Writing to Win: Tips for successful award entries worthy of your strategic and creative work

Apply these tips to an entry in the IABC Heritage Region Silver Quill Communication Award Program
New Extended Deadline: Monday, July 18, 2022

By Kari E. McLean

The IABC Greater Cincinnati Chapter held an online program featuring three subject matter experts (SME) responding to questions from moderator Pat Frey, ABC, about key considerations in writing to win.

The Awards Submissions SME was Gabrielle (Gabi) Loring. Gabi is Managing Consultant with the ROC Group. Gabi has served as IABC Awards Committee Chair, and for the past six years as Chair for Chicago’s Gold Quill Awards Blue Ribbon Panel. Additionally, Gabi has won numerous IABC awards at the Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels.

The Basics
Throughout the session, Gabi stressed some key considerations for awards submissions:

  • Do you have a project that matches the criteria?
  • Do you need client permission to submit (important if you’re with an agency)
  • Do you have enough time to enter the award well?
  • Do you have the appropriate resources?

Know your audience

Evaluators are experienced communicators who have been trained on evaluation best practices and what the organization is looking for. They don’t know your organization or project.

When you write your award entry, Gabi stressed to “make sure you connect the dots” for your evaluator. Make your organization’s goals clear, make your project’s goals clear and accurate. For example, you will need to explain how your work samples fit into what you’re talking about as you explain the project.

“You gotta follow the rules.” 

The number one rule for awards submissions is that you have to make sure your project meets the requirements for award entries. You need to comply with the rules set out by the organization or get disqualified.

The key to success is to have specific, measurable goals tied to the organization’s goal. Outputs are fine, she noted, but what makes a strong entry are outcome-based goals that result in measurable behavior change, attitude change, or action of some kind.

Her other recommendations included:

  • Using plain English, not jargon
  • Stating what you said you’d do and then comparing to what you did do.


Award Submissions Are an Art and a Science

The panelists had a discussion about marrying facts and figures with a compelling story. What’s persuasive is using specific examples and stories to illustrate data and outcome. Facts and figures alone don’t do it. It takes an integrated approach.

Award Submission as Professional Development

In times of competing priorities, it’s harder to justify the time, money, and energy involved in submitting for an award. Yet, submitting awards makes you a better communicator, helping you approach your work with a more strategic mindset. With IABC awards, you’re able to benchmark your work against worldwide excellence.

She referred to the customizable justification letter to help you get approval and funding for your entry that IABC has available on its website.

“Do your homework,” Gabi counsels. Ensure your communications work is meaningful to your organization, and that you have SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound) goals from the start. Then assess if you achieved what you set out to do. Did you do your research? Can you pull it together clearly?

Her bottom line is that “It’s not about being pretty, it’s about being relevant and on-brand for your organization.” Ask yourself, “Did you do something creative? Can you show something that you did differently?”

About the author

Kari E. McLean is the Vice President for Communications with the IABC Greater Cincinnati Chapter. She also serves on the IABC Heritage Region’s Silver Quill Committee. In 2022, Kari is serving with the IABC Foundation Grant Task Force and with the Gift of Communications subcommittee.