If you've ever entered a writing contest or a communications competition ... if you're thinking about entering one ... if you're considering accreditation ... you doubtless will be able to use many of the tips 'n tricks in this series.
Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR, was Accreditation Chair for the Kansas City Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators for 3 1/2 years. He is one of only 65 communicators in the world to be dually accredited by IABC and the Public Relations Society of America.
Rich has twice served on IABC's Blue Ribbon Panel for Gold Quill, the organization's prestigious international communications competition. He also has completed five stints as a Gold Quill Division Coordinator.
Over the past few years, Rich has evaluated a couple of thousand accreditation portfolios, Gold Quill and Silver Quill entries, and submissions in more than a hundred local, regional, and national IABC, PRSA, Missouri School Public Relations Association, and Texas Press Women's Association competitions.
He's seen the good and the bad of these submissions, and he has some strong opinions on the subject of entering competitions. If you want to know the mistakes to avoid, and the tricks that will help you stand a better chance of faring well when your work is reviewed by some faceless judge, read on.
This article is the first in Rich's series, "You don't want me as your judge, UNLESS ..."
Okay, it's competition time.
Bronze Quill. Silver Quill. Gold Quill. Silver Anvil. Golden Fire Truck. PRISM. ADDY. Whatever.
I've judged a couple of thousand entries during the past decade, and I can tell you, you're probably doing it wrong.
And it annoys me.
No, it ticks me off!
For it's so easy to do it right!
In competition after competition, regardless of what the Call for Entries says, the vast majority of entrants do only half the work.
Tips For Scoring
Typical scoring guidelines say something like:
Your Work Sample and Work Plan are each worth 50 percent of your evaluation. Winning entries must meet clearly stated objectives and show originality and results based on outcome. Judges look for evidence of careful planning and documentation of an entry's success through well-defined objectives with measurable results. (From 2002 IABC Gold Quill Awards Call for Entries.)
That's not too hard, is it?
Yet, time and again, I see -- all judges see -- entries with good, solid, professional Work Samples, and sloppy, insipid, poorly thought-out, hastily thrown-together Work Plans.
"Plans" that were developed only for the contest or competition, not for the project. Who do the entrants think they're fooling with these, anyway?
"Plans" that show absolutely no understanding of the IABC or PRSA or NSPRA or any other communications planning process.
"Plans" that don't even bother to follow the clearly listed steps and instructions in the competition's Call for Entries.
"Plans" that in no conceivable way could be followed as a model for designing the Work Sample submitted.
These "plans" should be an affront to anyone who aspires to be a true professional. They insult the whole process: the contest organizers, the judges, the other competitors, and, in particular, the few other entrants who went to the trouble to do it right.
You're SO Wonderful!
YOU may have decided that your Work Sample -- your writing or other product -- is so wonderful that it can stand up to any test, but that's not what most professional competitions are about. Your writing does not stand alone.
If 50 percent of your scoring is related to your Work Plan, you'd be well advised to make it a darn good one.
Set your ego aside and opinions aside and read -- and understand -- the entry requirements. I really don't give a damn how good your writing or product is if you don't supply me the other part of the equation.
If the rules specify that you must submit a comprehensive Work Plan that details why you did what you did, what makes you think that -- just for you -- I'm going to ignore that requirement because I fell in love with your product?
No, if that's what you submit, I'll guarantee you that someone who's not as good a writer (or whatever) as you, but who does a better job of following simple instructions, will get the top award, and you'll get a nasty note from some punctilious abecedarian judge like me.
And I'm really good at nasty notes; I have lots of experience and even more attitude.
This Ain't Burger King; You Can't Have It YOUR Way
You see, here's how I have it figured: If the contest organizers had wanted the scoring to stand on only the Work Sample, they'd have said so in the Call for Entries. When they say that half the score is related to the Work Plan, I assume that they mean it. I know that's tough on those of you who would rather I judged it your way rather than the organizing committee's way. Too bad.
I also assume that you can read simple English.
If the requirements are spelled out in the Call for Entries, I figure you knew what you were doing when you submitted what you submitted. If your Work Plan is incomplete or sloppy or thrown together, I take the position that you had the same chance as the person who followed the instructions.
And that you were willing to take the consequences.
Most other experienced judges take a similar approach.
So, if you want to continue developing your own judging criteria for the competitions you enter, it's your time and it's your money.
Just don't whine to me when you don't win anything.
Future articles will help you learn what to look for in a Call for Entries, what judges "key" on, how -- and why -- to write evaluable objectives, and how to include information on measurement and evaluation. If you have questions, email me.