Q: How do I write a successful award entry?

There are five ways to maximise your chances in any awards you enter:
• Stress your strategic thinking and how you have adapted to events
• Your financials are key – as well as core growth, look for extra examples of improvement wherever you can find them
• Make the most of the full word count for each question – but keep it relevant!
• Use testimonials to back up your boasting
• Don’t delay – compiling a shining entry takes a great deal of work

Perhaps the most important advice is to start early, as soon the award opens, and the criteria and questions are published. You may need to gather information from diverse sectors of the business, such as:
• The last three years’ year-end turnover and profit from your financial director
• Customer feedback and testimonials from the customer service team
• Your latest ‘people initiatives’ from the head of HR
• How your product leads the market, from the marketing department
• The new ‘vision’ the CEO has just signed off
So, it can take some time! And when you’ve gathered in all that info, you’ll need time to write your entry in a compelling and consistent way – making sure the different sections tally and the overall picture is an impressive, coherent and whole. Don’t forget to add supporting material when allowed such as photographs, a product brochure, your latest staff survey, case studies or press cuttings, if it is relevant.

Avoid the pitfalls

Judges can obviously only assess an entrant’s merits on the information provided to them. Therefore, only the strongest submissions will be successful. You must provide enough information to make an excellent case. So, your entry shouldn’t be:
• A dry, technical, jargon-ridden essay that fails to show how you stand out from others, and why this is important
• The same entry you compiled for a different award, just with the title changed
• The same entry you sent last year, just with the financials updated
• Compiled the morning before the deadline by the marketing intern!

Evidence, Evidence, Evidence

If there is one fundamental in writing award entries it is this: don’t make claims you cannot prove – and prove the claims you make! If you have fantastic customer service, prove it with testimonials and customer survey stats, perhaps “95% of customers say they will do business with us again” or “repeat orders make up 89% of our business”. If the business is growing, provide a chart showing how turnover has increased over the last five years (even if the criteria only ask for three years), with the increase in headcount, rise in customer numbers and quantity of products sold.

Context is key

Context will show the judges – who may not be experts in your sector – how your achievements stand out from industry averages. You can convince them by outlining the current challenges in your market and how you have overcome them. You will need to explain why what you do is important – for example, if your products promote healthy eating at a time when new Government figures show the country is in the grip of an obesity crisis, point this out.

Tell a story

To stand out from the crowd you need to weave a compelling human story that gets the judges interested and keeps them captivated until the end. Business is ultimately about people, so as well as extolling the many features of your service or product, remember to bring to life the story of how you solve your customers’ problems and how delighted they are as a result. This is all about what makes you special – and the best way to discover that, is to start by asking what customers love about you.

Read the rules

You might be surprised how many organisations fall at the first hurdle because they enter an award for which they are not eligible or talk about projects that fall outside the time period covered by that year’s award. Some ignore the word count (“my organisation is so good I can’t stop talking about it, even if you’ve stopped listening”) and are disqualified for that. It also makes sense to check how much supporting material you are allowed to include, and whether the core entry is to be submitted as a beautifully designed pdf document or uploaded as text into an online form that will not take graphs or pictures.

When getting it right matters

To make sure you have presented your organisation in the best possible light, invest in proofreading for accurate spelling, grammar and consistency. One high-achieving company was disqualified from the King’s Award for Enterprise purely because they put their end-of-year financials in the wrong order on their 6,000-word entry so turnover looked as if it had sunk rather than soared. If such eye for detail is not your strong point, call in experts.

And if you don’t win …

If after all this painstaking care you still don’t win, there is a silver lining. Having a finalist logo on your website is powerful proof of quality. Many award programmes offer valuable feedback on what you need to do to impress the judges next time. Making those improvements to your business should increase profit anyway. The awards dinner or ceremony can provide fantastic networking opportunities and you will surely benefit just by taking part. After all, competition drives success. So onwards and upwards to the next award on your strategic awards plan.