Writing a winning submission for awards ceremonies
Whether you’re vying for a BISHTA (British Pool and Hot Tub Award) or Pedigree Breeder of the Year in the National Pig Awards, a good award submission is essential. Judges might not have any experience of you or your brand, so the only thing they can go on is what you present.
Unless you’re Netflix, with 7,891,297 Oscar nominations this year, you only get one shot. Here’s how to get it right.
Read the question
Your schoolteachers had it right. Before you begin, always read the question. Actually, no, don’t just read it. Think about it. What are they really asking you for?
Take this imaginative question from the HEIST awards for Higher Education (the category is “marketing team of the year”):
What makes you Marketing Team of the Year? (2000 words)
Obviously, you need to talk about how great your team is. But read it closer and there are lots of implied conditions and sub-questions. Let’s start with the obvious – you need to be working in marketing and the work you talk about should be from this year.
Beyond the obvious, there are lots of implications about what they expect you to write. The generous word limit means you won’t just be talking about campaigns. You need to sell the personalities within your team. You need to describe individual roles and how they contribute to wider goals. You need to talk about how you work with colleagues from other teams.
So, remember to answer the question. Having too narrow a focus, or, equally, going off on a random tangent, won’t earn you extra points – it will just make your submission look weaker.
And don’t treat the word limit as a target. Cramming words in won’t help – remember to give your copy space to breathe.
Start as you mean to go on
The intro has a disproportionately high effect on whether people are impressed by your submission. So make it good.
Tell the reader everything they need to know at this stage in as few words as possible. And don’t forget to include some results early on. People want to quickly find out what your project is, who was involved and whether it was successful.
Remember to assume your reader knows absolutely nothing about you and stick to straightforward facts.
Be creative with how you present the results
It seems like, by default, people always put results at the end. But results are the most important bit. You should be shouting about them all the way through your submission. Mention them in the intro, include a few nods here and there throughout the bulk of the copy, and then give the full details later on in the submission.
If you don’t have a convincing set of numbers and facts to make your case, don’t despair. Results can be qualitative as well as quantitative, so make sure you include something to show the impact you’ve had. Here are some examples:
An inspiring story about someone whose life has changed because of your project
Anecdotes about people’s reactions
Things you’ve learnt or you’ve taught others
What this could mean for the wider sector, or even society as a whole
A convincing structure
The key to building up a logical argument is to give your writing structure. Take your reader on a journey of persuasion.
Of course, the submission might have set questions that limit your creativity. But if you’re faced with a blank box, your best bet is to follow a proven format, for example:
We’ve written before about how CIGAR makes a great structure for an intro. Well, your submission is basically an introduction to your project. Our blog post has a good summary of the format – but instead of a call to action for your resolution (“give me the award now!”), try talking about the results of what you did.
Get the results in early on if you can. Numbers and facts are convincing, so showing your success straight away will help strengthen your case.
The element many people often leave out is the issue – your project will only sound impressive if it solves a real challenge. So don’t forget to dramatise the problem.
Language to impress
Put yourself in the judge’s shoes. You’ve got a stack of submissions to read through and they’re all starting to sound the same. It’s all “centre of excellence” this or “world-leading” that. Then suddenly you come across a refreshingly clear and straightforward submission. It’s easy to read, light-hearted enough to be enjoyable, and, most importantly, doesn’t make you hunt through the waffle for the real story.
We’d all sway towards the easier read.
Complicated language doesn’t make you sound more intelligent. It just makes your writing harder to read. Keep your copy simple and let your project shine through.
Bring it to life
Hopefully the judges are captivated by your well-written answers. But just in case they’re reading on the train home after a tiring day at the office, you’ll need a few extra tricks up your sleeve.
Scatter in a few of these to add some zazz:
Quotes from customers/users for extra authenticity
Stats to prove your point and catch the reader’s eye (using numbers is 112% more visible than using words like one hundred and twelve)
Questions to engage the reader (“how could we solve this monemental challenge?”)
Punchy sentences to grab attention. Bam.
Subheads to break up long blocks
Bullet points to help you avoid boring lists in a paragraph
Creative word choices to add panache
If the formatting allows it, photos, graphs, screenshots and other media can really illustrate your point – but don’t rely on them
To video or not to video?
In some awards, your competitors will have really raised the bar with their submissions. If you’re considering a case study video to support your documents, make sure it’s a good one. There’s nothing more deflating than a badly produced video.
Consider building the production into the deal with your agency before the project starts. Or, if you’ve got the capability to do it well in house, read our blog for tips writing the script.
Remember, the same advice for the submission applies to the video. If it’s dull and generic, it won’t stand out. Take a look at this parody to see an example:
Show your professionalism
Although you have to work within the guidelines, take every opportunity to pimp up your submission. If you have to send a paper copy, why not print it on a decent paper stock? Or if you’re uploading it as a PDF, ask your designer to prettify it to make it stand out from the usual plain document.
If you’re competing for an award, you’re trying to show you’re the best in your game. Don’t ruin your image with a crinkled bit of old paper or a badly formatted document.
And it goes without saying, triple check everything before you send. If it’s a particularly high stakes award, maybe hire a professional proofreader. Grammar nerds are very picky and if your judge is one of them, well… good luck with that dangling modifier you didn’t notice.