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So its that time of year again when you are bombarded with emails from the differing award organisations and you cant help but notice almost every trade publication is shoving their own or affiliated awards programs down your throat.

In the past I’ve always been a sceptic of awards particularly the larger ones. The chances of our small business with an average project budget of around £50K competing against the bigger agencies with £250k + budgets is near impossible. I also found them to be a bit pretentious and self congratulatory. I therefore made the decision never to enter them and concentrate our time on other marketing efforts. Now, looking back, it was a pretty stupid decision to make.

Firstly industry awards massively differ from award to award. Some are medium specific whilst others are more generic; some simply award the best work whilst others take budget vs. effectiveness into account and the geography of awards ranges from international to regional. There are appropriate awards for every business to enter and the rewards are long term trophies of your success which helps form bonds with existing client, make new clients and retain/attract the best talent. The only sure thing is that if you don’t enter awards, you wont win awards.

I will write a separate blog post soon with a list of all the awards and links to their sites that will help you in selecting the most appropriate for you to enter. This post is solely dealing with how to win the awards after you’ve made the decision to enter.

I’ve been judging awards now for the last 7 years and have been more seriously involved with the strategy and chairing of judging over the last 3 years. I’ve learnt a lot about the processes and the factors that affect adjudication and want to share some of the inside knowledge I’ve acquired that will help you to win.

The simple trick is to put yourself in the position of a judge and try to think what they will be looking for. Considering most people that enter awards are marketing savvy and have submitted projects that have been built for an audience, I’m constantly surprised by how little thought has gone into the application.

You have to consider that a judge is a busy, successful professional within their sector (otherwise they wouldn’t have been selected as a judge). It normally takes a judge a full day to go through the initial list of award applications on their own and then another full day to go through the shortlist together with their peers in order to select a winner. Anything you can do to make this process simpler for them the better. This means keeping your application succinct to the point where you don’t loose any important detail…. Just don’t waffle on.

I’ll use a real example (no names) to illustrate how you can turn a good project into a bad award entrant. Whilst I was judging a web category at the BIMA’s one year, we had an entry that had attached a full project specification document to the application as support. They therefore felt that they could answer most of the questions on the application form with ‘see supporting documents’. They also gave a link to their live project. I spent a good amount of time looking at this vast project which I have to admit infuriated me a little because it took a lot of my time. When I came to the judging day I could tell some of the other judges in my category hadn’t much of an idea what the project had achieved and devalued it to the point of it coming off the short-list. I tried to fight their case but in the end I was outnumbered.

Why did this happen? Think of it from the judges point of view. I have 8 hours and 32 entries to look at (this is a conservative estimate). That’s 15 minutes on each piece at the most. I read the application form and it’s not even complete. I then see the supporting 60 page spec doc which I know I’ll never get through so leave that completely. Then I go onto the site and just start clicking around with no specific user experience route. It’s never going to work!

Now what should have been done?

They fill out the application form in a simple and succinct manner, they only include evidence based results, they don’t even bother to include the spec document…it has no purpose here and most importantly, they screen capture and narrate the user experience they want us to see.

The use of video is key to winning an award. Don’t let the judges have to read through a load of text and then make their own user journey through your project. Dictate to them what they see and when they see it. You can also give background, objectives and results in the video that will help to re-enforce why it’s a good entry. If you keep the video to a maximum of 5 minutes you’ll ensure that all the key messages you want the judge to see including the tour of your project have been seen in a more immersive way without the judge having to even visit or navigate your project.

The other great thing about doing this is that the video can be re-used on other awards entries and used as a portfolio piece on your site and on social media. The companies out there that clean up all the big digital awards have always done this. Judges find reviewing an application from the likes of AKQA really enjoyable…its this feel good factor that helps influence a judges feelings towards the project.

So a quick summary of DO’s and DONT’s:


  • DO enter awards that are relevant to you.
  • DON’T bother to enter awards that are not suitable or are above/below your league.
  • DO make sure you enter the right category.
  • DO read and take notice of any category criteria and constantly refer in your application as to how you satisfied them.
  • DO fully complete the application form(s) in a succinct manner.
  • DON’T put in measures of success or ROI stats unless they are proven and/or externally sourced.
  • DO remember that a judge has 15 minutes at the most to review your project.
  • DO make a video for your entry of no longer than 5 minutes.
  • DO include objectives and results in your video.
  • DON’T expect the judges to view your project in the way you expected.
  • DON’T give any supporting detailed documents unless essential or specifically asked for.
  • DO attend an award ceremony if you’re shortlisted. It’s great networking and you look like idiots if you win and are not present (seen this a few times).
  • DON’T give up hope if you don’t win. Keep on trying.