Writing Awards Entries? A Few Pointers

It’s Monday March 6th, and I’m willing to guess that in many healthcare communications businesses, minds are being concentrated on final drafts of Communiqué Awards entries. Given that there are only a few days to go before the deadline (9 March, with a late entry deadline of 16 March in case you’re really struggling to get them written), that seems reasonable. As the Chair of the Judges for the 2017 Communiqué Awards, I thought I’d share a few pointers based on my experience both as an entrant and as a judge. Hopefully these will also apply for other awards schemes.

Probably the first and most important thing to do is to follow the entry guidelines – because they are designed to help the judges to make fair comparisons between work which can vary hugely in scope, budget and approach. We score against the criteria which are provided to you, so make sure you’re giving us something to judge you on against each one that’s listed.

Do remember that each judge is reviewing entries on top of their day job, often after a long day in the office or over a weekend, so make it easy for us to spot what’s great about the work you’re submitting. Think carefully about layout. Consider using tables to show how you met your objectives (which must be SMART) and make sure you are clear in your own mind about the difference between objectives, strategy and tactics. Yes, I know that sounds really obvious, but you’d be surprised…

Tell us a story – the best award entries aren’t just a collection of facts and figures, they bring the work to life, giving context, colour and texture to the work. If you encountered significant challenges along the way, tell us about them and how you overcame them. Likewise, if serendipity played a part then acknowledge it. For example, many years ago, a well-known author spotted an article off the back of a campaign we’d run about access to funding for a new cancer drug, got in touch and offered to pay for a course of treatment for a particular patient, which then resulted in another huge tranche of press coverage. Yes, we (and much more importantly, the patient) were lucky, but it was award-winning because we knew how to effectively maximise that unexpected opportunity.

Get a fresh pair of eyes on your entry, preferably someone who wasn’t involved in the campaign. They will invariably spot something you’ve missed – perhaps a question they ask will highlight something you’ve failed to include that might be the one thing which makes a judge realise how great the work is. Make sure that you’ve checked with the client that they’re happy with what you’re going to say – and that where their own internal process require it, your entry has been ABPI approved. Bear in mind that the executive summary will be in the public domain, and that all the judges sign strict confidentiality agreements before they see a single entry.

Write, edit, rewrite, repeat.  The process of writing should always be an iterative one, and award entries in particular really benefit from this approach. Your first draft will always be too long, the sentences too wordy and the narrative somewhat jumbled (in my experience anyway) – but at least you’ve got the salient facts down on paper. As you refine it, you’ll add information you’ve forgotten, take out what’s superfluous and hopefully, hone your language so that it’s crisp and clear. Remember, your goal is to make it easy for the judges to love your work.

Finally, be honest with yourself about why you think your work should win an award. Sometimes it’s because it’s an exemplar of its kind – a well put-together, well-executed programme that achieves solid results, and there are campaigns like that which (deservedly) win every year. Don’t rule something out just because it’s not earth-shatteringly innovative – but do think hard about how the work justifies its place in an awards programme.  And if you have got something that you think’s really new, tell us why it’s different and why that should matter to the judges.

Last but not least, focus your efforts on that two-page entry, because if it doesn’t tell the judges why the work is a winner, all of the supporting materials in the world won’t make a blind bit of difference. Don’t hold anything back on the basis we’ll be wowed when we see it on judging day – it helps to have a great backup package, but it’s your two-pager that has to do the heavy lifting.

Good luck!

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