by Lori Miller
[UPDATED 1-22: Just added another award winning entry. Deborah Hudson of Huntsville Utilities agreed to share her 2008 Lantern "Best of Show." It's at the bottom of this post.]
As last year’s Best of Show winner in the 2012 Medallions competition, I’ve been privileged to have my work evaluated by PR peers and found worthy. Winning PR awards is heady stuff and very gratifying. Helps sell your worth back to the boss as well!
But make no mistake – it took work to get the entry ready. Our great project did not “speak for itself.” I made it speak through the narrative I wrote to tell its story, and through the collateral I selected to go in the binder to bring the words to life. You may have a great project. And it still may not win if you don’t put in the time to write a good entry.
On Friday January 11, several previous Medallion award winners in the state conducted a webinar to talk about how to win. If you missed it, you can download the slides now, and you’ll see that they help guide you through the entry process.
But what the slides do not share are those tips that fall somewhere outside of the instructions that nevertheless make a big difference. It’s the stuff you wish someone would tell you before your fingers touch the keyboard.
Yes, we’re competitive. But I want to see our chapter do well at this year’s conference, so I’m all about helping my fellow NAPRCA members get ahead.
So – let’s do this! Here are five tips that will help you put together an award-winning entry.
(1) Remember, you are being judged on your entry, not your collateral
I am not saying that your collateral isn’t important. Far from it. But I am saying that your clever and beautifully crafted postcard doesn’t amount to much if you didn’t write a compelling PR objective and explain how the postcard helped you achieve the result you needed.
Say it with me: It’s about the entry.
So give yourself time to write it well. The judges are applying APR standards for planning and measurement to your entry, so familiarize yourself with the RPIE format, especially the parts about writing good objectives. You can download a PDF of the APR Study guide and jump to page 43 “Writing a Public Relations Plan.” That’s what I do. And then I put the SMART acronym at the top of my rough draft – SMART: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, with a Timetable for getting it done.
(2) Tell a story, but make it fast
Nobody really wants to hear this but it’s true – those judges are looking at LOTS of entries. They can start to blur together. They get tired. They stop writing comments and just start scribing numbers.
Knowing this, tell a story with your entry. Make it interesting and conversational, because in this case, your audience is the judge. You need to be painting pictures with words, because the judge may have made up most of his or her mind before they get to your beautiful collateral.
At the same time, make your entry easy to scan. Use bullets and subheads. Tie your actions back to your objectives so they cannot possibility miss it. You only have 500 words – 250 in some areas – to make your points, so choose your words wisely.
I go into the Medallions website and cut and paste the word limits and points potential for each section into my draft. Then I write offline, ruthlessly edit, and cut and paste the finished entry back into the right sections so I can print the entry form.
(3) Let someone else read it – preferably someone who doesn’t know the project
Let those familiar with your project help you proof it. But I suggest handing it to someone outside your industry for a final read. Here’s why.
The judge looking at your entry is well-qualified, but he or she may not be familiar with your industry. For example, I know a great deal about media relations, events and speech writing, but I’ve never written an annual report or competed for government grants.
The best protection against unintentional myopic thinking is letting someone else read it – someone who isn’t already familiar with the project you are describing. Does it make sense to them? Do they understand the significance of each bullet? In your effort to edit, did you cut out some necessary background?
(4) Don’t leave anything out
When I was in charge of SPRF’s Lanterns, I had the opportunity to see many judging sheets. And there are a few things that often get left out of entries.
Did you talk about your budget? You need to mention it, even if you cannot divulge the amount due to confidentiality. Did you name your key audiences? While you were describing the situation, did you remember to talk about research? Did you provide solid metrics in the evaluation section that tie directly back to your objectives? Did you remember to identify your specific role in the project?
Also, this is just a personal opinion, but I think it’s okay to admit that you didn’t reach an objective. Just make sure that you talk about what you learned and what you’d do differently.
(5) Creativity applies to your support material and the way you present it in the entry
You are not supposed to pretty up the entry, and the formatting of the printout isn’t great. So how to do get creative? I’d argue it’s the words you use and the presentation of your collateral. Take the time to include dividers. Include emails if they help finish telling the story and provide “color commentary.” I’ve even been known to place post-it notes under the sheet protectors to call attention to specific pieces of the collateral for the judges (making it easy to scan, remember?).
So there you go. The deadline for entering Medallions is postmark Friday January 25. So get to the Medallions website and enter! And since I believe it helps, I’ve included a shortened version my entry last year. Good luck.