So You Want to Win an Award?

Research, Results and a Big Idea Are Required

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Karen Albritton
Karen Albritton
Want to improve your win rate in awards competitions? Want to know why the campaign you poured your blood, sweat and tears into didn't win? Want to turn a current campaign into an award-worthy effort?

Last week I judged the Public Relations Society of America's Silver Anvil Awards. While I can't comment on specific entries, I can provide some advice to help you improve your awards entries and more importantly, your campaigns.

Research matters. Great campaigns begin with insight and insight comes from research. Lack of research was the most pervasive challenge for the entries I judged. With the proliferation of online surveys and second-party data, every campaign can be based in research. Research needs to be connected to the objectives and the campaign results. Agencies and clients have to become more accustomed to using research, both qualitative and quantitative to improve their campaigns. Excuses about deadlines and budgets didn't do much to sway the judges' opinion on the importance of research.

Media impressions alone aren't results. In PR (and, increasingly, in general ad campaigns), media coverage can be one result, as well as the tone or content of the coverage. Award-worthy campaigns deliver a business or an organizational impact. This is where research can help with pre- and post-campaign tracking. Working with clients upfront is essential to determine the campaign metrics and how they'll be gathered. Most clients are clamoring for real metrics and will be delighted to have their agency come to them with ideas on how to measure business impact. One thing I learned in judging is that our industry should spend more time focused on measuring real results and less time calculating convoluted ad equivalencies.

You can't win on execution alone. It's evident in reading award entries, both those I've judged as well as those written at Capstrat, that public relations professionals are hard-working and passionate about tactical execution. We love our war stories detailing the volumes of media materials, the multiple market complexity, the early morning interviews and the logistical hurdles we overcome. Most campaigns today integrate multiple communications channels including media relations, events, collateral materials, social media and even advertising. Almost every entry has great execution, so you can't differentiate your campaign on execution, especially if you are entering on behalf of a smaller campaign or smaller client.

Ideas over tactics. There is no substitute for a big idea -- a big idea derived from an insight into your audience that is linked to strategy. Is that too much to ask? A tactic, like a microsite or a social media campaign, is not a strategy, nor is it a big idea. Sometimes the idea is there, it's just not connected to strategy or packaged well. I think that's why campaigns with a catchy headline or clear theme rise to the top. Look at the entries for agencies who excel in awards. They understand the power of an idea and how to package it. I imagine that's how they get their clients to see the value of a big idea.

It's tempting to be cynical about awards entries. What really matters are the results we deliver for clients. And that's where I believe awards can be helpful. There are many ways agencies can use the judging criteria to improve the quality of their work for clients and the quality of their results. As you're planning your next campaign or thinking through your client's top objectives, pull out some awards criteria and think about how they might help you create a better campaign.

Karen Albritton is president of Capstrat, Raleigh, N.C.
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