How to Enter Your Work in an Industry Contest

This post originally appeared at the Content Bureau blog.

Recently, I was honored to be included as a judge on the Verbal Identity Panel of the LIA Awards, held in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. Although the LIA has been rewarding excellence in advertising for 20 years, 2016 was the first year that Verbal Identity was added to the judging categories. I learned a lot over the course of three days, and I’ll share those insights with you in this short series on industry awards.

First Up: How to Enter Your Work in an Industry Contest

Although we in the content biz often say that good work is its own reward, winning an award for that work brings a special kind of satisfaction. It means that your peers have recognized your work as being best in class: not only did your work make the client happy, but it stood as an example of great communication and persuasion. Go you!

But awards don’t just happen. To be considered for an award, you’ve got to take the initiative and enter your work in the appropriate award category. (The Clios are the most famous advertising awards, but there are at least 20 other competitions held every year.) And before you submit your work, make sure you read these four tips:

1. Read the entry requirements.

Read all of the requirements. Your work won’t be considered if you miss the deadline for entries, or you send the material to the wrong address, or you don’t include the entry fee. Remember, the folks who are running the competition have to sort through sometimes hundreds of entries—they won’t have time to tell you that you forgot to include the check. And, if you do miss a deadline, well, there’s always next year. There’s nothing so juvenile as begging for extra time to turn in an assignment.

2. Enter your work in the correct category.

I refer you back to #1. Read the category descriptions and think hard about where your entry fits in. Of course, sometimes you might be able to enter more than one category—in which case, go you, again! But you should be sure that you’re submitting your work correctly, no matter how many categories you enter. During my LIA jury discussions, we moved several entries from one category to another (e.g., from “Tagline” to “Tone of Voice”) because the entries were clearly not taglines. In this case, we had the luxury of time to discuss and agree on such changes—but another jury might simply have thrown the entries out. Not sure about the right category? Get some outside opinions. And take the time to review the previous year’s winners—that will give you an excellent idea of what each category represents.

3. Make sure your work is eligible.

See Tip #1 again. This time, focus specifically on the requirements for the work, such as format, launch date, geographic limitations, etc. The entry guidelines should list the specific requirements that your work must meet. Don’t try to sneak something in if it violates the rules, thinking that the jury won’t notice. They will notice. They know how to use Google. And they might be annoyed that you wasted their time. To give another example from my recent jury: we had one entry in the 2016 Tagline category for a slogan that was launched in 2010. (We were more amused than annoyed. But that tagline still bit the dust.)

4. Present the best case study for your work.

Most contests request some explanatory material to accompany the submitted work: A television ad should be entered with the script. A magazine ad in Chinese should have the English translation. A billboard campaign should have photos of the actual billboards in real-world locations, etc. A jury will always consider your content as the audience would, presented with comment. But the jury also wants to know the professional context. Was it a name change? If so, what was the old name—and what was the rationale for changing it? If it was a copywriting submission, how successful was it in achieving its goal—did it drive more sales? Was there more media coverage? Remember, these are your peers. They understand creative briefs and brand essence. They want to know how and why your work accomplished the client’s goals.

Taking the contest entry rules seriously doesn’t mean you’ll win, of course. But it does mean that your work will go before the jury instead of being tossed into the bin within the first few minutes of discussion.

In next week’s blog post, I’ll share some thoughts on what makes award-winning content. In the meantime—read the requirements!

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