Putting together a successful award entry may be time-consuming but it can bring many benefit for a business, says Kevin Carr, chief executive of Protection Review. Here he offers his 10 tips for writing award entries
Success in a well-regarded award can bring many benefits. As well as raising your profile it can add credibility, generate new business and help with retention and recruitment. However, putting together a successful award entry can be time-consuming – you need to write a compelling story that brings your business to life while also providing hard evidence of success – yet, once you get the hang of it, future entries become much quicker to do.
What is great about awards in the financial services industry – and especially for financial advisers – is that the entry process for them varies from one to the next. Some are based upon votes, some need a written entry about the business while some involve a face-to-face interview and others need case studies. A few even require ‘all of the above’.
"Whether it is outstanding advice, providing a service or whatever, an entry that does not mention the customer will not impress many judges."
You cannot please everyone all of the time of course and audiences will rarely always agree with the judges’ choices. However, if they had been in the room when the decisions were taken and understood how the judging panel reached those conclusions, the outcomes can often become much more acceptable.
For my part, I have written dozens of award entries in various categories – many that won and plenty that did not – and I have also judged dozens of different awards entered by advisers, insurers and journalists, as well as judging a few wider marketing and advertising awards.
In all, I have read more than 1,000 award entries over the last decade. Some of them were good – some were very good – but unfortunately many have been and continue to be pretty awful. So here are a few general tips across the industry – along with some pet hates – that I know I share with several other regular award judges on how to go about writing a winning entry.
* Take it seriously
Read the criteria carefully and write a relevant entry. Each award will have its own entry criteria, which will often vary for each individual award. Take a bit of time to read it and revert back to it when checking the entry to make sure you have understand the entry process and have covered what the judges will be asked to look for.
* Think about the customer
Try not to focus too much on internal developments and instead think about what your business has done that has helped your customers. Whether it is outstanding advice, paying claims, providing a service or whatever, an entry that does not mention the customer will not impress many judges.
* Be outstanding
If you have not got much to say you might not want to bother entering but, if you do, try not to promote ‘the average’. Sometimes entries make a big play about something that everyone should be doing every day as part of their normal job – ’We expect our advisers to pass the necessary qualifications’, for example, or ‘We trawl the market to find the very best solution’. OK – good for you but are those not just the basics? Think about what else you have done to differentiate and add value.
* Get off to a good start
Write an exciting intro and make your best points first. Judges will often have dozens – occasionally even hundreds – of entries to read and, while they are all, read it can be a time-consuming process. As a result, building up to your killer point, which might take a thousand words to get to, may not be the best strategy.
* Back it up
Back up your claims with evidence and detail. It is baffling how many entries talk about a firm’s good intentions without actually including any facts to back up these claims. Not every firm can be a ‘leader in social media’ and every company ‘puts the customer at the heart of its proposition’. Saying it does not really mean all that much – the trick is to prove it.
Be aware that entries will be read and that judges may check out your claims. I’ve often sat in judging sessions where we’ve looked up a company’s website, online tools or social media account to see if the claims are genuine.
Use statistics where possible and always source the research. “98.7% of customers rated our service as excellent according to XYZ independent research”. But it is disappointing how many entries for areas such as customer service rarely include any information on service standards or how a company’s service is measured.
* Stick to the truth
Judges will often know if you are telling a few porkies. “We are a leader in social media” – Really? “We regularly attend XYZ industry event” – Do you really? “We regularly contribute to ABC working party” – Honestly? ‘We regularly feature in the press’ – If so back it up. Of course, if you do do these things, then say so because any work that benefits the wider industry as well as your business is likely to be very well received. But back it up and do not stretch the truth too far.
* Include feedback and endorsements
Independent feedback, especially from customers, can be very persuasive. Including a positive sourced quote or two from a client or an adviser cannot really do any harm and could be the difference between two strong entries. Do make sure it is a really good quote, however – something along the lines of “The company was very quick and efficient” is not particularly outstanding.
* Don’t forget the basics
- Put your company name on the actual entry: A high proportion forget to do this and judges often need to get half way through the entry before knowing who the company is.
- Don’t copy and paste a sales aid: Insurers are of course guiltier of this than advisers, but advisers and other judges can often quickly spot a sales aid.
- Don’t send in an old entry that was written for a different set of awards: While entries for different awards might be similar, the criteria and word count will often be different.
- Stick to the word count: Some judges might be all right with an entry that goes slightly over but many will automatically discount entries that ignore the word count. Similarly, entries that are woefully short are likely to be dismissed.
- Don’t miss the deadline: Try your best to be on time and, if you ask for an extension, be aware that if the judging is close an entry that was late is likely to be marked down.
- Don’t waffle and don’t waste your words: Telling judges where you are based or saying things like “We are proud to be nominated and thank the judges for their time” is often just a waste of words that could be used to say something really important.
- Avoid excessive punctuation: Try to avoid putting words in bold, capitals, italics, different colours, using exclamation marks and so on. Just keep it simple and let your business and its ethos do the talking.
* Yes, but I don’t have time…
Writing award entries is often one of those jobs that ends up on the 'too difficult' pile. Other firms might have big marketing departments and you might be too busy to enter any awards. But if you do not agree with who has won, and if your competitors can make time, herein may lie your motivation.
Generally speaking everyone is busy, including larger firms, and you either want to win the award or you do not. So, regardless of whether you have two staff or 2000, take it seriously if you want to win. Big marketing departments do not always help. Sometimes entries can be way too slick – a case of too much style over substance. Judges can often spot this and may favour the underdog.
* If at first…
Do not be put off if you entered before and did not win. Try, try, and try again.
Kevin Carr is chief executive of Protection Review and managing director of Carr Consulting and Communications