We knew well in advance that we’d be accepting a trophy, but were surprised (in the best possible way) when our program was also named one of the year’s “Best of the Best.” Now, none of us is by any means an expert on winning any more than Charlie Sheen is, but given that this blog is all about sharing what I've learned through my job, here are four tips for putting together a winning communications award submission:
- First, as with all internal communication programs, make sure your entry is tied to measurable business results. In our case, our goal was to increase employees’ willingness to advocate for the company via social media and in-person interactions. We were able to quantify our results by comparing surveys participants took before and after the program, which indicated a 26 percent increase in advocacy. There are also hoards of new tools out there that corporate communication teams can use to send shareable content to employees and then track how often that content is posted, amplified and discussed.
- Demonstrate what you learned. In a written critique, IABC’s judging panel complimented our “willingness to monitor and adjust as the program developed.” We’re proud of our program, but it wasn’t perfect; the key was showing how we improved it over time. For example, at first we avoided being overly prescriptive when suggesting actions ambassadors could take on the company’s behalf. We wanted employees to feel empowered to do whatever they felt comfortable. But during focus groups halfway through the program, participants told us they actually appreciated specific calls to action that took only a moment versus vague, less defined suggestions. So we offered what we called “30-Second Ambassador” tips, such as links to retweet articles about the company or product coupons to share.
- Give yourself enough time. As with most communication competitions, it takes a fair amount of time and effort to put together a solid Gold Quill submission. I can’t even begin to estimate how many times we revised our entry, nor do I ever want to. Make sure you start several months before the deadline (IABC’s is typically in the winter) and assign someone on the team to pay close attention to entry requirements, such as what sample communication materials you need to include, the size of your submission binder and even word count (yes, those details matter and, if ignored, can get you disqualified.)
- Have a third party review your entry. If you sign up early enough, IABC will pair you with a mentor, typically a past winner or judge, who will review your submission and offer suggestions. Do it! Our mentor pointed out where we needed to better explain certain parts of the program in layperson terms, to someone who had zero exposure to our work. Your team is probably too close to the program to accurately judge that, so have someone from outside the group – be it an actual mentor or another communicator – review your submission.