Being judgemental with Prolific North Awards

Over the years I've written several awards submissions and even won some too, but I'd never been asked to sit on a judging panel until I was approached by Nick Jaspan at Prolific North for this year's Prolific North awards. The awards focus on the creative sector focusing on television, film, digital media, publishing, design and marketing, and cover 'the North', which for those of you who don't know is that great swath of land between Birmingham and the Scottish borders. With a geographical spread from Newcastle to Nottingham, Leeds to Liverpool with Manchester and Sheffield in-between it was sure to yield a healthy crop. What better awards to test my novice judging skills with than ones full of creativity and inspiration?

However, whilst most of the entries didn't disappoint there were some common mistakes. So, here's a handy judge's guide to completing that all-important application on the road to fame and adulation, or at least securing you a few extra vodka tonics at the bar courtesy of your very impressed boss.

Prolific North Awards

1. Don't fall at the first hurdle

I know it's a really obvious thing to say and that it's been said a thousand times before, but seriously, read the application form. Properly. Now read it again. If the form asks for a summary of your trading including turnover figures, give the form what it asks for. The form for most awards pretty much spells out the judging criteria for you. You could have written the best submission that thrilled and wowed in equal measure but if you didn't follow the instructions the judges have to mark you according to the criteria. This was by far and away the biggest bone of contention between the judges. There was a 50/50 split of those who wanted to reward the creative output and those who found it unforgiveable and unprofessional to making basic mistakes at this level.

2. Stories sell newspapers

They also win awards. There is a wealth of talent across the north but standing out in that sea of talent is tough. Don't just answer the questions and send off your form, it's boring, formulaic and lacks passion. The judges split the categories between them but still had to read in excess of forty entries, so when they reach the tenth one that points to Google Panda and Penguin updates as a challenge and winning new business as an opportunity monotony sets in. The ones that stood out and brought diversity were the ones that had the same challenges and opportunities but spoke in detail about how they overcame them. These entrants gave a sense of the business, the work ethic, some of the characters who played a key part and some of the everyday drama that brings a creative company to life. Most of us are familiar with 15-hour days, but 15-hour days working on the office science project for team building, or a computer game marathon as part of competitor research is fun and outside of the norm. Little anecdotes give a sense of the company, without these there is no story. No story, no award.

3. Don't be lazy

The number of applications that were exactly the same but entered for two different awards was shocking. If you're setting yourself up as the best all round digital agency how can you then be the best specialist SEO/PPC agency? As creative people, you work to briefs and tailor content accordingly for your clients day in day out so do it for yourself as well. Maybe you are the best all round digital agency with the best SEO/PPC team. So why not tell me about your SEO/PPC team? Who are they? What makes them so good? What's it like to work in that team? How has that team performed compared to your company KPIs? The two categories aren't mutually exclusive but they are different categories where the judges are looking for different things even if the application form is the same. A duplicate entry shows laziness and a lack of respect for the awards and the judges' time. Don't do it, if you are short on time enter one category and make your entry worth the read.

4. Know your category

There's a lot of cross over as the lines between on and offline blurs further and audiences adapt and change their media consumption. There were a few great entries that just felt like they were in the wrong category, or had a tenuous link to that category but would have done so much better in another award. Is your Facebook game really the best game or is it the best multi-platform PR campaign? Is that really a contender for the best app or does the gamification element mean it's more suited to the game category. Read the criteria carefully and pick the best option you have. If you get half way through writing it and it feels like you're having to shoe-horn it into the criteria then you're in the wrong category. Think about the results of your work and your KPIs and they will shine most. If it's downloads then consider entering the app category. If it's number of social media interactions maybe the PR category has your name it.

5. KPIs, ROIs and OTS

All about the acronyms, and the results. There were some masters of storytelling that had me hooked from the start, but just because I personally like the idea doesn't make it worthy of an award. Judges need to see that your hard work was worth it. If it was an app how many downloads over what period of time, if it's PR what's the EAV, what was the budget, what was the ROI, what was the reach, what was the conversion? Client testimonials are nice, but did it work? Every story needs an ending and judges won't go looking for it, you have to demonstrate value for money and that you were able to deliver on the objectives, otherwise how can the success be measured? If it can't be proven to be successful why is it worthy of an award?

6. The killer question

This brings us neatly on to the question that most entries came unstuck with, why should you win? I can confirm that geographical location, doing your job and employing nice people are not compelling enough reasons to win awards.  You sell for your clients daily so selling your own company should be a walk in the park. If you had to place a piece of editorial showcasing your company to investors would you really lead with we are based in the North and have nice staff? The best entrants led with things that were unique to them such as new product development, the lifestyle and work ethic of the agency that led to those lovely staff being so lovely, the community engagement, their approach to working with some of those shiny new clients and future plans that the award could help to springboard. These entrants left us with a sense that there was something new and exciting around the corner for these guys, not just more of the same. Be the company that judges want to look up after reading your entry form.

The judging process was hardcore, reading and scoring more than 40 entries across the four categories that I marked and fighting it out with the other judges to reward the ones that I felt had the most compelling case and sold the best story. Whilst there were some common mistakes there was also a wealth of genuinely brilliant work out there that inspired, delighted and impressed. Sitting on the other side of the fence taught me a lot about how to craft a story with depth and meaning, giving it punch, leaving no question as to a happy ever after slinking off home with a shiny new award for the mantlepiece.

Prolific North Awards 2014 take place on 1st May at The Point, Lancashire County Cricket Club. Tickets are £120+VAT pp or £1,000+VAT for a table of ten and are available at: