How to Create Award-Winning Content

August 2019

woman being blown away like the classic maxwell ad

A design award winner in this year’s international TABPI competition.

Our editorial and creative teams at Twirling Tiger Media recently celebrated industry awards in two different competitions. It was the fourth year in a row that we earned outside recognition for our writing and design.

I’ve worked both sides of competitions and can tell you that sometimes the best work doesn’t always win gold, but in general all prize-winners are exceptional. If or where you place depends largely on two factors: what you enter and who decides. One you can control; the other you can’t.

Here are some suggestions to help improve your odds of impressing clients, prospects and peers with your work.

Read entry instructions carefully

One of the easiest ways to be immediately eliminated from a competition is to miss a deadline. If physical copies are required, embed time to send your completed package using a reliable postal service. Do not count on a deadline exception or extension; instead, calendar the task weeks ahead of the date due.

Additionally, make sure your entry fits a category and is submitted using a preferred format, such as PDFs for digital copies or hyperlinks for web-based ones. Look at past winners for inspiration and for entry alignment. Rejecting misclassified entries is another tactic organizers use to thin piles or files before judging commences.

Show that your creativity isn’t contained to the entry only

Before you send in that submission, make sure your official entry form (a) actually answers all required questions, and (b) does so in a way that grabs someone’s attention. Be creative, to a point, in conveying the importance of the piece. A succinct, clever story will do just fine.

If it’s an editorial entry, document an article’s impact beyond compliments on the fancy writing. Show that it received positive reviews from readers and maybe even inspired change to back up your claim that this is important work.

Include outside validation when possible

Third-party validation can come from social media posts or private messages from someone who was moved by your work. If you are going for a product-oriented award, include feedback from customers or early adopters. (And if you don’t have it, ask for it. Do not make it up.)

Can you win an award without these testimonials? Sure. But your chances improve if you can show a judge that others were touched by your prose or imagery.

Don’t leave entries up to someone else

Years ago, I wrote one of the best magazine articles of my career. It was provocative and well written, incorporating different viewpoints from about 20 hours’ worth of interviews. However, it never won an award.

The person put in charge of sending in entries claimed to have forgotten mine, which would have competed directly with his submission that was sent. Since then, I’ve never left the task to someone else.

Consider the impact of imagery

I once judged a regional high school journalism contest. My category was feature sections. The best entries, in my opinion, came down to students at one school with limited resources and one with a bigger budget. I lobbied hard for the former, whose main feature was a better topic (the rise of student caffeine addiction), and better written. It was, however, all text with a Starbucks logo for its lone illustration. In the end, I was pressured to give those enterprising students the silver. Had there been better visuals, I may have been able to make a stronger case.

Our most recent award-winning article was cited for both the prose and the photo illustration that accompanied it. It’s one reason our company differs from other boutique content marketing companies; we’re experts in both copywriting and graphic design. When you hire one team to write and another to illustrate, you risk a disconnection that takes many revisions to repair.

Final thought

Note I haven’t mentioned anything about talent. That’s assumed.

There are a lot of contests out there, in part because they tend to be moneymakers for the organizers. It’s important that you participate in ones with integrity. Be leery of awards programs where you “pay to play.” It’s one thing to submit a reasonable entry fee to cover administration costs and quite another if those payments guarantee an award placement. A little competition can go a long way.

Thank you for reading this,