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?

FIVE REASONS TO ENTER (AND WIN) PROOF AWARDS

  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.

AWARD ENTRIES IS A YEAR-ROUND PROCESS

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.

IT’S ABOUT GOOD STORYTELLING

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

Shifting Seats

Moving to a new job doesn’t mean the end of old relationships. Your circle has just expanded!

A couple years ago, I was upset that some families we were close to had left our church. A wise elder said it was OK, sometimes people just need to switch seats. They continue to be part of the larger “church.”   That same wisdom applies to relationships established in the work world, I guess. In the past 18 months I’ve shifted seats a couple of times — once when I didn’t really want to — and now my circle has expanded.  I get to know and appreciate a new crowd even as I strive to maintain ties with those I called “friend” at my workplace.

Yesterday I was asked to write up some memories of one person I worked with, Cindy, who is celebrating five years at Amway Corp.  Here’s what I sent to her current manager:

I met Cindy when we both served on the WMPRSA board in the early 2000s. She impressed me as smart, competent and accountable. She got things done. Plus she was nice. A few years later, when we had an opening for a new editor at Quixtar, Cindy applied and I was thrilled to be able to bring her on staff.  Very quickly she became one of the superstars in Communications…she made every team she joined better, not just because of what she contributed, but because of the impact she had on others. Her team members became better because she helped them focus and because she was such a great example.

Later, organizational shifts changed reporting relationships and the editorial team reported to a creative director while I managed external communications, including PR, advertising, digital marketing, and sponsorships. Again Cindy applied for an opening on my staff, this time managing all things digital, and again I didn’t have to think twice about welcoming her aboard. She moved into the new role and immediately whipped Amway U.S. social media and digital outreach programs into shape, working with outside agencies and internal partners. 

I am glad Cindy and so many others I managed continue to contribute their strong talents to the ongoing global success of Amway. I often feel like my biggest achievement during an 18-year Amway career was the great people I brought into the company. And among the greatest of those is Cindy. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s been only five years for her given all that she’s already accomplished within Amway (not to mention having two kids in that same period of time!). 

…I can’t begin to single out a “favorite memory” with Cindy or with any of the great people I worked with at Amway. I enjoyed my staff and many of my peers throughout my years at Amway and loved nearly every minute of being with the company. At least, I think I did. I guess it must have been pretty good if my “afterglow” memories are so favorable!

At Davenport, I have the pleasure of managing Rick (who has considered Cindy a mentor in the past) and Sasha.  We had a late afternoon meeting yesterday to talk about what we’ve already accomplished since I joined the university in September as well as the opportunities that still lie ahead for us.  Thinking about the staffs I’ve worked with in the past and the one I work with today made me realize that all of us are always shifting seats somewhat, but that doesn’t mean we have to change who we are and what we bring to the table.  And it doesn’t mean we have to lose our old connections, either. Social media helps us stay in touch. So do industry gatherings, community events, and good old-fashioned “let’s do lunches.”

Although my new life is very full, schedule-wise, I need to make time to stay in touch with those  I used to (and still) call “friend” at Amway Corp. I saw some of them at a WMPRSA meeting this past week and at holiday gatherings last month. I do have the occasional lunch with these friends.  I hope to see more of them all in the weeks and months ahead!

Spring in the Air

Recap of the last two weeks

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve last posted here. I’ve been very active, you see! Lots of networking, going to events like the Addy Awards and the aimWest Tech Trends event and WMPRSA’s “Meet the Media” event and so much more.  Plus I’ve had lots of meetings with people.  Some were people I worked with a long time ago but with whom I had lost touch. Some were people who have offered to help me in various ways.  Some were students I’ve offered to help.  And a few were even potential clients.

After a long cold winter, this week has seen a thaw in West Michigan. Snow is melting away in the balmy 40+ temperatures. Spirits are lightened as Michiganders head outdoors in their t-shirts. :-)  People around here rejoice as America took home the top haul of Olympic medals. I took special pride in Canada’s top haul of 14 golds and, in particular, the men’s hockey gold. After losing to the U.S. in an earlier round, I just knew the Canada squad wouldn’t let themselves lose another game.

And my prospects for new work are also very good. Today I accepted one assignment that will likely keep me busy through November.  Two other projects I bid on seem very possible and, if I get that work, I will be very busy through the summer.  I have agreed to join the Festival of the Arts communications team as a volunteer, which also will be very fun. And, of course, I’m still writing for Grand Rapids Magazine and for RapidGrowthMedia.com

When you add in serving as president of West Michigan PRSA, serving as secretary of the deaconate for my church, and writing assignments for the New 2 You Shoppe (my wife serves on their board), there’s not a lot of free time!

So, that’s my excuse for not blogging the last few weeks.  Next week begins the “Nine Days of Celebration” in the Luymes household. First it’s my birthday on the 9th, then my wife’s birthday on the 14th, and then our wedding anniversary on the 18th (21 years). So, maybe I’ll be too busy partying down to blog. Or too busy working (which is just one more reason to celebrate)!

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.

Crescenzo says Creativity over Crap

Corporate Communications needs to change its name to Creative Communications, according to WMPRSA speaker Steve Crescenzo

I have to admit to a bit of a man crush developed over lunch today.  Our speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the West Michigan chapter of Public Relations Society of America was Steve Crescenzo, a large, bald, hilarious consultant who shared brilliant insights into the state of corporate communications today. For starters, he thinks “corporate” should be yanked from the title and replaced with “creative.”

After he was done speaking, I professed publicly that he had earned a little piece of my heart.  Literally.  I had to close the meeting with some WMPRSA info and, in thanking him, I let it slip. I’m sure he hears it all the time.

First of all, Steve introduced his company to us — himself, his wife, his son and two cats.  His cats, he said, are his IT department.  Why not, he explained, they don’t come right when you call them, they’re moody, they’re self-absorbed, and they like to lick themselves.  There was more, I’m sure, but that was the gist of it.  Within the first minute of his presentation he had the attention of the University Club crowd.

His main message to corporate communicators, and employee communications specialists in particular, was to stop putting crap out there and expecting audiences to actually read it.  It takes a lot to cut through the clutter these days, and formulaic, cliched newsletters are not going to get readers’ attention. He sympathized, however, acknowledging that corporate cultures today call for review of communications pieces by committee, with CEOs, Legal, Finance, and numerous middle management layers all weighing in with opinions and edits.

When’s the last time a PR person went down to Finance and asked to take a crack at the books this month?  How about we write up the next set of vendor contracts?  And while we’re at it, we’ll whip together the 2010 Strategic Plan for the whole company.  Why should non-communications experts attempt to do the jobs of the true experts they’ve hired to do the job?  Partially, Crescenzo asserts, it’s because we let them.  No longer should it be referred to as “approvals'” he said. Rather, routing of communications should be viewed as “fact checking” where accuracy is ensured but the tone and style is determined by the comms experts.

Crescenzo talked about just how busy everyone is nowadays.  When it comes to the communications pieces coming at them, their order of prioritization is 1) what they’re personally passionate about, 2) what they absolutely need to know to do their job, 3) what is done so well that it pulls them in, and 4) all the other stuff being asked of corporate communicators.  You’re lucky if your intended audience has the time to reach #3, so if you’re communicating changes to the benefits policy or recognition of a long-term employee, it had better be pretty darned creative.

From headline to graphics to the lead paragraph, communicators need to push the boundaries of “how we’ve always done it” or “what legal will approve.”  (My heart was really warming up to Crescenzo at this point!)   And with Facebook and the New York Times online and so much rich content competing for attention, it’s still hard to get audiences to read your nicely presented, well-written copy.

That’s when Steve showed some creative ways corp comm’ers are reaching their audiences these days.  Rather than the “lady with a stethoscope” billboard ad approach used so frequently to promote healthcare services, he shared an online campaign for a hospital that utilizes a mix of blogs, podcasts and videos — with healthcare staff sharing their compelling stories in their own words in ways a single billboard or flyer never could. He showed just a video of a nurse sharing a story about her work in a neonatal intensive care unit that, frankly, very nearly brought tears to my eyes.

OK, as my wife and kids will tell you, I have been known to tear up at the movies. They won’t let me forget that one time watching Bridge to Terabithia or that final goodbye scene from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  Yes, that one is embarassing. The point is, a billboard will not get that kind of reaction. A video might. My wife works at the NICU at Spectrum’s DeVos Women and Children’s Hospital, so I know the commitment they demonstrate each and every day. That doesn’t translate well to copy or an image. Crescenzo said that social media is a powerful tool that corporate communicators need to use to allow people to share their own stories in compelling ways.

So, as I said earlier, Mr. Crescenzo was earning little pieces of my heart with each passing minute.  He spoke frankly.  He was super funny.  He showed great examples of good and bad communications.  And then he started talking about using Facebook as your employee communications site because IT will roll their collective set of eyes at you when you ask them for a highly interactive employee communications intranet site.  “It’ll take nine months and half a million dollars,” they’ll say (based on experience, that would be a conservative estimate for time and budget).  And then Crescenzo started talking about how easy it is to use Flip Cams, and how communicators need to carry them around at all times “just in case.” Now he had my undying affection.

So much of what he said is exactly what I’ve experienced and come to believe about communications over the years. I’m proud to say that at Amway we did fight the internal battles to trim down approval routes and we did use creative new approaches to better share our stories with various audiences. Not always successfully, but we won some of the fights. That’s how Opportunity Zone came into existence.  That’s why I traveled to Baltimore and Seattle this summer to conduct interviews of Amway Independent Business Owners with an easy-to-use Flip Cam (although I don’t think IT has yet launched the site where those videos were to be used). That’s also why today there are Facebook pages for various Amway brands, sharing video content and photos.

I’m excited to take that experience, empowered with the affirmations of experts like Steve Crescenzo, and apply it to the communication needs of Luymes PR clients!  Who’s next!?