How to win awards? The truth is that receiving industry recognition can help your company reach new audiences and drive potential business opportunities. They can be great for staff morale and the bottom line.
But it takes a village to win awards. No matter how worthy your company may be of recognition, there is an incredible amount of work behind-the-scenes that goes into even being considered for an award. Whether it’s for a niche industry honor or the most prestigious, ‘holy grail’ achievement (such as Fast Company’s Design Company of the Year—a distinction we secured for our technology client Newlab in September 2020), winning applications are the culmination of a smart and comprehensive approach.
Here are some tips we’ve used at BerlinRosen’s tech PR and communications team to help our clients win awards, which include Fast Company’s Innovation by Design, CNBC’s Upstart 100, Crain’s 40 under 40, Forbes’ 30 under 30, and beyond.
Sure, everyone loves recognition for their hard work, but it’s important to consider why you want to win awards. Where do awards fit into your larger business strategy? What ROI are you hoping to show? Perhaps you’re looking to engage a new client or customer base, or drive recruitment and attract top talent? Are you looking for an award to confer a de facto certification proving the viability of your product?
Ask yourself the right questions and answer them as accurately as possible. For example, one of BerlinRosen’s technology clients, Coord, a curb management company, was featured in a recent CNBC Upstart 100 list. While general company recognition is great, it wasn’t the only reason we decided to pursue this award for the emerging startup. When thinking about the future of transportation, what first comes to mind for most people is autonomous vehicles and flying taxis. What’s often overlooked, however, is the curb.
Curb management is critical to ensuring safe and efficient streets, as well as accelerating the future of transportation. So, through this award, we wanted to raise awareness for curb management across the technology, mobility and startup spaces and highlight Coord’s solution as a missing link in mobility innovation. Because Coord is a startup with a unique platform and transformative vision, we knew CNBC Upstart 100, which reaches a wide business and technology audience, would both enhance awareness of the topic and showcase our client’s transformative platform.
Finally, keep in mind that pursuing awards can be time-consuming and costly, often costing anywhere from $250 to more than $1,000. So before you make the investment, make sure you know why you’re submitting.
There are many awards out there—from media organizations and analyst firms, to businesses, nonprofits, associations and more—so it’s crucial to distinguish the worthwhile from the less important, and the relevant from the irrelevant. When considering an award opportunity, think about the extent to which it fulfills your business goals. Will it resonate with your key audiences? Does it confer the level of industry prestige you’re looking for? Is it the most appropriate award you could be applying for, and is the specific category you’re submitting to the most relevant?
When we nominated Newlab for Fast Company’s Innovation by Design awards, we believed that the award’s prestige, the outlet’s reach and the broad-based, forward-looking nature of the magazine’s editorial purview made it a perfect match for Newlab. Newlab is a community of over 800 entrepreneurs, engineers and inventors applying transformative technology to things that matter—from self-driving cars and quantum computers, to amphibious robots, indoor farms and 3D-printed rockets. Because the extraordinary variety of innovations that emerge from Newlab’s ecosystem are inspiring, unique, and impeccably designed, we knew that the award was an ideal match, and that were we to win, it would be worth the time, effort and cost.
The topic of your submission, be it a product, service, company or executive achievement, must have real significance. To put the appropriate weight behind your submission, ask yourself: What was the impact? How is this relevant for the industry, for your customers and for society more broadly? Does it rise above the anticipated competition? Can we back it up with hard data or testimonials?
For example, in our submission of Newlab for Fast Company, we called attention to the creation of the Spiro Wave, an emergency bridge ventilator developed to address the anticipated ventilator shortage in New York City and around the world in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Spiro Wave was designed, manufactured and granted Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA, all in under one month. Ever since, it’s been part of NYC’s strategic pandemic preparedness stockpile. The story was extremely timely, included major press coverage across outlets such as The New York Times, TechCrunch and The New Yorker, and the feat of the teams that made it happen was incredibly impressive. There was a whole lot of significance there to work with.
Depending on the award type, judges could include media outlets’ editorial team members, industry analysts or sometimes members of the broader public (when award selections are made by popular vote). While drafting your submission for, say, a technology and design outlet like Fast Company, consider that the judges are likely to think about what makes the story behind your nomination particularly cool, fresh, exciting and newsworthy. Tailor your nomination to highlight those attributes.
By contrast, for an award given by an industry analyst firm, think about how other industry experts, who are serving as judges, might perceive your nomination. Ensure your submission reflects the depth of industry expertise that they are likely to expect. Focus specifically on how it meets an industry need, as opposed to its newsworthiness or broader public appeal.
If the award is voted on by members of the broader public, consider whom those voters are most likely to be. Are they members of a specific industry community? An audience with known, shared interests? Focus on the implications of your submission for that specific audience.
Lastly, if the vote is open to the public, make sure you’re leveraging your extended network to drive votes and win awards. For example, you can send pointed asks to your employees, contractors and colleagues to vote, or share relevant links and calls-to-action on social media. To the best of your ability, try to get a sense of whose interest you’re trying to pique, and write your nomination with them in mind.
Now it’s time to think about process. As you put pen to paper (or finger to key), you may find some pieces missing—details that only those with deep familiarity with the project, solution or individual at the center of your submission could have. This is where you should begin engaging everyone with direct involvement. Interview each person and ask specific and probing questions that only they would know the answer to.
For example, when writing about the Spiro Wave, the BerlinRosen tech PR team engaged numerous stakeholders who oversaw the operation from start to finish, and asked them to describe in vivid detail the process of how Spiro Wave came to fruition: What led the leaders to consider taking on such a daunting task as building an emergency ventilator in under a month? How did they manage to coordinate among an enormous team spanning time zones? What was the iterative process of designing and testing the Spiro Wave like?
While we already knew the essence of the story, the submission wouldn’t have come together as well as it did without the nuances and subtle details learned through this informal “interview” process. Finally, when you have a semi-final draft, give the individuals a chance to closely review and provide feedback to ensure the narrative is told accurately and with attention to crucial details.
Now that you have all the key information, you need to tie it all together to win awards. Think about what makes the story particularly unique and exciting. Does it address a major issue in an industry or society? Are its applications and use cases important and relevant to your audience? Does the team or individual you’re writing about have an especially fascinating backstory? Of course, you should never merely submit a laundry list of your successes. Particularly with highly technical products, or more abstract concepts, explaining the real-world, human interest implication grounds your submission in a relatable framework, so that any judge or member of the public can understand why you’re deserving of the award. It’s essential to tell a captivating narrative packed with detail that’s placed in the appropriate industry or societal context; one that makes an open-and-shut case for why your submission is important enough to warrant top-tier recognition.
For example, what made the Spiro Wave story super compelling wasn’t simply that it was extremely timely, that the solution was uniquely innovative or that there was a real and urgent need for it. Of course, all of these things were true, but they weren’t the end-all, be-all of what made the submission powerful. The BerlinRosen tech PR and communications team made sure to present the backstory of how a team of entrepreneurs from all over the world simultaneously recognized a massive, looming problem and came together to design, prototype, perfect and scale the solution in less than a month. The collective ingenuity and endurance of human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds was an essential piece to the Spiro story.
Now it’s time to put on your editor hat. This means telling your story as clearly and concisely as possible, because a well-written submission helps make the difference and ultimately win awards. Recognitions typically have strict requirements around word and character counts, so your pitch needs to be tight. It may help to draft an outline first to help you structure your story. When you do start writing, use clear and straightforward language. Avoid “fluff” that doesn’t add substance to your nomination. And while your subject may be truly groundbreaking, avoid pretentious or braggadocious language; if the story is compelling and your writing is elegant, your submission will stand out.
You’re almost done. As powerful as your draft is, nothing drives home a message like a visual aid, and while not all award opportunities let you include them, don’t squander the opportunity when you’re allowed. Do you have engaging images and videos that show just how cool, interesting and important your company or offering is? It’s one thing to read about it, but seeing is believing.
Moreover, are there external validators that can help buttress your submission? Think user reviews and testimonials, client and partner recommendations, and even Twitter posts by people out in the world raving about you. If there are no readily available third-party validators, it’s up to you to engage the right people—usually clients, customers, partners and colleagues—to help create them. This extra step can make a world of difference. Remember, it’s one thing for you to talk about how awesome you are; it’s another when others back it up.
Media award opportunities frequently present themselves via connections with editorial staff at outlets seeking submissions. That’s why it’s important to develop an extensive network of such contacts, and leverage them to maximize the quantity and quality of opportunities that come your way. You can, for example, ask reporters you work with to connect you directly with the right person who’s overseeing the awards process—this is a much more effective way to ensure your submission gets the careful consideration it deserves, as opposed to blasting generic “awards@…” email addresses. These contacts can also give you inside information you can use to your advantage, such as changing deadlines, upcoming awards yet to be made public, or if another nominee drops out and your submission suddenly becomes eligible for a new category. Having deep and long-standing connections can boost your chances of being considered for highly sought-after awards, so make sure you don’t neglect building these critical relationships; they will indubitably pay dividends over time.
Submitting industry awards can be a critical component of a company’s business strategy, so it’s crucial to remember that applying for awards requires a thoughtful, strategic approach. Keeping in mind the key tips laid out above will help you draft an effective submission and rise above even the fiercest competition to win awards.