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IABC-OKC Panel Discussion: The ROI of Winning Awards

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I was asked by the Oklahoma City chapter of IABC (International Business Communications Professionals) to participate in a panel discussion about the ROI of entering (and winning) awards program such as the Bronze Quill. Joining me on the panel was John McLaughlin from Jones PR (center) & Rachel Wagner from Wal-Mart (left). I expected John and Rachel would come prepared with great reasoning such peer-to-peer review, benchmarking and added value for the client. I decided to focus on tips that might not be covered by the other two panelist. 

Since this was a panel, I didn’t fully prepare a whole lot of material, instead I made myself a few notes. After a great discussion and very positive feedback, I decide to expand on my notes and share them with you here.


  1. Do not enter award programs for your ego: The attitude that you need to “beat” other communications professionals (designers, writers, etc.) is a negative. Competition is not to be crushed, but to push you to be your best. NEVER create with winning awards as the main reason. That is cheating your client. If the work is right, effective and well done – the awards will follow.
  2. If you don’t know, don’t enter: If you cannot explain, quantify and prove the effectiveness of your work, you might want to reconsider entering in an awards program. The value of entering the Bronze Quill is this gives you a reason to evaluate what you did for the client. Did you meet the goals? Did you utilize all the strategies and tactics outlined? Did you deviate from the plan? How are you measuring success? These are great questions to ask yourself when looking back at work and deciding if it’s award worthy.
  3. Be Selective: Do NOT enter everything you work on in every contest you can find. First, it’s not very strategic. Second, see note #1 about ego. Third, you are killing your ROI by spending so much on award entries (and your boss/client will eventually have enough of it). Pick your best work, find the criteria the best meets your project.
  4. Get the feedback: The best part of entering awards with expert judging is the information contained in the judges sheets. Their notes and opinions are highly valuable for several reasons. They are industry pros who have no reason to like/dislike your work based on personal feelings, popularity or reputation. They also have no reason to spare your feelings. Real feedback from the real world. Can’t beat that for professional development.
  5. Speaking of development: The process of reviewing, selecting the best projects and filling out entries is great for refining your professional skills. Entering communications contest is good for you as a professional and a person. Take an honest look at your skills and effort. Put yourself out there, be open to constructive criticism and check your ego. These things will make you a better designer/writer and possibly a better human being. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.

Bonus: Who owns work: I get this all the time, and I promise to write about it more in the future. Often designers/writers/photographers find themselves at odds with an employer or client over who “owns” the work created. If you get paid by the client (or get a paycheck) then the person who wrote the check owns the work. You do have a right to “fair use” for displaying in a portfolio but that gets tricky when that includes a website, Facebook page, etc… If the company or client ask you to not display, best (in the long run) to pull it down. More on these scenarios at a future date.

Now, go find you best work, evaluate / measure, then enter the right competition for what you do. Good luck!

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