Getting industry recognition and awards is an excellent way to build extra credibility for your organization, team, products and initiatives. It can help your brand break through the noise in a crowded market and arm you with third-party validation for use across sales, marketing and recruiting. As a PR professional working in the high tech space, an important part of my day-to-day job is to track new and ongoing award opportunities, provide guidance on the best ones to pursue, and manage the overall process of creating a killer “winning” submission.
Given the sheer number of programs I’ve run over the years (and the amount of winning applications I’ve helped create), I thought it might be helpful to share some key tips I’ve learned throughout the process. So without further ado, here are five tips that could help your PR team run a successful awards program.
1. Use One Source to Rule Them All
Depending on the technology sector, your company could be applying for more than 50 awards annually (many with multiple categories and subcategories). If you want a realistic chance of winning these, organization is critical. That all starts by creating a rock-solid centralized awards tracker – and using it religiously. Cataloguing opportunities in a central location is the best way for your PR team to capture open/close dates for nominations, eligibility and submission requirements, entry fees, important links, submission status, and other pertinent details. Honestly, I highly recommend building a living document in Google Sheets. Not only does this streamline collaboration for your PR team, but it allows you to monitor status, advise on categories, escalate priority items, and more, all in real-time.
And to ensure the centralized resource remains fresh, ask your team to create a weekly or monthly schedule to identify new opportunities that might pop up and monitor deadline changes (which happen often). If you use a master PR Tracker in Google Sheets, Excel, or some other project management tool, consider making the awards tracker its own tab in that centralized resource. Ease of accessibility is key to ensuring that real-time updates are made, that the information is accurate and credible, and that action is being taken.
2. Opt-In, Opt-In, Opt-In
The majority of awards are a revenue stream for publications and organizations, which means they want as many submissions as possible. As a result, most award programs offer an opt-in email alert service to notify subscribers when nominations open, deadlines are approaching, results are announced, and so on. Signing up for these alerts is one of the best ways to stay on top of submission windows, and they also allow your team to jump in and kick off the drafting process as soon as calls for submissions are officially opened (which if you have to wrangle customers, partners or other data, can take some prep). Pro Tip: Have your team put together a master list of those email alerts so if a team member leaves or a new one arrives, there’s a master to sign up from.
If your team uses an email alias (for example prteam@companynamedotcom) it might even be a good idea to use that address for notifications to help guarantee that nothing gets missed. The more eyeballs the better. Plus, this trick can be a life saver if the team’s main point of contact for managing certain awards gets sick or takes an extended vacation.
3. Make Sure There’s a Long Runway
“Do, not due,” as they say – which can be easier said than done when it comes to shifting deadlines and long submission forms. But the gist here is to be proactive. Make sure your team always gets the submission process kicked off as early as possible and creates a workback timeline for drafts and review cycles. I recommend working in some wiggle room for anything that could potentially throw a wrench in the process along the way (such as a customer dropping out, incomplete data, or that last minute “oh, the CEO does want to review this now” request).
Many of these awards rely on participation from the client’s subject matter experts (SMEs), executive leadership, partners or customers. Requirements like this often add weeks to the submission process. Mandate that your team start working against deadlines at least one month in advance. For example, several submission categories in SC Media’s 2020 SC Awards required additional support in the form of three client testimonials (with contact information) and the optional “but not really optional” video. Don’t get stuck with an inferior submission just because you ran out of time.
4. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Just Realign It
Many award programs include the same canned application questions year to year. If your team has submitted for one of these opportunities before, they can save time by reusing content that already exists, or tweaking it slightly to account for any new/significant updates. Therefore, make a point to have your PR team collecting and organizing the final versions of past nominations in a single repository or library.
I recommend finding a uniform way to label and tag previous submissions so anyone on your team can easily eyeball the list of files to determine which submission documents were for what awards program, what or who was nominated, and how recent the material is. More than likely there will be overlap in both the products and professionals your team nominates, as well as the application categories, prompts and requirements. Having approved materials on hand – especially ones that have proven themselves effective by securing wins – allows your team to streamline the drafting process for similar opportunities moving forward.
Starting from scratch can sometimes feel like randomly throwing darts at a wall, but using approved existing content provides a solid starting point, and gives guidance to SMEs or others involved in the drafting process.
5. Never Stop Improving
A successful team never stops pushing to enhance and refine their management processes. The content your team produces and the results your team achieves should continue to get better over time. To ensure ongoing success, awards programs need to evolve in tandem, which can only be accomplished with diligence and creativity. Keep an eye on where clients’ competitors are applying (as well as the aspirational companies in their space), and always be on the lookout for new programs to pursue.
Consider having your team evaluate and tier award opportunities based on business objectives (for example you might be trying to raise thought-leadership for your CTO, and care less about product recognition). This will allow your team to make strong and informed recommendations about the opportunities that should be added, dropped, and prioritized.
How should your team distinguish top-tier award programs from second-tier opportunities (in addition to your business objectives)? Look at key indicators such as industry notoriety, the outlet’s Domain Authority, and how award validation can be leveraged by winners (whether internally or through other channels). Pro Tip: Have your team put together a cost matrix that predicts award expense for the year. This eliminates surprises in the marketing budget and allows for streamlined approval of submissions and invoicing.
As Russell Wilson says, “The separation is in the preparation.” Managing a successful awards program requires a lot of thought and attention to detail. If your team considers putting these tips into practice, it could help them be more efficient and effective at finding, managing and submitting for awards. Good luck (but we’re not judging).