If you want to win one of the most prestigious and visible awards in marketing,
But if your effort ends there, you're unlikely to be invited to the gala awards ceremony in June, when 1000 advertising and marketing luminaries watch as Gold, Silver and Bronze EFFIES are presented by the American Marketing Association to agency and client pairs in about 50 product categories.
I've been fortunate to be a part of teams who have won about 50 awards for a wide variety of marketing creativity, but haven't won an EFFIE. I figured at least I'd get a sniff of the action by accepting an opportunity to judge the 2003 competition.
As one of about 150 judges in 6 cities who spent half a day evaluating about 17 random entries each in the first round, my job was essentially to separate the wheat from the chaff.
On the basis of 4-5 judges' scores for each entry, we'd send the best on to the final round where another 100 or so judges (also mostly agency and client senior “suits”) would determine up to three winners in each category.
Round one judging focuses basically on the numbers--the difficulty of the challenge, the clarity of the insights, the brilliance of the strategizing, and especially the weight of the evidence. Round two then looks at the creative work.
What I saw there convinced me:
- The NYC Chapter of the AMA does a great job running this event.
- There's a ton of really great work being done and results being produced by our friends and competitors and peers in all different sizes and types of companies. We are indeed in an amazing business.
- As smart as your program, as provocative as the creative and as compelling as the results…you still have to cut through the clutter to have a chance to win. Show some insight into the judges' dilemma of choosing the very best of the best. Don't think for a minute that because this show focuses on results that subjectivity and emotion will not enter the courtroom.
So here are some tips to improve your odds:
- The account honcho needs to draft it, but have a copywriter rewrite your entry and put it through your approvals. Tell the story. Relate to the reader. Sure, this is serious business. Not only was it profit and loss, it may be life and death with contracts, bonuses and new offices and wall decorations. But it sure won't hurt your chances to put a smile on a judge's face. Judges are instructed to separate style from substance, and you'll never cover any real holes, but you're just looking for a tiny edge.
- Don't assume. Judges do not live in the category and sleep with the competition. Have a disinterested marketing person review the entry. Try to make it easy for an uninformed judge to applaud your team. Then make sure those awesome results are believable even to suspicious judges.
- You don't have to tell the whole truth, but more would help your believability quotient. Many entries left the section “Other Programs” essentially blank. Maybe because the program didn't have a trade or b2b component, for example, or any PR or promotional support. That's hard to believe (and yet another reason to reduce the score). I suspect it's because most entries are submitted by the agency, and their focus is on the advertising.
- It may be easiest to separate yourselves from the pack in the “Media Strategy” section. Only two entries I saw had anything passing as insightful or creative here. They stood out, and, interestingly, had among the best results. I can remember when there were award shows for creative media planning. Now it looks like it's simply brawn over brains.
- Use color. Visuals are not allowed, but color graphs and charts are. Do you think the few I saw didn't make an impact?
- Put your energy on another business and “wait till next year” if you can't express media spending vs. competition or YAG in a way that makes it clear that it was your brains (and not a bigger bag of the client's money or a shorter time period) that caused that sales blip.
- Hire a proofreader. Unbelievable, perhaps, but in my collection of 17 entries were (at least) 2 with spelling or syntax or other grammatical errors.
- Whatever you do, follow the rules. There are strict reasons for disqualification and judges are encouraged to review these before wasting time evaluating the entry.
- Never forget, it's still all about the creative. Round one judges don't even get to see the ads, and probably won't have seen your stuff in market. You can make it more fun and involving for all us suits, and get our heads nodding about the results if you cleverly let us see how the big idea in the creative strategy was delivered.
In short, the competition's tough, and you'll need hard numbers to have a chance. But don't ignore the soft side if you're serious about winning.