4 Keys to Creating an Award Submission that Gets a Judge's Attention

Awards season may have just wrapped up in Hollywood, but it continues unabated in the world of PR and marketing. In addition to the EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year, we’ve got the usual suspects coming up, including the Washington Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 and Women Who Mean Business awards, the Federal 100, and so many more.

These awards are big, highly coveted — and extraordinarily competitive. How do you create an award submission that will grab the judges’ attention and get you up on stage in front of the adoring and appreciative masses?

First, ask: are you worthy?

Before you rent your tux (or buy that $4,000 dress) and polish up your acceptance speech, know this: while everyone may think they’re an award contender, not everyone is.

The key thing that sets the winners apart from the also-rans is that the winners…have something that sets them apart from the also-rans. They’ve accomplished something unique and extraordinary. Perhaps they’ve created a revolutionary product, gone above and beyond with their customer service initiatives, or have executives that have made a true difference within their organizations or communities.

These cannot be garden variety accomplishments, either; they should really stand out. So, be honest with yourself. Do you or your team/company have that special something? If not, you may want to consider passing (these nominations take a lot of time and effort to put together) or looking for another category that you are better equipped to compete in.

Tell your story in an interesting way

So you’ve deemed yourself worthy? Congratulations!

Now, stop.

Before you write anything, figure out what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it. While you’re obviously going to tout your accomplishments, trying thinking bigger.

Some of the best nominations tie individual or company accomplishments to things that are happening in the world at large. Do you have an employee that has done a lot of outreach work to encourage growth of women in STEM? Awesome. Let’s talk about it! Has your company created a truly innovative piece of technology that will help businesses accelerate digital transformation? Cool. Write it up! Have someone in your company who can truly be called a visionary without any hint of irony. Nice. Get that person out there!

Not everything has to tap into social consciousness or a major business trend, though. Many companies win year-over-year by simply delivering the goods when it counts. Think about diving into the nomination pool if you’ve got a customer service model that works, or a fantastic HR team, or a management team that has proven adept at navigating the marketplace and maintain your company’s winning streak. Just make sure you have a good story to tell, and tell it in a compelling way.

Supporting examples are your friends

Part of the telling should include examples and facts that support your argument for consideration. You can write 500 words about why your team or company should be considered for an award, but without supporting evidence it just comes off as being braggadocious.

There are many different types of powerful supporting evidence you should consider. For instance, if you’re nominating someone for a community service award, you’ll want to detail the various charities or organizations the nominee is involved with. If it’s a corporate success award, you might want to consider highlighting your company’s financials (if they are public) or sales growth. If it’s a product award, consider including testimony from actual customers who have found success using the product.

The types of supporting evidence will change based on the award submission. Nevertheless, there should always be something that backs up your argument for immortalization.

References can be golden

Speaking of support, most awards will require you to include at least a few external references who the judges can contact to get their perspective. Choose these wisely! Don’t just copy the references you may have used for other award submissions from the past few years; they may no longer be with their companies, or their relationship with your organization may have changed. Instead, select references who can speak to the success of your company or product as it stands today. It’s even better if they are long-time clients that are familiar with your business and can attest to how great it’s been throughout the course of your relationship with them.

If you can, ask these folks if it’s OK to use them as references before submitting the nomination. At the very least, give them a heads-up that you’ll be sending their contact information to the judges. No one loves their information to be shared without knowledge, and nobody wants to be blindsided by a call out of the blue. It’s a nice form of common courtesy, and they’ll probably appreciate the fact that you thought about them. Plus, it’ll give you a chance to take their temperature — just to be sure that they’re still good contacts to use in the nomination form.

I’m not saying that you’re going to walk off the stage like Guillermo Del Toro if you follow these simple rules of thumb, but your nomination will likely stand a much better chance of getting noticed. And if you don’t win now, remember, there’s always next year. After all, even Meryl Streep doesn’t win all the time.

Let’s talk.