10 Secrets To Winning Advertising Awards

I’m lucky enough to sit on quite a few judging panels for advertising and mobile industry awards – and AdMob has won quite a few awards over the last few years too. So I thought I’d take some of the collective learnings and share them with you. I’d like to think that if you follow this advice, you’ll not only put your entry in danger of winning, you won’t waste your money on an entry that stands no chance of winning whatsoever.

1. Is it really good enough?

Before you even start writing, take a hard look at your campaign. It’s going to be running against the creme de la creme in your industry – does it really make the grade?

Like a lot of this post, this sounds bleeding obvious, but you’d be amazed how many entries are ho-f***ing-hum (at best) to paraphrase Tom Peters.

2. Brevity is Best

Remember that any reputable awards programme is going to have hundreds and sometimes 1000+ entries to be judged. With the best will in the world, that means that the judge might only have a few minutes to judge your work, certainly in the initial stages.

Most entries consist of a written entry form, with a bit of supporting creative material – although later rounds might have more extensive creative. Therefore, you need to invest a lot of time honing and crafting your written entry. No matter how perfect your baby was in the wild, it’s going to live or die, based on how good the written entry is.

The easiest entries to judge are those that are brief, succinct, use bullet points, are well formatted and short (no harm in emphasising the length part again). Take pity on the judges and if you really can’t communicate why your idea was so brilliant in fewer words, revisit point 1.

3. Results Win Awards

Most awards place an indecent amount of emphasis on the effectiveness of the campaign – at least the ones I judge. So if it didn’t work demonstrably well, you have a hard time proving that it worked, or the client won’t allow you to share how very clever you were, don’t bother entering as you’re not going to win.

You’d be amazed how often the judges say to each other stuff like “I really like this campaign, but we can’t let it win as we don’t know if it worked or not.”

In some kind of parallel awards universe, results might not matter too much. Maybe there’s some purely creative awards that judge just on the pretty pictures or quality of the film and make-up. But generally we’re talking about marketing here and marketing is meant to create results, so it’s understandable that most awards want to see them. So check out the judging criteria and if results are asked for, give them.

4. Never Assume

Many awards these days are International in scope, involving entries and judges from many countries. Never assume that they’ve heard of the brand you work on or the campaign you’re entering.

Just because you’re bigger than manga in Japan, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to explain objectively (and briefly) the background. It’s all about context.

5. Hyperbole

OK, you’re in advertising and understandably a little excitable and very proud of your work. However, this is one case where you need to stand back and let the campaign do the talking.

So, please avoid phrases like “The results were simply outstanding/amazing/incredible”. It really doesn’t do you any favours and the judges are capable of making up their own minds about how well it worked. Obviously, if you’ve entered some results – see Point 3.

6. Check it

OK, it is obvious. Copy-check your entry. But if it’s so damn obvious, I wonder why many entries come littered with typos and even editorial comments like:

“During the 10 week period after that campaign, the brand became Number 1 in its category in the UK [GREG – IS THIS RIGHT? CAN YOU GET SOMEONE TO CHECK WITH TARQUIN?] and was seen being eaten by the Queen’s corgis on the 10 O’Clock News [DO WE WANT TO SAY THIS? ACTUALLY CAN WE SAY THIS, DON’T WE NEED A rOYAL WARRANT OR SOMETHING?]”.

Get someone not connected with the campaign to give it a once over – actually, here’s a novel idea. Why not treat it with the same care you’d put into any work you do that’s going into the public domain, like copy for an ad, for instance?

7. Native speaker

Most judging I do tends to be in English, which is jolly convenient for me and the entries too, as I can understand them. However, English is what is technically known as a “bit of a bugger” to speak and especially to write in. So get your entry read and re-edited by someone who speaks it natively before sending it in – whatever language is required.

Again, this is so obvious that I hesitate to waste your valuable time by pointing this out. But the fact is that most entries made by non-native speakers don’t explain themselves as well, make themselves harder to judge and put themselves at a considerable disadvantage.



OK, we’re busy people in advertising. But if you’re so busy, why not save yourself a lot of time and just not enter? No, you’re right, let’s just go through the motions, put in something half-cocked, get pissed at the Awards Ceremony, complain why we never win and explain to our clients that awards are meaningless and just a bit of fun at best – yep, that’s a cunning plan and it certainly worked last year.

Crafting an award-winning entry takes time. So plan for that commitment and do it well. And that includes reading the entry criteria and any supporting material. So if it says, send your entry in by 4th May, that means before the 4th May. If it says that you need to provide 3 supporting videos of your campaign, guess what? That’s how many you need to send to stand a chance of winning.

Above all, pay particular attention to the section that will explain the criteria the judges will use when considering entries, as there will be lots of clues about how to win, that most of your competitors apparently like to ignore.

9. Choose the Right Category

I’ve lost count of the amount of times a fellow judge has sighed theatrically and thrown their hands to the heavens muttering something like “Why? Why? I don’t understand!! If they’ve entered into the “Best TV Campaign for Dog Food in Serbia”, they’d have walked it. But they went and entered “Bravery in Marketing to Koreans? “. Fuckwits. Next!”.

10. Cliches

Please avoid stuff like “360 degree granular results” and “synergize sticky niches”. You may think it impresses you clients (actually it doesn’t, but that’s another story), but it’ll only cause wry smiles and grimaces in the judging chamber.

Keep it simple, stand back and let your work speak for itself.

None of this is actually very earth-shattering, I know. But if you follow this advice, I promise you that you’ll have an entry that is automatically in the top 20% and you stand a good chance of winning with that killer campaign you’re so proud of.

Anyone got any others to add?

See you on a podium sometime.

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