BTSIAs, STAs and Baftas… How to get an awards submission right
Entries for the BT Sports Industry Awards just closed. The Sports Technology Awards' closing date is the end of the month and I’m currently working my way through as many films as I can because I’m a lucky Bafta film judge. It seems that many people want a gong for Christmas, so I have some tips for those entering.
Firstly, how do I know what’s involved in award winning? To be clear, Seven League doesn’t win awards for our work, our clients do. Take the wonderful work our team did creating, recruiting, managing and maximising the value of the Rose Army during the Rugby World Cup… all our own graft for O2, but it will form part of award entries with our chums at M&C Saatchi, VCCP and O2 themselves. And quite right too.
Personally, I have a batch from former lives (being on bafta-winning teams and a range from my pure internet days) and then from my sport life it’s the BTSIA Best Website for Manchester City FC (for which, read digital generally. it was 2012) and the ridiculous but flattering Digital Individual of the Year DADI award, also in 2012 (did you know it was Sir Martin Sorrell the year after? Because it’s a natural jump from me to him. Right.).
However, on the judging side of things, the 7L team have done a lot more recently: The European Sponsorship Awards, the Sports Tech Awards, the Football Business Awards, the Business of Cricket Awards...
It’s always fascinating, and I appreciate the time and effort it takes to put together an awards entry - but because I know what an effort it can be, I thought I’d put together some simple tips.
A friend used to say that when he was filtering CVs, he’d take half of them and put them in the bin right at the beginning of the process. The logic was that it helped him cut down the workload and anyway, you wouldn’t want to hire someone who was unlucky.
For tips that are slightly more practical than ‘be lucky’, read on…
1. It’s not marketing blurb. Don’t use marketing speak. If possible, don’t get a marketing person to write it unless they can write in non-marketing speak. I’m a judge - that means you’d think I’ve got some experience in your sector. You won’t pull the wool over my eyes by saying something ‘exploded’ or ‘went viral’. You’re just going to irritate me. As a recovering journalist I know I have a sensitive spot when it comes to writing style - but hyperbolic idiocy will get your entry thrown in the bin. You think I’m joking? Three gems from recent judging: “This was a truly synergistic partnership” - shut up. and no, it wasn’t Josh or Carsten at Synergy being clever; “We nailed the target” - really? do I look like I’m in the pub… what is that supposed to mean? might as well have said ‘smashed it. dropped the mic’; “The project exploded in social media” - it did WHAT?! WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?!?
1.a. Going back to the judge thing… the organisers usually ask people who are good at what they do. Now, sometimes we get asked to judge categories that are not our home turf so a little bit of explanation is good, but beware of patronising or over-simplifying, because it might look like you’re trying to pull the wool.
2. I don’t have all the time in the world to read your carefully crafted essay. If you’ve got something good to say, make it concise and punchy and clear in the first paragraph. First sentence if possible. Bullet points are good. Here’s a crazy idea, why don’t you put some real facts in there too. Real ones.
Look at it from a judge’s perspective. It’s a fascinating process and sometimes you see work you didn’t know about, which is interesting. But it’s not paid work. The last time I did one, I had 104 entries to review. There were some that were duplicates but there were still about 80 individual entries and even if I spent just 90 seconds reading each one of them, that’s still 2 hours of my time. The reality is you spend a minimum of 5 mins on each one.
3. Categories. They’re there for a reason. You might think that your project was ‘massively social’ (see point 1.) but unless it meets the criteria, it will go in the bin (see point 2.). If the criteria aren’t clear or your project does cross some boundaries, then get in touch with the organisers and check. Or say something about that in your well-honed, tightly-written entry.
4. Be classy. Don’t comment on others. It’s just not done. Picking out competitors or other projects and criticising them is ungentlemanly at least. If you really have a point to make, then an oblique reference to the issues is passable, but be careful.
5. Word Limit. It’s a word limit. You know, like a speed limit - you can go over it if you want, but it will be illegal and if a policeman decides to nick you, then you’re bang to rights. See point 2… one of the ways of filtering is simply to look at the long ones and make a super quick decision about whether it’s going to be worth the read.
6. FACTS. Yes, I know, this one will blow your mind. How about you actually put some facts in the entry. We’re intelligent enough (see 1.a) to know that something can be highly effective and award-worthy even if it didn’t get all the publicity and public awareness. Small and beautiful is good. Yes, the big boys will put in huge totals of social media reach and website traffic… and omit to say that they spent a truck load on digital marketing to buy traffic. Yes, they will forget to point out that their website campaign was supported by the insanely expensive tv spot, or that it was part of a national event with high profile celebrities, so of course it got loads of awareness. We know this. We can factor that in. We can question numbers. Whether it be KPIs or budgets, just be clear as you can. But you have to give us the numbers - numbers that matter - in the first place. No numbers = bin. Wrong number = bin. Numbers purporting to be relevant but trying to pull the wool? Bin. Numbers that have relevance and tell as much of the whole story as you can… not bin.
6.a. Digital and Social numbers. This is worth a paragraph, partly because it is an area of real expertise for Seven League. Yes, there are lies, damned lies and digital numbers. You can make them tell almost any story you want and, at the same time, there are all sorts of moving goalposts and changing definitions (and mixed metaphors) from the various platforms who have a black-box approach to analytics. We judges know that sometimes it’s difficult to give the right engagement figure, or to combine different platforms’ approaches. That’s ok - just be clear about it, or point us to a page on your website that tries to explain it - but give detail wherever you can.
6.b. There’s one area where us judges do give some leeway on numbers - and that’s project budgets. It’s very very useful to give as much detail as you can, but we do understand that sometimes it’s just too sensitive. There, you see, I can have empathy.
and finally, because there had to be Seven tips…
7. Being on a short list is good. Don’t crave the win. I have seen some odd things go on in a judging room. Like Hancock and Syd James’ Twelve Angry Men episode of Hancock's Half Hour… the group can swing one way and another. This doesn’t happen in the STAs case where it’s all done on scoring and we judges won’t meet, but most awards *do* have a judging day. One strong voice can bias the proceedings, or one procedural point can make a bigger-than-expected impact. 99% of judges have always been very diligent in my experience, but we all get stuck for time and if people have to leave and a quick decision is needed… it might be your entry that comes off worse. To be on the short list is a real credit to you. Still… if you are lucky enough to win, enjoy every minute of it.