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

PR and Social Media

PR is strategy; Social Media is tactic. To me, Social Media is best managed within the organization by PR.

I’ve had many conversations about PR and its use of social media.  It’s been discussed in various chats on Twitter as well as at conferences.  On a few occasions now I’ve heard people talk about the PR work that they do managing a client’s social media account. I do believe wholeheartedly that managing a social media account for an organization should be under the direction of the public relations discipline. 

The social media engagement, however, should not constitute an organization’s complete PR program.  Perhaps there are a few organizations out there that can get away with that, but to create a mutually beneficial experience for an organization and its target publics, more than tweeting will be necessary. Meanwhile, people who haven’t been trained in public relations and really don’t fully comprehend what PR is shouldn’t claim to fulfill an organization’s PR needs simply because they track friends and fans and followers in Facebook and Twitter.

Some of this was part of what Jenny Luth and I talked about at the Grand Rapids Social Media (GRSM) lunch event yesterday. A good group joined us for the excellent dialog about roles and responsibilities in social media and what constitutes effective PR for an organization.

Are you at your Town Hall meeting?

I did a guest post at Jen Fong’s blog about the need for companies to jump into the online dialog about their brands.

I blogged about the need for companies and brands to check out what’s being said about them over at Jen Fong’s blog.  Essentially, the point I’m making is that companies and other organizations would make a special effort to prepare for and attend town hall meetings where they were being discussed.  The same needs to be true and, unbelievably, there are still company executives holding back from diving into the dialog about their brands.

Jen is a great social media resource, especially to the direct selling industry.  Last year I was on a panel with her at the Direct Selling Association’s national conference. She also was super active in round table sessions about web reputation that I led at the conference. When I first left Amway last September, she was one of the first to talk to me about being in business for myself, and I am very grateful for the advice and help she’s provided since then!

Check out my post at Jen’s blog and, while you’re there, check out the rest of the great content she and guest bloggers have created!

January Series at Calvin College

Calvin College’s “January Series” is bringing an eclectic mix of excellent speakers to the West Michigan community.

As a Calvin College graduate, I’ve always been proud of the school’s wonderful January Series of lectures. Now in its 23rd year, the award-winning lecture series always brings an eclectic mix of incredible speakers to the campus with one lecture per day, free to the public. This year’s lineup once again promises to inspire and educate.

Opening speaker T.R. Reid, global affairs correspondent for The Washington Post and NPR, will talk abut the “Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care.”  The closing speaker, Archbishop Elias Chacour of Galilee, will talk about “Unity Within Diversity: Myth or Reality.”  In between, there are 13 other speakers addressing topics ranging from the theological to cultural to political.

Of particular interest to me are three of those speakers. The topic for CBS News Correspondent and best-selling author Kimberly Dozier is “Breathing the Fire: Reflections of a Foreign News Correspondent.” You’ll remember that, while covering a story in Baghdad in 2006, Dozier was seriously injured in a car bombing that killed her camera crew, an army captain and their Iraqi translator. And now Dozier reports from the White House on President Obama’s administration and new foreign policy developments. To me, that sounds like a strong basis for many intriguing stories.

Next on my list of top three is Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway and a former Calvin student. He will speak on the “ten phrases” that were the basis for his most recent book encouraging others to live with a positive attitude that can change lives, communities, and the world. I’ve heard Rich speak numerous times and have read his books, of course, and I always appreciate his grasp of basic human nature and how what we say and do affects those around us. He’s a master salesman and, when you hear him speak, you begin to understand why.

Finally, Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales will speak about “Democracy and the Internet.”  I use Wikipedia all the time as a quick research tool.  It embodies the idea that, through the inputs of many, we will arrive at the truth. It’s not always completely accurate, because it truly requires inputs from all sides of an issue or idea, and there are times that some parties won’t or can’t participate. But it is fascinating all the same and is probably the one session I’d go to — if I only went to one! 

If you’re interested in going, check out for more information about speakers and dates. The Fine Arts Center at Calvin is going through an expansion/renovation, so they’re conducting the series out of the Calvin College Chapel. The talks begin at 12:30 p.m. on weekdays from Wednesday, Jan. 6 through Tuesday, Jan. 26.  But you better get there early, especially for the more noted speakers, because it’s usually a full house.

Fortunately, Calvin has created remote web cast sites so that more people can benefit from these lectures, including several around West Michigan.  Included among the 28 webcast sites across the country are the Ladies Literary Club in downtown Grand Rapids, Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon, Christ Memorial Church in Holland, Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven, and the Dogwood Center for the Performing Arts in Fremont.

Work and personal schedules allowing, I hope to hit my top three and perhaps a few more!