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What not to do when Entering for an Award – a Judges’ Perspective

Last week the shortlists for the European Searchawards were announced. As always with prizes a list of nominees (or winners for that matter) means a lot of people have an opinion. They either agree or disagree with the judges’ choices and even within the judging team not everybody has the same favourites for winning.

As I was on several search awards before, I was one of the judges. And being a judge is very interesting. It’s like being a referee at a Football game: you can hardly ever do anything right and everyone always knows better. And as with decisions made by referees, with judging as well there are good and sometimes bad decisions, but in the end it always seems to even out.

And there is another element: most mistakes are not made by the referees or judges, but by the ‘players’, the one doing the entries. As I noticed again judging this time around.

yellow-cardWhile judging I ran into some issues which I have been seeing for years. And even though there are lots of blogposts (also on our website) about how to fill in a perfect entry and even though there are apparently people paying other people big sums of money to fill in their entries (and still not getting it right), the art of entering for an award is not one many seem to really understand.

So it’s time for a few lessons from a judge, of things I see going wrong. Make it work for you the next time you enter an award. Note this: anything said here does not say anything about the outcome of the awards in March.

Your fantastic powerpoint template isn’t really that fantastic

With the European Searchawards (and the UK for that matter) you get templates to fill in your applications. For a judge these are very handy, because it gives us structure. You have to remember this: we are seeing tons and tons of entries, you are definitely not the only entry we will be seeing. So make it as easy on a judge. And even though you might think your fantastic Powerpoint presentation will make judges look differently at your entry and it will make you stand out, you better think twice.

Most powerpoint presentations are more confusing than helpful. We want to compare the entries. If one then is the template and the other is a powerpoint, it’s more difficult to compare the both. And no matter how nice your powerpoint may be: it won’t help you unless you also have the template entered.

Your lesson learned: always make it as easy as possible for the judges.

“Creativity” is not “innovation”

One of the categories in the awards is ‘innovation’. In this category I have seen some very good entries. Some were brilliant. They were however not innovative, they were creative. And there is a big difference between the two. ‘Innovative’ to me stands for new and exciting. Going into directions others have not gone before. Instead I saw a lot of entries being creative: using existing methods or techniques to do someting different. To me that is not innovative. So no matter how cool it is, it won’t get you forward in this category.

Your lesson learned: make sure your entry fits the category descriptions.

What do you mean ‘new’? Haven’t you googled it?

Many people think that entries for an award are like sales pitches. You have to ‘sell’ it to the judges. That thought is a mistake. It’s not a pitch. I’m not going to buy your product or your services, I’m here to judge it. So slamming me in the face with salesy sentences like ‘this is a brand new idea which is unique in it’s kind’ wont really ‘sell’ it to me. Actually, it does something else: it triggers me. Because if you claim it is something ‘new’, I sure as hell am going to check if it really is. And in some cases it is as simple as doing a Google search to find out that it is not new at all, but that you ‘stole’ the idea from someone else.

Who do you take me for? A ‘stupid’ client? Come on! Judges aren’t stupid.

Your lesson learned: only claim something is “new” if it really is new.

Do you really think I have all the time in the world?

Some entries truly surprise me. They go all the way  to make an impression. But like with many things: more isn’t always better. It’s about giving the right information. Putting in videos is nice, but not if they are an hour long. Adding extra information is nice as well, but not if it’s not relevant to the case. Why should I care that your company has been around for 10 years and that your clients from 5 years back are still happy with you when the case I’m supposed to be judging has nothing to do with that?

Some people creating entries must think that the more they throw at a judge, the more impressed they are: not true. It only clutters things.

Your lesson learned: be relevant, only give the right information, don’t just throw stuff at a judge

Entering the same case 2 or 3 times in 2 years doesn’t really make it better

It happens that you read a case and you think ‘hey’, I’ve seen this before. And it turns out that the case was also entered in an earlier edition and in different awards as well. If it is then presented as a ‘unique’ case it doesn’t really add value to the judges decisions. It makes that as a judge I feel a bit ‘cheated on’. We ranked you last time around, why would we do it again? At least give us something new. Especially if you enter in the ‘innovation’ category…

Your lesson learned: If you decide to ‘milk’ a case, don’t do it towards the same judges.

“We have more unique viewers on Facebook than…”, you really think I believe that?

Sometimes you can’t believe what you are reading. It’s like I mentioned above, it’s not new unless it really is new. We will find out if it’s not. And again, you are not sales pitching here. You are dealing with industry experts, not ignorant clients. And if then as an expert you read “We have more unique viewers on Facebook than [fill in famous brand here] “, really all the alarm bells go off. Don’t waste my time with lies. Some things are easy to check and others so vague that it’s just not true. But you really think we would believe you are beating a big brand without checking?

Your lesson learned: only claim something if it’s 100% true, judges will find out, because they are no idiots.

Conclusion: The good suffer from the bad

Now it might seem as if every case I got was terrible. It wasn’t. But it does strike me that easy things like above are done wrong. Companies enter just for the sake of entering. And to be honest, with that you are wasting my time. And the time of others as well. You won’t win, and in the end it will only make you look bad as well as others.

In the end I think that the main lesson you should learn from this article is simple: make an effort if you want to enter for an award, or don’t enter at all.

Finally a question: be honest: is there one above here which you have been guilty of doing…? Tel me!



Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
  • Could not agree more! – Adding as well: Short and clear bullet points and informed headlines really help. Reading through 100 pages of text for 50 entries is more than enough for any human being in trying to judge your entry in the correct light.

  • Nick Garner

    and as a fellow judge of Bas’s i totally egree with everything he says. My main thoughts are – (reiterating Bas) its like reviewing CV’s – after you read 40 of them you get into scanning and looking for key points of differentiation, so what works well for me is
    a. using the entry template
    b. telling a great story in not too many words
    c. having 1 or 2 really memorable points
    d. do use charts and diagrams, just make sure they are in the template
    e. what the point of differentiation is i.e. you did a great PPC campaign, lots of people do – what was it about the campaign that made it so successful? did you have better creative? better bid management? and so on.
    f. Finally, because we have to pre score entries and then if your entry makes the shortlist, we then have to re-remember everything, a BIG memory hook at the summary part of the entry is so useful i.e. summary of the entry and maybe a graph or something visual

  • studiumcirclus

    You know who should read this? Clients. Clients need to be more astute, like judges 🙂