Everything to play for: how to write a winning award entry

In the second part of our look at industry awards, we explore the craft of writing an entry that will blow the competition out of the water – and explain why winning is only the first step in making the most of your success

Preparation is everything: that was the mantra in our first blog on navigating the awards process. From making sense of the complex corporate-awards landscape to understanding your market and your business’s place in this; doing the groundwork is essential for a targeted submission process.

So, you’ve whittled down a shortlist of the awards to aim for and read the exam question; now to put pen to paper and make your case. But with a stifling word count and endless points to be addressed, this is no simple task. We asked the judges themselves what it takes to write a winning entry and how you can amplify your success. Here is their wisdom:

Answer the question

Once the writing process gets underway, iron out any ambiguities by engaging the award bodies. All awards will be marketed by a dedicated point person who can clarify the entry criteria, while some will give you access to the judges themselves – who may well prefer to give you direction first than read an entry that misses the point of the underlying question.

James Anderson, founder of PAM (Private Asset Managers) Insight, says his fellow judges have sifted through up to 60 entries per category when appraising the PAM Awards. Put yourself in their shoes; a carefully considered and targeted entry will be welcome respite from the reams of badly-compiled submissions.

Failure to read the category questions is the judges’ greatest bugbear. According to Richard Nolan, operations director at The Financial Services Forum, “Many firms make the mistake of bypassing vital points in the entry criteria and falling below their category peers in the judging process.” Keep the questions and criteria close, reviewing the evolving entry in tandem with these to ensure you’ve addressed the matter at hand.

Nolan adds: “The best marketing departments are constantly using insight, testing, measuring and evolving all elements of their marketing. So the hard work is already done.” Make sure the criteria prompt you to include those gems that could make your business a winner.

Word count

Use the word count wisely to set out your stall. As Nolan says: “Appreciate that not all the judges know your industry as well as you do. Try to articulate the problem, challenge, project or opportunity, so anyone can appreciate the issues you faced and make sure your achievements reflect those initial matters.”

Don’t be put off by restrictive word counts; your peers will be judged on the same level of content as you. Word limits are there to protect the judges – and with good reason. Anderson estimates the judges on his panel each give up an average of two weeks to review and assess the PAM entries every year. Be succinct and edit to ensure you’ve answered the question to the point, keeping appendices to a minimum.


Know your market and have a realistic view of your place within it. As Stuart Davies, PAM judge and partner at LJ Partnership, notes: “There can only be so many ‘unique’ wealth managers. Unless you have a perspective on the whole of the market, avoid saying this.”

Keep a clear focus on the customer and the strategy that’s driving your business to show you’re in it for the long haul. Speak to external stakeholders, not only to get their perception of your organisation’s strengths, but also its weak spots. Positively address these in the entries by demonstrating how you’ve overcome them. It may well be that your organisation prides itself on putting the customer first, but if the industry can’t look beyond a high-profile misdemeanour of the past, you will need to tackle this head on. Use the entry to make your case, citing the steps you’ve taken to learn from this and prevent a reoccurrence, and the proof that your customers today are a happier bunch.


The key is to guide the reader and make your entry stand out from the rest of the pack. Use bullet points and graphics to break up copy, highlighting text to emphasise those winning points. Minimise jargon and “marketing speak”, taking care not to blind the judges with science. “Avoid the excessive use of platitudes,” Davies says. “Be very aware of the claims you make – ensure you can generally substantiate these.”

If multiple stakeholders have contributed to the entry, review it carefully for consistency and with the category criteria to hand.

Proof points

Judges rarely nominate a winner on anecdotal evidence alone. Statistics should be used wherever possible to substantiate points and demonstrate tangible growth or success.

This was a discipline that The Financial Services Forum championed when setting up the Marketing Effectiveness Awards in 2002. Nolan explains: “We founded the awards as there was a clear need to further industry understanding of the role and impact of marketing. There was a widespread misconception that marketing is intangible and through the awards, we have proven that success can be quantified. Their purpose remains the same today; we recognise those firms that achieve outstanding marketing effectiveness and have the benchmarks in place to prove this.”

Davies agrees: “The use of relevant information is key, particularly for ‘softer’ categories, such as [PAM’s] Client Service Quality,” he says. “Find data to quantify this, such as growth in client numbers and assets under management, which are strong indicators of client service. If you have high staff turnover, it’s unlikely you have happy clients. If a firm’s assets under management are decreasing, performance isn’t the sole explanation; clients may tolerate relatively poor performance for a time if the service is good.”

If something isn’t tangible, source alternatives such as testimonials and customer viewpoints, which will bring the entry to life and avoid an overly internal focus.

Don’t work in isolation

Good entries provide a rare look under an organisation’s bonnet, so customer segmentation, strategic intent and every other aspect of your firm’s modus operandi will be subject to scrutiny from influencers with loaded opinions. Allow time for senior stakeholders to review and agree positioning, making sure everyone is on board.

Many award bodies supplement entries with face-to-face presentations, so ensure your entries stack up and that statistics are sufficiently robust to withstand judges’ questions. Choose presenters wisely, making sure they reflect the breadth of the business and its services and can articulate higher-level strategy.

On the night

Look carefully at the anticipated guest list. Which business area will the award in question recognise? Whatever the accolade, ensure you have the right attendees from within your business to work that room and make it worth your while.

Join in with the event hype. If you have been shortlisted, get social. Make your presence known and remember that a win doesn’t stop with the trophy; amplify your business’s achievements as they happen, piggybacking on to the evening’s excitement. Let your staff know at the earliest opportunity, so they can ride on your success – and take the chance to speak to the judges to understand why you came out top.

The morning after

Write content in advance, so you have copy ready to share online and with your customers if you win, building on any feedback from the award event. Include award logos in email footers, marketing collateral and on websites.

Don’t be tempted to stand still after the dust has settled. Do an internal “drains up” and engage award bodies after the event for feedback and pointers for future entries. Now in its 20th year, PAM Insight is one of the financial services industry’s most revered awards bodies – so much so that the panel feedback conveyed to the C-suite following the event often helps steer the strategic direction, solutions and delivery of the firms under their watch. Meanwhile, The Financial Services Forum rightly credits itself with showcasing, “the very best entries to enhance learning and raise the bar for financial services marketing”.

Awards can be a slow burn. Many award bodies see themselves as guardians for their sector and seek commitment from entrants and a deep understanding of a firm before they endorse it. While winning may be everything when you’ve burnt the midnight oil to meet an impending deadline, entering will go a long way in educating important stakeholders and setting out your stall for future wins. And, as Nolan says, the benefits of entering can be felt far beyond the award ceremony itself: “I’d like to think we have furthered the case for businesses to secure support and strategic input at the right level as well as the budgets required for activation.”