And the winner is…..thoughts on the 2021 PR award season
Industry awards represent the best of communications, marketing and public relations work, but how do you know your submission is a winner? Argyle's Kim Blanchette shares what she's learned about putting your best projects forward.

Argylers back in the ‘before times’, celebrating together.

It’s that time of year again: Late-night drama and nervous anticipation as the awards approach, and then the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I’m not talking about the star-studded, virtual red-carpet Hollywood award shows; I’m talking about the public relations, communications and marketing awards. We hope for that flashbulb of recognition from our industry peers for outstanding work that delivers tangible results, and for the exciting opportunity to share that success with our clients.

I’ve always loved awards season long before I joined the Argyle team. Picking the right project is exciting, as is finding a way to showcase your work and demonstrating how your project went beyond the ‘cool factor’ to help an organization achieve its business goals. It’s also difficult, something I learned early in my career. My first award submission was a labour of love. I studied past submissions, pulled together a fantastic work sample with images and videos and all the data on impressions. It was a shoo-in.

Except it wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it! How could they not see this project’s brilliance, the strategy, the stand-out creative, and how popular it was with our audiences?

Then I looked at the evaluation, and it all became clear. True, I had submitted a solid entry with great images from the project, which was successful. Even so, the judges made some tough but fair points. First, the project was fun and innovative and got some attention, but the judges pointed out that there was no clear link between the project itself and how it supported the organization’s goals and objectives. I’d cited the impressions, views and engagement, but those metrics didn’t point to a broader strategy beyond awareness (or even why awareness was important). There wasn’t a compelling call-to-action or any way to measure if the project changed attitudes or inspired action of any sort.

That first submission was disappointing, but it changed a lot. Not just how I submitted awards (although that changed too), but it helped me take a more critical lens to projects and campaigns to understand how they delivered measurable value to clients and organizations. That’s come into sharp relief since I joined Argyle. After all, clients are investing their precious resources into projects and initiatives that are vitally important to their organizations and they expect, and deserve, outstanding results.

So, as I work with my fellow Argylers on our 2021 submissions, I realize our award submission strategy is not all that different from how we approach the work in the first place:

  • As Simon Sinek advises, we “start with why“. Why was the project or campaign developed in the first place? What problem were we trying to solve? Or what opportunity were we trying to create?
  • Why does it matter? This can also be called the ‘tough love’ question. There are lots of interesting and compelling projects and campaigns out there. The real differentiator is in what a project or campaign has contributed to organizational goals. A massive budget is great, but a modest project on a shoestring can out-perform more significant projects by demonstrating how it supported the organization’s business goals by changing hearts, minds or behaviours.
  • Show your work. My math teacher spouse will like this one, and it’s true. We spend weeks and weeks poring over data, research and problem statements to get to our creative insights. It’s important for us to share that in our submissions. The submission criteria themselves are generally two-thirds research, analysis, evaluation and measurement and only one-third creative execution; it’s about the thinking that drove the outcome. We take the time to share how we came to the insights that informed our campaigns.
  • Unveil the ugly. Did COVID-19 ruin your launch day? Messaging didn’t land as expected, and you had to change gears? A new, unforeseen issue impacts your entire campaign? Ugh, we’ve all been there. It can be tempting to shine a positive light on everything and focus on what went well, but often the true test is in how you respond to the challenges. The judges are PR professionals too. They’ve been there and know that often it is the swift and effective response to challenges and issues that makes the difference between a project that looked good on paper and one that was able to succeed in the face of those challenges.

And, while the shiny trophies are nice to have, ultimately there is a deeper reason why we put our work forward to be judged every year. Awards help us focus not just on the communications results but on the client business outcomes. They help us benchmark our work against our peers. They show our clients that we’re holding ourselves to the highest standards in the industry and constantly improving our work so that we can deliver results that matter.

It’s that commitment to excellence and continuously improving our work that helped us win the honour of being named 2020 Canadian Agency of the Year, and among the finalists for 2021, by PRovoke Media.

In the next week or so, we’ll wrap up the season. The submissions will all be sent in, and we’ll do what our colleagues across North America will do: wait (not very patiently) for the results. In the meantime, I’m super proud to have had the chance to learn more about some of the fantastic Argyle projects in the middle of a global pandemic, that delivered real value to our clients across the country. It’s hard not to feel like we’ve already won.

Check out some of our previous award-winning projects.

About the author:

Kim Blanchette leads our Western Canadian team of engagement, public relations and public health communicators, providing clients with over 25 years of experience. An accredited and chartered communications professional and a member of the CPRS College of Fellows, Kim is passionate about ethical public relations and working with organizations to engage, communicate, and lead with confidence.

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