I judged 200+ PR award submissions—a few pitfalls to avoid

by | Aug 3, 2020 | Public Relations

Over the last year, I’ve had the honor of evaluating hundreds of submissions for communication awards. I’ve participated on juries for almost every industry competition, including traditional media relations, healthcare communications, PR tactics, and even brand film. I’ve seen outstanding work across nearly every category, including social media, disease awareness campaigns, and digital innovation to corporate reputation and crisis management.

Throughout my judging adventures, I’m always struck by a few submissions that are truly differentiated. Work that was so ingenious that I was jealous. They not only exceed expectations, but they push the entire industry forward. However, I’m equally struck that there are so many submissions that fall into similar—and avoidable—pitfalls.

Here are 5 pitfalls to avoid when submitting work to award competitions:

1. Avoid the “what the heck” submission

Let’s say you have a great celebrity media program, and it has elements of social, paid, and media. So, you say “what the heck” and submit the same entry into several categories by tweaking a few sentences to adhere to the requirements. That’s not a great idea, because many of these categories are very competitive with programs that are tailored for them. You have two options: 1. focus on the category where you are strongest or 2. revamp your submission completely to focus on the category.

2. You always need an insight

An insight is typically a surprising perception that drives your entire program forward. Insights change over time, so while “doctors are on LinkedIn and Twitter” was insightful years ago, it is now a well-worn fact. Insights typically carry significant weight in the overall score of a submission.

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3. Dress for success

The sad fact is that judges wade through hundreds of submissions in one sitting. A well packaged and designed submission broadcasts to the judge that the submission wasn’t a rush job. Put time, energy, and mindfulness into your submission and bring in your design team to give your submission some extra attention. Your submission will stand out from the crowd.

4. Avoid the lopsided submission

Great results don’t overcome a mediocre insight; a great insight doesn’t transcend so-so creative. So many submissions are lopsided and many of them fall into the middle of the pack. Occasionally, they may win an award, but sharpness around the creative and the insight is needed to raise a submission in the standings.

5. Ask for feedback

Some industry award competitions—although not all—will provide judge’s feedback upon request. It’s useful to ask because many evaluators provide detailed notes and it is instructive to understand how submissions are perceived by people not intimate with the program. Take it to the next level by incorporating that feedback into your next entry to make it better over time.

So, as the Fall nears and the next round of award entries are due, avoid these pitfalls and set yourself up for success. Good luck!

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Courtney Walker
Courtney Walker is managing director at Y&R PR, who won the Grand Prize for Best PR Campaign in Bulldog’s 2020 PR Awards.

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