You’re sitting at the edge of your seat as the anticipation builds and the drumroll rattles. The person on stage unfolds a shiny envelope and says those four magic words: “And the winner is…”
OK, so most public relations awards don’t have all the ceremony and drama of the Emmys or the Oscars. But even so, gaining recognition for the hard work you and your client have put into a project can be both immensely rewarding and a great boost for your professional reputation.
As a solo PR pro, crafting award submissions is one of the many jobs you may find yourself working on with a client. And there’s a bit of an art to writing a submission that not only meets the judging criteria but also stands out in a sea of other outstanding work.
We asked four PR pros to share their tips and best practices for putting together winning award submissions — Mary Deming Barber of the Barber Group, Gayle Lynn Falkenthal of Falcon Valley Group, Kristie Aylett of The KARD Group Public Relations/Marketing and Kelly Kirkendoll of Thrive PR.
Why are award submissions important?
“Winning an award is more than a pat on the back,” Kristie says. “Awards can raise your profile, reinforce the type of work you do, and offer proof to current and future clients that you provide real results.”
Kelly adds that the process of writing an award submission can be a learning experience all on its own.
“For us, just going through the time-consuming process of applying for a PRSA award made us stop, think through, reflect on and write about a project in a way we wouldn’t have taken the time to do,” she says.
Even if you don’t win, the valuable feedback you receive from the judges — especially in industry-specific competitions — may be well worth the effort of writing the submission.
And when you do win, it’s a victory for everyone involved.
“Awards recognize the strategic and creative work we do and the results we get,” Mary says. “For my clients they are recognition to their supervisors and/or boards that our work is making a difference. They also give us recognition for the work we do and are something to be proud of, and to promote.”
“If you have any imposter syndrome at all,” Kelly adds, “winning an award is a great antidote to the mean voice that likes to whisper ugly nothings, even after a successful 30-year career.”
Where to find award opportunities
Local and national PRSA awards, such as the Anvil Awards, are a go-to for recognition in the public relations field. But there are several other places to look for award opportunities that may be a good fit.
Gayle, who considers award submissions to be somewhat of a specialty, turns to three main sources:
- Professional and industry groups
- Community groups — such as civic associations, nonprofits or the local Chamber of Commerce
- Media outlets
She says it’s important to talk to your client to find out about awards offered for their work that you may not know about. And be sure to weigh the pros and cons of awards presented by media outlets — many are thinly disguised marketing campaigns, but some may have strong branding for your client, such as “Entrepreneur of the Year” or “40 Under 40” awards.
While working within a client’s community or industry is a great place to start, don’t be afraid to get creative.
“We worked with a bank years ago that had beautifully restored an old historic building,” Kelly says. “We applied (and won) some out-of-the-box awards for that approach to their new branch.”
#1 best practice for award submissions: Read the requirements
“The most important thing to do when putting together a strong award submission is to follow the instructions to the letter,” Mary says. “That sounds obvious but it’s the mistake I see most often when judging, and it’s also the secret to winning.”
Simply meeting all of the criteria and requirements puts your submission leaps and bounds ahead of others, she says. Incorrect word counts or materials submitted outside the scope of what’s requested are often cause for immediate disqualification.
Your very first step should be to prepare yourself and your client for the award submission process.
“Before you agree to put an award submission together, read through the requirements carefully to determine whether the client can meet the requirements and has a chance to win,” Gayle says. “Assess the complexity. Many require an extensive amount of documentation. Can you procure this in a timely manner from the client? You may need documents, visual elements, media coverage and metrics proving outcomes.”
Understanding how your project fits the criteria is also important in selecting the right awards programs, says Kristie.
“Know whether the program focuses on the final product or the overall process,” she says. “Your project may be a strong entry for one program while missing elements that would be important to others.”
More tips and tricks for writing great award submissions
Here are a few more winning takeaways from our solo PR pros:
- Plan ahead. “Start thinking about the award ahead of time, identifying projects in advance or in their early stages,” Kelly says.
- Understand the difference between goals, objectives, strategies and tactics, Kristie says.
- Give yourself more time than you think you need — both in terms of collecting and writing materials, and in what you charge for your work. “Don’t underbid,” Gayle says. “I promise it always takes longer than you think.”
- Be honest. “Honesty is critical in award entries,” Mary says. “That shouldn’t need to be said, but it does.”
- Proofread your entry before submitting it. Even better, ask someone else to proofread it.
- Volunteer to be a judge. “Reviewing entries from other practitioners can help you improve how you prepare your next submission,” says Kristie. “You’ll soon see what sets award-winning entries apart from those that don’t get recognized.”
“Awards are great!” Mary adds. “We need to sing about them from the rooftops and be proud of the work we do.”
Winning a public relations award isn’t just a reason to look back on work well done, it’s also encouragement to keep moving forward.
“Preparing an award submission for a past project helps me think through ways to improve current projects.” Kristie says. “Of course, winning an award is cause for celebration, but the value is much more than another trophy on the shelf.”