How to write a winning entry form
Posted on June 16, 2017
Judging the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards is always an educational experience.
Our judges are recruited from across the industry to provide a cross-section of opinions. Some are experts in beer, others experts in particular marketing disciplines. Most have had some experience of both.
I was delighted to find that when we got all these people together in a room, no one was scared of putting their opinion forward. Discussions were friendly, but robust.
Last year, we had one entry that was all about a piece of experiential marketing at a beer event. It was an installation I’d visited personally, and when we came to discuss it, I waxed lyrical about how brilliant it had been, how original and immersive it was, how professionally it had been executed, describing all the little details that made it truly special.
The rest of the judges looked at me blankly, and when I finished, one of them said gently, “Yes, Pete, but none of that is on the entry form.”
I looked again, and realised all we had actually been given was a very brief written outline of what the event entailed, with little supporting imagery. I had to concede the point. The entry didn’t win its category.
It should have, because it was one of the most original and engaging pieces of marketing I’ve seen in recent years. But it was let down by a poor entry form.
Conversely, I’ve judged many pub awards schemes in the past. These usually consist of written entry forms in the early rounds, followed by scheduled visits to the shortlisted pubs. There was one particular pub that I’d seen shortlisted in every competition I’d judged. Every time, I was entranced by the stories of the location, the building, the events they put on, the beer selection, the energy and enthusiasm that leapt off the page. I was desperate to visit, so much so that when it came up one more time, I offered to do the site visit myself, at my own expense.
I went and stayed at the pub the night before my morning visit with the licensee, in one of the rooms they had to let (it really did have everything.) The service was lackadaisical to the point of rudeness. The food was awful. The beer wasn’t conditioned properly, and the whole place was shabby. When I met the licensee the following morning and they asked me if I’d come far, when I replied that I’d stayed the night before without their knowledge, the look of horror in their eyes said it all. This was a licensee far better at writing entry forms than actually running a pub.
With any awards scheme that asks you to present your case in narrative form, the quality of the writing is as important as the work itself.
I’ve been in these situations myself. I know that something like an entry form keeps getting bumped down the To-Do list until the last possible minute, and then gets rushed.
But I also know that once you create some space, if there’s time to sit down and do it properly, you get genuine joy out of reflecting on your achievements and presenting your case to someone else. If the entry is one you genuinely believe in, it reminds you of why you do what you do.
If you’re proud of your work, it deserves a strongly written entry. There’s a saying in advertising that nothing kills a bad product as quickly as good marketing, because you drive people to the product in droves and they quickly discover it doesn’t meet up to expectations. That’s what happened with my multi-awards nominated pub.
But conversely, nothing kills a claim to great marketing quicker than a rushed or poorly written awards entry. So here are a few tips on avoiding a premature demise:
- Read the form through first. There’s a shape to it. You shouldn’t be repeating yourself endlessly in each section.
- Make time – do a really bad early draft that you can come back to and polish later. It’s always easier to edit than to start from scratch.
- Use the space you’re given – if there’s one sentence in each section, they’re going to have to be pretty amazing sentences to make much of an impression.
- Think of it as an argument rather than a form filling exercise. You’re not presenting information; you’re trying to convince a knowledgeable, engaged reader. Each section should support the others, building your case. By the time we’ve finished reading the form, we should be desperate to look at the work.
- Avoid jargon. You may be being read by an expert in your discipline, or you may be being read by a brewer or publican who is very smart but doesn’t come across reach and OTS, spontaneous and prompted awareness or CAGR in their jobs.
- When you have a draft, show it to someone outside your team, preferably someone unfamiliar with the work, and ask them if it reads in a convincing way.
- It may sounds obvious, but please include examples of the work! If you’ve done TV or press advertising, it kind of helps if you send the ads in for people to look at. If you’ve done an event, think how best you can capture it and bring it alive. If there’s video, press coverage, captured tweets – anything – send them to us.
- Confidentiality – you’ll have your own internal guidelines on this. If there’s anything on the form that you don’t feel comfortable answering or are unable to answer, just explain this and give us the best indication you can. No specific details or information will be shared beyond the judges without your permission.
The clock is ticking. Good luck!
Download a copy of the entry form here.