gaylord Palms Resort, and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Travis has also led crisis and issues management and strategic communications planning for brands like SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Today Travis runs TC Strategic Communications, an integrated communications firm with a passion for strategic solutions that produce real business results.

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