Creating winning PR Award Entries

Creating winning PR Award Entries.

The deadline to enter the WMPRSA Chapter’s annual award competition is in less than three weeks. Today I’m leading a little seminar on “how to” create award entries for the PRoof Awards.  Below is what I am sharing with attendees; really it’s appropriate for most PR award competitions, including those hosted by national PRSA.

Good PR entries start with good PR practices throughout the year.  Those practices need to be documented, so that you have material for the entry. The assembled entry is a PR communication vehicle itself and needs every bit of attention that you would put into campaigns for your clients.  It needs to tell a story and explain succinctly, to complete strangers, the problem to be resolved, the research conducted to fully understand and analyze the situation, your strategic approach, your tactical execution, and your results. Pretty simple huh?


  1. Validation (affirmation that you did it right)
  2. Justification (supporting the case for approval of future work)
  3. Recognition (for you and your client)
  4. Promotion (of you, your agency, your department)
  5. And, the #1 reason to pursue PRoof Awards not just in February but all year long: Professional Excellence. Executing PR projects and campaigns with an eye toward entering and winning PRoof Awards will make your work continuously improve, because you’re taking the right steps to Research, Plan, Execute (sometimes referred to as Implement) and Evaluate – the proven formula for successful practice of Public Relations.


While it is important to create a good entry to win an award, it is more important to do work that is award-worthy and well-documented. If you plan to enter the PRoof Awards – or any awards competition – you should make it a practice to keep complete records that document the life of your project or campaign.  Because you know in advance that you will be required to provide a write-up that describes the Research, Planning, Execution, and Evaluation, you can create file folders (online or those actual cardboard thingees) that organize what you will need MONTHS before you actually need to construct your entry.   In the middle of your campaign, if you notice that certain folders remain empty, it should serve as a prompt to either A) do more work in that area or, if the work has been done, B) save your work in the folders for award entry use.


Most of us can feel in our gut when we’ve done something really special. Not all of us can tell that story to strangers a thousand miles away in a manner that will earn Silver, Gold or Best of Show.  As professional storytellers we need to know how to educate and influence our “publics” to help our clients and employers achieve their objectives. We need to approach our award entries in the same manner:  we are telling the story about our project or campaign in a way that will earn the support (and positive reception) of PRoof Judges.  And PRoof provides the titles for the four chapters of your story: Research, Planning, Execution and Evaluation.

The Introduction

There usually is a back story to a project or campaign, which typically includes an organization’s “problem” requiring a “PR solution.”  For instance, a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company might be launching a new product for which it needs to build a market.  Or, a non-profit is launching an event as its new primary fund-raiser and needs to get the word out and deliver an experience that generates the expected results.  The “problem” stories help lay out your organization’s situation so that the judges can review the quality of the next four “chapters” of your award entry story in context.

Chapter 1 – Research

This section demonstrates to the judges that you obtained all the data and info you possibly could to provide an accurate analysis of the “problem” situation. PR professionals won’t know where to begin if they don’t have a clear understanding of the problem they are attempting to resolve.

In the best of all worlds, you will conduct formal primary research to help you better understand your target public’s awareness and understanding, giving you a very precise baseline to work with. (Formal is research that results in scientifically representative samples; primary indicates research conducted by/for your organization).  Informal and secondary research are completely satisfactory and will help demonstrate that you understand all angles of the problem you are attempting to resolve.

Include as backup documentation: audience survey results ? anecdotal evidence ? internal data ? third-party surveys ? industry best practices ? interview results ?brochures or information related to products/programs

Chapter 2 – Planning

In the intro you shared the “problem” and in Chapter 1 you elaborated on the situation based on research conducted.  In this chapter you *finally* share the “PR Solution” that was proposed.  A motto used by the Better Business Bureau is “Say what you do, and do what you say.”  In the Planning section, the PR professional “Says what they will do.” See Chapter 3 for the second part.

To the judges, this section demonstrates the good thinking that goes into a proposed solution.  For the purposes of the award entry, you need to share the strategy, key tactical components, targeted audience(s), and budget.  Above all, you need to share your clearly stated, measurable objective.  The name of these awards, after all, is PRoof. It’s hard to prove PR’s effectiveness without determining your starting point and providing a “desired future state.”

Include as backup documentation: plans with proposed budget and objectives

Chapter 3 – Execution

In this chapter you share what actually happened.  This is pure journalism in short form. You said what you would do in Chapter 2.  Now tell us what you actually did. You need to share how much time, money and effort was invested in the campaign (important to ascertain ROI).  This chapter also is the place to describe unforeseen challenges that were faced and how they were dealt with.

Include as backup documentation: work product ? news releases ? articles ? photos of event(s) ? print pieces ? videos ? supporting advertisements

Chapter 4 – Evaluation

This is where you PRove your work was successful.  This is not a beauty contest; PR is about saying what you will do and then doing what you said. So, how much did you move the needle; did you achieve/exceed the stated objective?  Were there additional benefits to the organization that weren’t even planned?  Were there failures that were helpful as “lessons learned” for the organization going forward?

This is the final chapter of your story, and we know there’s a happy ending or else you would not be creating an award entry.  Tell us why this is a winning entry, based on your PRoof.

Include as backup documentation: describe method(s) of evaluation ? share results of follow-up research ? number of placements ? impact on organization ? plans to continue ? the degree to which you met and/or exceeded stated objectives

PRSA: Professionalism, Character, Leadership

PRSA helps build PR professionalism, character, and leadership.

This month I start my term as president of the WMPRSA — West Michigan chapter of Public Relations Society of America.  I know, it’s a mouthful. Not only is it a lot to say quickly, I also get the distinct impression that when I say this to most non-PR people they’re thinking, “Huh?” If a lawyer says they’re a member of the Bar Association, most people would get it (except for the few who would think they have a drinking problem). There’s an old saying about the cobbler’s kids having the worst shoes — PR people are too busy communicating about others and suffer from their own reputation/awareness problems.

I started my PR career 18 years and 6 days ago, leaving journalism for the world of corporate PR at Amway. Since then, I have been on a path of constant learning about what the public relations profession is all about.  PRSA has played no small part in my education and professional development and for that I am incredibly thankful.

WMPRSA created a list of reasons that West Michigan PR professionals should join the local chapter. I can honestly say that I have personally benefitted in all 10 ways that are described. And in ways that have not been mentioned.  It was several years after I had started my PR career that I joined WMPRSA, thanks to my enlightened management.  They knew that what I learned through my PRSA involvement would benefit the quality of my work on their behalf.

My PRSA involvement included an educational process that led to Accreditation in Public Relations — a distinction that is not often enought sought out by prospective clients. Accreditation in Public Relations (as indicated by APR behind a professional’s name) means the PR practitioner has gone through a rigorous testing process to ensure professionalism, ethics, experience, and best practices. Through the APR process, the practitioner learns about the history of PR and why it even exists. Many of the ills of the PR profession are caused by those who don’t fully know what the PR profession is really about.

Another benefit of my involvement has been leadership development.  Several years after joining PRSA and after going through the APR process I joined the WMPRSA board. A few years later, in 2003, I was elected president of the chapter. That’s right … 2010 is my second time around as WMPRSA president. I think that’s only happened once before. I just can’t say no!  I loved working with a strong group of professionals seven years ago and learned so much from them.  I’m learning just as much from the incredible group who are serving on the board this time around, too!

When I first became involved in PRSA, I didn’t think I’d need to worry about networking for the sake of a job or prospective clients. Well, here I am, starting off my own independent practice and thankful for all of the connections I’ve made over the years. Those connections have already led to a couple of clients and I have no doubt that more of my business will result from my PRSA involvement.

My primary goal for 2010 WMPRSA, which I shared with the board a few weeks ago, is to provide ways for more PRSA members to become involved in the chapter’s operations, by helping on a committee, by helping judge awards, by attending programs, by becoming a mentor to a PR student, by studying for the APR exam, by writing for the newsletter, by serving on the board. Being a member is only the start; you only get out of PRSA what you put into it.

I’m looking forward to a great year leading WMPRSA’s efforts and helping more people get involved in promoting and building the PR profession for the benefit of all.

Do what you love

Do what you love, and be true to who you are. And other stuff about PR.

Last night I spoke to a class of marketing seniors at Davenport University, some of whom are considering a career in Public Relations.  I shared some advice as they start their careers (below), and I shared some of my experiences over the past 20+ years, including decisions I made that led me to a career in PR.  Because, frankly, when I was their age I didn’t even know what PR was.

I decided to study journalism at a community college near my hometown after high school because my top university choice didn’t accept my application on the first try. Thanks Queen’s.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life anyway, and my mom had MS and was confined to a wheelchair, and I didn’t want to leave my dad with the sole responsibility of her care.  So, instead of going to my second or third choice universities, both of which had accepted me, I went to Loyalist College which, like other community colleges in Canada, was very focused on providing career training.  The only program that sounded appealing to me was Print Journalism, which prepared students for a career as a two-way (editorial and photography) community journalist.

I loved it. I liked telling stories through words and pictures. I loved the art and science behind good page design. I loved working in the dark room and at the big Olivetti typewriter — the kind you needed muscular fingers and a lot of enthusiasm to manipulate well.  I loved being a reporter for the school paper and for my internships but, upon graduation, I did not immediately go to work. My girlfriend decided to go to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I followed.

She and I didn’t last. But I did meet the beautiful girl who would become my wife and I did obtain my B.A. in English.  And I did get a job as a reporter several months after I graduated. The Grand Rapids Business Journal wasn’t a big publication, but that probably was a good thing for me.  I got to cover stories and conduct interviews I never would have been assigned had I worked at a larger publication.  The pay wasn’t good, but I really liked what I was doing.

As newlyweds sometimes do, we had a child, and “I really liked what I was doing” no longer was enough. When the PR sirens came singing, I boldly took the plunge. Even though I hadn’t studied PR (few had, at that point), I knew it involved writing and that it still was part of the reporting process.  Journalists called it “selling out” and, well, that’s how I felt about it too.  But there were bills to pay.

What I came to discover, however, was that PR was indeed an honorable, respectable profession that includes a responsibility to the public good. PR certainly has some image problems of its own, brought on by some practioners within its own ranks. It’s one of the reasons I am such a big fan of PRSA — the Public Relations Society of America.  The PRSA educates on best practices and advocates for ethical behaviors and awards Accreditation in Public Relations to its top practitioners.   What I learned about being a PR practitioner came from working with excellent professionals at Amway and through PRSA involvement. Next week when the West Michigan PRSA chapter board meets I assume my new role as 2010 President. I also served as WMPRSA President back in 2003.

My advice to the students? First of all, I told them if they weren’t passionate about PR, they shouldn’t do it.  Lack of passion is a dead-end street in the PR profession. Besides, who wants to do a job for the rest of their lives that they are not passionate about? I want to love what I do, and do what I love.

Next, I told them to write. Write for paying clients. Write for non-paying clients. Write for fictional clients. But if you’re not writing in this profession, you won’t get far.  The PR professional won’t ever reach campaign planning status if they cannot write persuasively.

And I told them to be true. I told them that Honest, Open, Transparent communications are critical to the reputation of a firm. Dishonesty is eventually discovered and reputation is destroyed.  Avoiding the tough conversations about your business destroys trust. Selectively sharing only the facts that you believe place you in the best light is an invitation for your critics to share the facts you’re avoiding. Outing yourself on difficult information is always better than being outed by someone else.

To the students at Davenport, and at Calvin, and Grand Valley State University and Loyalist College and Queen’s University, at Harvard College and Grand Rapids Community College — do what you love, and be true.