We asked Pauline Draper-Watts, an Executive Vice President in our Chicago office, to share her experience of being a senior PRSA Silver Anvils Judge and offer key learnings from the awards process.A
Last week, I found myself judging the PRSA Silver Anvils. I have been doing this for many years and love the opportunity to see great work in the industry. This year there were over 600 submissions to keep us busy, with each team judging various awards depending on the number of submissions. The task is completed in a single day and life has become much easier with the aid of technology. Now, we can all judge a submission at the same time rather than have massive binders to pass around, ensuring each nominated judge gets to see it. As a senior judge, I led a team of people who were judging for the first time. This structure gave the new judges great insight into what to do and what not do when their own organizations consider an award submission. There is an art and a science in translating great work into award-winning entries and this became very clear, very quickly to the new judges. It is those who take the time with this translation that stand out to judges. Here are my top tips from judging these and other awards.
Make life easy for the judges: Judges have multiple entries to work through and it can be an intense process. Don’t make it hard for a judge to assess your entry. Make it a delight for them to review your work.
Have a solid and compelling set up: You are familiar with your entry and the great work you have done but it will be unfamiliar to your judges. You want to draw the judges in so that they want to read more.
Ensure the entry is easy to follow: This should be both on the eye and in the reading. Be a good storyteller and make your entry engaging and compelling. Avoid grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and typos. Think through the layout and font.
Match the criteria provided with the submission: This is where you will gain points or leave them on the table. If you are given criteria, follow that criteria and provide appropriate material for each of the sections. For instance, don’t put “Planning” in “Execution” or “Execution” in “Evaluation”. Map out the most appropriate content for each of the sections and remember to connect the dots between each section or they will be disjointed.
Make your objectives measurable: Firstly, be sure to include objectives. Ideally, these should tie back to the business. Second, be sure to include where you have been successful and where there are learnings to take forward.
Make your supporting documentation count: Ensure your supporting documents are relevant and easy for the judges – 100 pages of clippings is not “Execution” or “Evaluation”. Don’t submit existing documents without an explanation and without highlighting why you have included them. This comes across as lazy or inattentive.
Quality over Quantity: It is better to submit less documentation, but spend more time creating a great entry that is appropriate for the category as well as the criteria the judges will be looking for.
Be real: The judges may or may not be familiar with your submission and they are likely to go to websites and do searches if your entry does not seem genuine. The last thing you want is evoke an “I don’t believe it” reaction from a judge, so it is important to frame and position results in a way that is credible. Over the years, I have seen outstanding results imply that the objectives were set after the event, and I have seen bad metrics that are poorly positioned or used as the lead.
Research and evaluation are critical: Many PR professionals are strong on “Planning” and “Execution” but fail to pay enough attention to the “Research” and “Evaluation” sections. This comes back to matching the criteria. In the case of the PRSA Silver Anvils, the latter sections carry equal weight to “Planning” and “Execution”. The submissions that are very strong in these sections are more likely to bubble up to the top. Increasingly, we are seeing well thought-out research up front, smart measurement in the center, and evaluation that links back to business objectives in the conclusion.
Ensure consistency throughout the application details: It may sound obvious but don’t have your entry say one thing and your supporting documentation say something else altogether, especially when it comes to the evaluation.
You have probably guessed by now that I have seen all these situations multiple times over the years. I feel privileged to have seen many outstanding entries that delight judges. We take our roles seriously and we know when we are looking at strong contenders for awards. It is not the size of the budget or the familiarity of the brand but rather it is the smart, stand-out approach, what has been accomplished, the thoroughness and quality of the work, and the compelling results that together contribute to award winning entries. They are a pleasure to read, check all the boxes, and are memorable days and hundreds of submissions later. I know the awards for the categories I judged this year, but I am not telling – you will have to wait until the award celebration in June.