Updated: Sep 29, 2020
In the UK there are hundreds of awards that honour all types of industries and companies. From those that reward small businesses for their ethical practices, or those that champion brands for their clever packaging design or even those that honour pension funds and mortgage strategies - wherever you look there’s likely to be an award that will suit your style of business. I’ve been writing award nominations for the past ten years for a wide range of sectors including market research, travel and media and I’ve truly learnt the nuts and bolts of what the judges are looking for. Winning awards isn’t just a well deserved pat on the back, it can provide industry recognition, put your company’s name on the map and most importantly help you win new clients. Below I’ve pulled together a full guide on writing winning award entries, packed full of tips to help you wow the judges. If instead, you’d like my freelance support as an award submission writer to help you win your company that coveted gold, then please don’t hesitate to get in contact.
Choose the right awards to enter
Choosing the right awards to enter can feel like a feat in itself. Some industries have multiple awards to choose from, and it can end up a costly and timely exercise if you’re not strategic with how you approach them. Ensure you research heavily each award you enter. Have your competitors won at them before? Are the categories suitable for your campaign/business? Is the award well recognised in the industry? Do the awards recognise creative or ethical companies, and therefore is this how you’d like your brand to be portrayed? Keep an eye out for new awards that are being set up by well respected publishers/brands/venues etc as you may find you will have less competition for the top spot in their first year of running them.
Create an awards calendar
Planning out an awards calendar for each year is an excellent way to stay on top of deadlines and help you plan your time accordingly. Systems such as Trello can be a great free tool to help you timeline the awards you want to enter, with handy reminders that will ensure you’re staying on track.
What to track on your awards calendar
Name of each award
Early bird deadline (try to aim for this deadline as it has a reduced entry cost)
Date you will start preparing your entry (aim for two months prior to deadline)
Date you plan to send the final award to internal teams for checking
Date you will have the final award submission proofread
Date you plan to submit your final entry
Date of shortlists (to plan for social media content if you’re shortlisted)
Date of award ceremony (to plan for colleagues to attend)
Pull together your killer awards entry team
Most awards will require knowledge from all areas of the business to create a well-rounded award submission. This may include for Agency of the Year submissions, teams such as sales, operations, marketing, HR and finance, whilst campaign-specific award submissions may require the account manager and SEO/PPC teams etc. Identify early on who should be on this team and schedule a kick-off meeting to ensure every person understands what will be required of them.
Read the awards judging criteria, then read it again
Every award is different, and therefore comes with an individual set of judging criteria. This criteria will not only help guide you in the story that you want to tell, but it also is your handy tick list to ensure you’re giving the judges what they’re looking for. Copy and paste the award submission criteria onto a Word doc (removing any unnecessary words and phrases), so you’re left with key statements. These will help you form the basis of your awards submission. Judges predominantly work on a points system, based on the awards criteria supplied. Therefore if you miss out elements in your submission that they have specifically asked for then your score will undoubtedly be lower. Particularly take note of the time bracket that the information is required from. Often it is for the year directly prior to the awards deadline, meaning it sometimes doesn’t run from January to December as you might expect.
Brainstorm your company/campaign highlights
Once you have your list of judging criteria, it’s time to brainstorm the highlights that fit within this criteria. If you’re submitting for a Best Company type award or an Agency of the Year category, then highlights may include: client wins, revenue growth, sustainability practices, company culture, new markets, or office openings. Whilst if you’re entering for a campaign, the focus would be on success metrics such as engagements, conversions or impressions. Put everything down on your document, and place them within the appropriate sections that you’ve created. At the start it may feel an unorganised mess of words, but this is an excellent way to start getting pen to paper and formulating your story.
Schedule in face-to-face meetings or calls with the key stakeholders
In my experience scheduling in time with those who are part of the project is so much more effective than an email. They may mention something that they deem to be unimportant, but could be a pivotal part of your nomination's story. Assign early on who you need to get certain bits of information from and contact them immediately, so there’s not a scramble near the end to find out important bits of evidence that you require for the submission.
Check the format the awards nomination is required as
Before you start your submission check the format the awards submission is required as. Some awards require just an online form submission and no supporting materials, whilst others ask for a PDF, which can therefore allow for a more visual approach. It’s important to check this earlier on, as you may need to build in design time, and further time to gather visuals and graphs to bring your submission to life. For submissions which require an accompanying video, this could add up to an extra month in time needed for writing scripts, sourcing a video production company and final edits - so make sure you discover this early on. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with the awards organisers to ask them if you can provide a visual PDF over the Microsoft Word document that they’ve specified, if you think this will help tell your story better.
Give yourself more time than you think to craft your best award nomination
Building in enough time to complete your award entry is one of the most important factors of writing a successful nomination. Often teams underestimate how much back and forth is involved or how long it may take to gather certain bits of evidence needed, or even how many layers of approvals might need to be undertaken. Early on, identify if any extra sign-offs are needed, i.e your company CEO, PR or comms teams etc. so you can build this into your timeline. I’d recommend starting the process at least two months prior to the deadline to write your winning award entry.
Stick to the word limit that you’ve been allocated
Word limits are designed for a reason. Some judges may need to read 20-30 award submissions throughout the process, and it can be an irritation if an entry goes over the allocated limit. Aim to not go too far under the word limit either, as this may show that your submission is too lightly evidenced. But when writing your award entry, don’t be afraid to go over the limit on your first drafts. It’s much easier to finesse down, than bulk up.
Tell the story, with a beginning, middle and an end
An award submission is so much more engaging and easier to read if it has a story, with a strong structure of a beginning, middle and end. Whilst excellent figures laid out on the page may still look impressive, with no accompanying story it’s unmemorable for the judging panel. Determine your story early on. Did you start up your company from your bedroom, and now you employ a team of twenty across the globe, or did you create an event that was so rewarding for the attendees that it created a step-change in their behaviour. Remember that the judge reading the submission may not know your company, so this is your chance to bring them into your story.
Show your challenges and how you overcame them
Did your company innovatively address the new style of remote working and now have 20% improved productivity? Did your company lose staff but through a supercharged employee retention strategy now have 95% retention? Or did your company diversify during the coronavirus pandemic and in fact drive more YTD revenue than the previous year? Showing how your business had a challenge but then overcame it is an excellent way to strengthen an awards entry. Pull together every workstream, project or initiative that was implemented to overcome the challenge and evidence each with figures, graphs, imagery or testimonials.
Use evidence to back up every claim
Backing up every statement in the entry with proof is the most important element of writing awards entries. With every part, ask yourself if there is a figure, graph, testimonial or visual that could help support each statement.
Evidence types are:
Percentages (a great way to evidence a statement if your numbers are confidential)
Example of a statement that has been evidenced: This has created a greatly improved experience for CLIENT (20% increase in our performance rating). As a result, we have been awarded five extra conferences, increased our number of meetings by 83% and forecast an uplift in events for CLIENT of 67% for 2021.
Find your company’s most eagle-eyed proofreader to check the entry before submitting
Nothing shows a rushed piece of work like a submission with multiple typos in. Build in time to have a colleague proofread the entry to ensure that there are no grammatical or spelling errors before submitting.
Inject the personality of your company/brand into your award submission
Engage the judges with your submission by fully injecting your company's tone of voice into the submission. If your submission highlights your excellent company culture, then show this through shots of your epic summer party, or your SLT doing a orning yoga session. By injecting personality, it makes it far more enjoyable for the judge to read, and it will help it stand out above the other submissions.
Write your stand-out exec summary last
Your executive summary is designed to summarise your submission, and so it’s good practice to write it last. By the end you will have hopefully finessed your story and have a clear idea of the strongest parts of the submission that you would like to pull out to be part of your exec summary. Keep it focused and succinct whilst avoiding repetition of wording from the main body of the document.
Always tell the truth,and nothing but the truth
Whilst most award submissions may contain a slight amount of ‘smoke and mirrors’ it’s imperative that you never lie in an award entry. Whilst it could be tempting to embellish the facts, judges will often do their own research beyond the submission and you may find that an over-egged submission will cost you your shortlist.
Bring the final award submission to life with a creative design
Where the criteria requires a PDF, this can be an excellent chance to make your submission more visual to the reader. Use imagery that really brings the story to life, and inject your company’s personality into the design. Canva is an excellent tool to do the design. Just make sure you allow a couple of days extra in your timeline for the design element.
The ultimate business awards entry checklist
Check award deadlines and create an awards calendar
Read award judging criteria and note down each element
Check the format the award submission is required in (PDF, online form, video)
Create a timeline that covers writing, design time, proofing, and final sign-offs
Create your kick-ass awards submission team
Schedule regular team catch ups across the time period
Brainstorm with the team highlights that fit within awards criteria
Decide on overarching story of submission
Check that every statement has been evidenced
Write your executive summary
Ask someone who was uninvolved to read your final draft to check it makes sense
Double check you have answered all the required judging criteria
Check your final word count
Proofread the final submission
Save the final copy with any supporting material under an appropriate file name
Prepare social media content for when the shortlist is revealed
As an award submission writer, I’ve picked up multiple silvers, golds and agency of the year titles for companies I’ve worked with, so if you’d like my support in making your company award-winning then don’t hesitate to contact me. If you’re not sure if your project is award-worthy and you’d just like to bounce the idea around with me, then I’m more than happy to discuss that too.
List of UK Business Awards
I am continually adding to this, so do contact me if you’d like further information on your industry’s awards.