Judging awards entries is often a thankless task; hours and hours spent reading and critiquing hundreds of entries, and then a full day discussing the entries with fellow judges before deciding the winners.
But the real kicker can be when murmurs of award rigging, and ‘fixing' are heard when the winners are announced, after this panel of extremely busy people have given up so much of their time to ensure the process remains independent.
For any CRN awards judging process, the entries have all been carefully scrutinised, discussed and marked purely on the quality of entry. It is not about how much money a company spends with CRN, it is about how they have presented themselves in their entry and how impressive their achievements have been over the year.
In part one of this three-part series, we hear what the judges are really looking forward to in the entry process, and what for them makes a winning entry.
Sara Driscoll, former CRN Editor and freelance journalist, has been a judge since the early days of the awards, and has seen more than her fair share of terrible entries, but she is looking forward to being inspired by this year's efforts.
"From reading about the fantastic customer service to seeing the strong growth plans, to watching videos of fund-raising events, the awards show how fantastic businesses can be when they set their minds to it," she said. "I enjoy reading about all the great places to work and the lengths organisations go to, to make sure their employees have a strong work/life balance."
For Driscoll, a winning entry sticks to the point.
"Keep to the facts that relate directly to the award you are entering. And then reinforce those facts with proof," she advised. "A dash of creativity doesn't go amiss, whether that's through clever design, innovative use of video or any other digital medium. It all helps to make your entry stand out from the herd."
Luke Budka, director of TopLine Comms, has also been an SMA judge for several years, and he is keen to see innovation in entries this year.
"I am mainly looking forward to reading about examples of smaller teams using innovative marketing to support sales," he said. "Those firms that can demonstrate directly attributable return on investment, and show teams practicing up-to-date marketing practices instead of the usual ‘we used MDF to send a mail shot'."
Richard Eglon, marketing director at Agilitas, is another experienced SMA judge with multiple years' worth of experience under his belt. Those firms that have gone the extra mile are the ones that he looks forward to reading about.
"Without a doubt the most rewarding part of the judging process is reviewing those entries that have really pushed the boundaries in terms of creativity, innovation, relevance, and above all positive business outcomes for their customers," he said. "I always hope for that ‘I wish I came up with that idea' moment!"
A winning entry in Eglon's eyes is fairly straightforward.
"I'm looking for a well-presented submission that meticulously follows the award criteria with strong customer testimonials, credible statistics that can be backed up, and a real focus on business outcomes set by the customer."
He also stressed the importance of injecting personality into the entry.
"A company's success is often down to its people, so why not lead with them?" Eglon said.
Gina Hough, owner and communications director at WLM.Digital, is a first-time judge in 2018, but is looking forward to getting stuck in.
"I am really looking forward to the collaboration process with the other judges and see how everyone reacts when we are around the table."
For Hough, clarity is the name of the game when it comes to writing a winning entry.
"Clarity seems to be lacking in so much information I see these days," she said. "You get to the end of a piece and ask: ‘What does that actually MEAN? What are the benefits? What makes it better? What was the thought process behind it?' I hate jargon and react badly to it."
Darren Spence, founder of Sales Gym, is going into his third year of judging. For him, the variety of entries make it interesting.
"I'm looking forward to reviewing how each organisation chooses to express themselves - particularly those that manage to convey the personality of their team and their passion for all things sales and marketing," he said.
For Spence, the standout factor to grabbing his attention is those firms go all out in their entry.
"When organisations go the extra mile either by way of an engaging and entertaining video or the use of imagery, that really gets my attention" he said. "I like the key messages to be clear and to jump off the page."
Geoff Undrell, director of Asgard Marketing, is going into his sixth year of awards judging and enjoys seeing how the channel is developing.
"Once upon a time the overwhelming approach of the channel to growing business was to simply recruit more sales people. That formula doesn't work now, and the channel is waking up to the powerful role marketing must play too. Over the last few years I've been impressed by the levels of marketing innovation the channel is now showing and I'm excited to see what this year has in store for us."
To stand out for Undrell, entries have to prove their initiatives have made a tangible difference.
"An activity that shows a business is genuinely thinking differently in its approach to sales and marketing and is shared through a well-presented, easy-to-folow submission will make you a serious contender," he explained. "Entries that get to the point and show strong evidence of success will always get my attention. Equally, it's good to see people trying to be the pioneers and break new ground."
But size is not everything, Undrell stressed.
"It's also important to remember success is relative - we're not judging solely on who's delivered the biggest returns, but the impacts the activities have made to the respective businesses."
The awards are taking place on 5 July at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. To enter, click here.
In part two of this series, the judges give advice to those compiling their entries and explain why a Judges Commended award is a considerable achievement in itself.
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