7 Steps for Submitting Agency Awards Applications

Award submissions are one of those bottom-of-the-list items many busy creative agencies are just as happy to forget.  It can be very time-consuming to put together a well-thought out submission, and frankly, there’s an element of competition that can be daunting.

Some agencies become extra motivated by the challenge, however if your client list is doing well and the agency is humming along, well, an award can just seem like an extra that you can take or leave. It seems narcissistic to “go after” them, and you’d rather they just fell from the sky like “manna from heaven”.

Plenty of awards are nice to have in the lobby or on the website for clients who walk in the door, but really, how much good do they do? Failing to win an award that you’ve put a lot of time into doing the submission for can be demotivating for the team who can feel that someone rejected their ugly baby.

On the other hand, getting tapped for a great award can do wonders for your agency portfolio. New business is largely about trust and having that gold star says a lot to new clients about your respectability, professionalism and “perceived” quality of your work. Rather then actually looking at your previous work, we imagine they point to the shiny object in awe and wonder and their signing pen slides out of their pocket.

Award winners often aren’t even your best work, but it is a fact that winning a major award boosts your credibility to clients, and also your standing in the design/ad community plus prospective staff that may want to come and work with you. It also has many payoffs such as media, PR, bloggers who will review and post the work, plus good social media capital you can leverage. Even a nomination for a major award can produce some great cred.

Ok so we’ve established they might be worth “going after”, but how do you manage the time and effort it takes to go after them so you can go on to other more important things? I’ve complied few tips on how to manage this process from my own experience running my small agency in Vancouver, Canada. If you have more suggestions, please feel free to comment or send them our way!

1. Make a Plan of Action

If you were a web design agency winning a Webby would be fantastic right? Well, sure. Look at how stiff the competition is and what the payoff is likely to be.

Determine what you would like to get out of the award and go for the ones that are likely to have the best payoff in your market.

2. Compile an Awards Short-List

These will be based on the type of work you do and the relevance of the award, plus when the closing dates for the submissions are. Set a goal for one, two or more award submissions every quarter based on when they are available.

3. Assign an Awards-Submission Expert

Ideally this is an individual in your agency who has knowledge of the project and some skills in writing good submissions. This may be your creative director or project manager.

Decide whether or not to tell the client and your team if you are going for certain awards. I always chose not to, simply for morale if we didn’t win. If you choose this option try to keep creatives who are helping on the submission in a closed loop.

4. Treat Awards Submissions Like Projects

This involves setting a budget, creating jobs and tasks, schedules and deadlines just like you would with a regular project.  Ensure your traffic can accommodate the project. Assign some resources, set milestones for compiling the materials and fulfilling the submission requirements, and then work toward the final deadline for sending the submission. Try to be a few days early before the actual deadline, and check that the payment goes through successfully.

5. Establish Post-Submission Best Practices

At the end of every project compile the collateral, screenshots, PDFs, briefs and other materials required for the submission. Package it as neatly as you can. If you use an integrated project management system like Function Point this will be a very easy process.

Doing so will greatly reduce the length of the award project timelines. It also has the benefit of instantly creating good portfolio pieces for your firm and the creatives that also need portfolio items for their career. Taking the time to do good project “close” procedures will pay dividends later down the road when you’ll want to refer back to the project and will have forgotten the details and decisions that comprised the business logic.

6. Take the Time to Present Materials

Many submissions fail because the materials weren’t packaged in an appealing way, or in the way the award submission guidelines requested them. Think of the award committee as a client you are selling on a project, convince them of the efficacy and brilliance of the work you did by presenting the project in the best possible light. Spend some creative resources in preparing a presentation if allowable, even if this is only taking the time to layout the campaign assets in an appealing way.

7. Decide What’s “Award Worthy”

Now this is a controversial topic. We’d like to assume every project is the best work we are capable of, and this would be true if clients didn’t have a lot of say in the end result! The nature of the game is that creative agencies must always produce work that the client needs and wants — and they generally don’t care whether their project is an “award” winner until after the fact. If their projects win something, they are usually gleeful, but it’s an add-on to them.

Some agencies push client work toward what they know will be the cutting-edge caliber that might attract the attention of award granting bodies and this practice can seriously erode the relevance of the end result for the client.

Most awards these days do look for that perfect mesh of the client’s need and the innovation of the campaign, so address this balance by always maintaining the integrity of your client relationship, and if that is working deeply and intuitively it is more likely to garner attention. Aim for the deepest possible understanding of your client need with great creative briefs combined with the creative and project management skills of your team, and this is what is most likely to bring the gold star if it is to be had.

Awards are always a touchy subject and fraught with a great deal of ambivalence. On the one hand we love to win them, hate to lose them, and resent the time it takes to go after them. However, we can choose to see them as part of the business, just as having great testimonials, case studies and portfolios, and notice how they can greatly enhance our clients trust in our work. Good Luck!

This article was written by former Function Point team member, Carol Sykes.

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