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:
- 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?
- Understand how this award fits into both your overall agency story and client’s brand story.
- 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:
- What is worth paying to promote?
- What is most likely to earn media coverage?
- Who benefits from sharing this content and spreading the word?
- 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.
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.
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.