Secrets from the publisher and editor-in-chief: How to win regional business awards for your digital marketing agency

Written by: Karl Sakas

Tired of seeing a competitor win yet another business award from your local business newspaper? Wish you knew the secrets to getting business awards for your digital marketing agency, to help you get the attention of prospective clients?

Here’s how to do it at your agency, based on advice I got from the publisher, the editor-in-chief, and the research director at the Triangle Business Journal, a subsidiary of the biggest publisher of business journals in the U.S.

Winning starts with writing an above-average award application. In short, think like a journalist. Have a hook, and then keep it specific and short.

How do you make your agency’s business award application stand out?

Want to make it through the selection committee? I noticed four big themes in the advice shared by Triangle Business Journal (TBJ) publisher Bryan Hamilton, editor-in-chief Sougata Mukherjee, and research director Cameron Snipes at their “Nominations Clinic” event in July 2013.

1) Think like a journalist—start with an enticing hook.

Judges are reading dozens of applications. Think about stories you can tell to make your company or nominee stand out.

This might mean drafting your application and deleting your boring intro, so you can start with something interesting.

Cameron shared a great “before and after” example about a doctor’s nomination for a medical industry award:

Example: “THE BAD” version

Xxyxy Xxyxyxyxy is a health care hero. As a thoracic surgeion, Dr. Xxyxyxyxy provides surgical treatment for chest diseases, including lung cancer, esophogeal cancer and malignant and benign conditions.

Example: “THE GOOD” version

The Fukashima nuclear disaster in Japan exposed thousands to radiation. Approximately 1.5 million Americans will get cancer this year and most will receive chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. What do these things have in common? DNA damage.

While radiation and chemotherapy have therapeutic uses, too much is damaging to cells.

That’s why technology developed by Xxyxyxyxy may ultimately benefit thousands or even millions of people. The market for similar drugs is projected to be in excess of $4 billion.

Seeing that comparison, I realized—“Aha! The newspaper wants award applications to be written like feature news stories, not boring essays.

2) Use “inverted pyramid” to share the details.

Journalists are trained to tell the most important details first. Think about reading a newspaper article, where the most important things are up front. This “inverted pyramid” approach means that if people stop reading and start scanning, they’ll have gotten the key info before they tune out.

You should do the same thing in your award application. Lead with the key info.

3) Give specific examples.

Vague generalities like “s/he’s a nice person” won’t win awards.

That seems obvious, but it reminded me of the pledge selection process in my business fraternity—when we were doing voting and no one had anything specific to say about a particular rushee, people would revert to saying, “S/he seemed nice.”

“Nice” isn’t helpful. Be specific.

4) Keep it as short as possible.

Remember, each judge is reading dozens or hundreds of applications. Don’t bore them to death.

Keep it short. Writing using “inverted pyramid” (tip #2) makes it easier to identify what you can cut—if it’s at the end, it’s more likely to be fluff.

What awards can your digital marketing agency win?

The Triangle Business Journal runs a number of awards programs annually, including general awards—like “40 Under 40” and “Best Places to Work”—and specialized awards—like “Healthcare Heroes” and “Leaders in Diversity.”

The exact awards you’d apply for will depend on your agency. You might keep in mind clients who’d be eligible, if you want to submit applications on their behalf.

Some award winners are selected mechanically (e.g., the “Fast 50” awards for fastest-growing companies are based on a numerical formula administered by an accounting firm). If you don’t have the raw numbers, you won’t win.

But a lot of the awards are determined subjectively by a panel of local judges—that’s where this advice comes in handy.

Does this advice apply to agencies in your market?

This article is based on advice shared by Triangle Business Journal (TBJ) publisher Bryan Hamilton, editor-in-chief Sougata Mukherjee, and research director Cameron Snipes at their “Nominations Clinic” event in July 2013. The trio leads the selection process for more than a dozen annual awards, ranging from “40 Under 40” to “Best Places to Work.”

This advice should apply in your market, too–the TBJ is a subsidiary of trade publisher American City Business Journals, which publishes business journals in 40+ markets. I’d expect a similar process for Crain’s and other regional business newspapers.

Note that my advice here is about winning business awards, rather than winning creative awards like the ADDYs. Should you spend the time and money applying for creative awards? From a business perspective, it’s up to you to decide what makes sense for your agency.

Question: Has your digital marketing agency won a business award? What do you think was the key to winning?

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