Insider tips from an awards judge

What is the secret to winning industry awards? On Wednesday night comms pros from around the Globe were honoured at the Melcrum Awards #melcrumawards in London.

Melcrum I had the pleasure of being a judge for those ones across all categories. I’ve written this article to offer insight into how awards work, what I’ve experienced as a judge and offer some advice if you’re thinking of submitting your work to future awards.

I was originally due to speak at the Melcrum Summit this week on this topic, but unfortunately had to cancel attending (growing twins is proving exhausting!), so thought I’d write it here instead.

Ready? Let’s go…

Why enter awards?
I get asked this question a lot. As someone who has been fortunate to receive awards over the years, they’re welcome additions to my CV, useful as a benchmark of my work and I welcome the unfiltered feedback from peers and experts. They’ve often been a talking point when people have recruited me too.

I’m due to attend the #somecomms awards next week as my blog has been shortlisted in the Best Business Blog category, which I’m delighted about (that’s obviously one I didn’t judge!).

From PR Week, to IABC, CIPR, IoIC and every other comms-related acronym under the sun, award schemes are rife. My answer to choosing which ones to enter is to make sure you know what’s out there, what your budget is and what the benefits of taking part are. I’ve collated just some of them as the header image on this page and the list seems to grow every year.

quote_1Do your homework and make smart choices. I’ve given you a head-start – see my comms calendar for the awards that I’m aware of. If you know of some that are missing, do let me know.

Entering awards takes time, not only in securing budget to have a submission in the first place, but in completing the forms and paperwork. Ensure you have sufficient resources (e.g. time) to maximise your chance of success.

An air of mystery

There’s often an air of mystery around awards, and there shouldn’t be. I judge various awards each year and they vary in rules – for some I sign non disclosure agreements, which means it’s not communicated at all that I’m judging, others are done via committees or in pairs, while others are panels, in person or discussion/presentation based.

However, what unites them all is robustness. Every award I’ve judged has had a set of rules to ensure fairness and accuracy all round. I wouldn’t want to be involved if that wasn’t the case.

I’ve also seen some absolute howlers on entries in the past – and I’ll share those in a moment (naming no names!).

Top tips for award success – based on my judging experience over the years:

1. Read the criteria for entry and make sure you choose the correct category. 
It’s extremely obvious when a piece of work has been submitted to “be seen” to be in a certain category – ensure you are entering it into the correct one for your campaign or initiative.

Sometimes it may be best to wait another year to enter, particularly if your measurement section is weak as you’re half way through the campaign.

2. Have you answered the question/s?
This seems such an obvious thing to write, but you’d be surprised how many times I see the questions go answered, or lots of irrelevant information included.

Score sheets are often divided into sections, with points allocated against each question. If you leave one unanswered, you’re immediately at a disadvantage as you cannot score against a blank sheet of paper!

3. Give context
quote_2Bear in mind the judge may never have heard of your company before. Give them a brief summary, but don’t waste valuable entry space on how many markets you’re in or a full history, unless it’s relevant to your submission.

I’ve often searched an organisation’s ‘About’ page on their website if I want more info than is required, but bear in mind not everyone will do that. So make sure you give enough context without overkill.

4. Check the requirements
Some awards need you to include a 100 word summary for the awards brochure, or a logo, or a team picture, or accompanying material to go alongside your entry. Double check everything before sending it off, as missing elements can lead to delays or even disqualification.

Don’t go over the word count. It exists for a reason – some even penalise you for going over and deduct points. This is important because you’ll be at a disadvantage, rather than advantage if you ignore the rules.

Measurement sections are consistently weak. This is such a critical part of your entry, do give it the time and attention it deserves. It’s your chance to prove that what you have done has worked, or to explain what went wrong.

5. Check your dates
Most awards require work to have been conducted in a set timeframe e.g. January – December of a certain year. If the work you are submitting falls outside of this, you will lose marks or may even be disqualified from entering altogether. Make it clear whether your project has finished or is still ongoing.

6. Testimonials
Lots of entries include feedback from internal stakeholders. Speaking personally, I think quotes from business partners/employees/senior leaders carry more weight than a Director of Comms endorsing the work of their team.

I look to see what impact and results the work has had across the business, not just the comms team singing their own praises. Bear in mind who you are writing the entry for and the power of the additional context such quotes can add.

7. Supporting material
If you’re encouraged to submit supporting material, such as visuals or a video, it’s a good idea to do so. It all adds colour and provides a snapshot into what you did, which gives the judges more to work with. However, don’t include every single poster in every single language. Judging can often take up to a week and if you provide too much, you won’t be allotted any more time for reviewing – be selective about what you send.

8. Double check your entry
Spelling errors should not be included. Avoid jargon, industry-specific language and assumptions. This is your chance to be as crystal clear as you can to maximise your chance of being shortlisted. Ambiguous language does you no favours.

Ask a colleague to read your work. Tip: I have seen a handful of examples over the years where people have had tracked changes on. However, they haven’t turned them off! So I have seen things like: “Well we haven’t really done that, but make something up here for the judges – a sentence will do.”

Needless to say, there’s no excuse for that! So triple check you have saved the final version, and if required, PDF it so it’s a clean copy that is ready to be judged.

9. Provide relevant access
If you are entering your intranet, can the judge access it remotely? Make sure you provide full login information or make yourself available for them to review it in person.

I’ve had a few times when I’ve needed to watch a video but it’s been restricted to internal views only – makes it very hard to judge when it can’t be watched!

This wastes time from the award organisers in having to come back to you for permission. It’s better to think this through upfront so there are no reasons why your hard work cannot be viewed and judged as you’d like it to be.

10. Review previous winning entries
Lots of award schemes now post case studies of winning entries online, or the winners speak at conferences or mini showcases to highlight what they did and why it was successful. Do your homework to get an idea of what has been successful and use those opportunities to ask questions.

11. Meet the deadline
Some awards penalise late entries, or don’t allow them to be considered at all. Others reward you for early submission (e.g. early bird entry fees).

Make sure you know the closing date and stick to it. If you need to post rather than email, ensure there is ample time for your entry to reach its intended destination.

I hope you find these tips useful to help you prepare future entries.

Best of luck – dust off those award cabinet shelves in preparation!

And the 2014 Melcrum Awards winners are..

  • Kate ShawStrategic Change and Crisis Communication: Bank of New Zealand and Lloyds Bank
  • Excellence in Employee Engagement: AstraZeneca
  • Digital Innovation: Ericsson
  • Internal Communicator of the Year: Kate Shaw, Nationwide Building Society (pictured)
  • Large Team of the Year: Nationwide Building Society
  • Small Team of the Year: AIB
  • Collaboration for Competitive Impact: ING
  • Leader of the Year: Alun Metford, AstraZeneca
  • Lifetime achievement: Susan Kelly.

Upcoming awards to consider entering include:

Thank you as ever for stopping by,


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published 17 October 2014.


  1. Great tips. As a frequent IABC Gold Quill judge, I would agree with all these points. I would also emphasise the importance of addressing all the criteria as per item 4 above. In addition to the awards listed, it is also 2015 IABC Gold Quill submission season, details at

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