Everything You Need to Know about Awards, But Were Afraid to Ask…

Early-bird deadlines for several major PR, marketing and communications award programs are looming.

Give your work a fighting chance. Make sure you’re ready to write the best entry possible, with all of the supporting materials necessary to make it awardable.

To get yourself going, check out these helpful, tip-heavy posts written by someone who has both judged PR, marketing and communications awards programs and received awards from some of the major programs. I recommend reading these in the order presented here:

Crafting a Strong Award Program Entry for Your Work

Getting yourself prepared, reviewing award-worthy work, filling in missing metrics and feedback, and taking a hard look at whether your program stands a chance.

Writing Your Entry: How to Make Your Work Competitive this Awards Season

Section-by-section view of standard entry forms, guiding you through the information you need to include to support your program effectively. Includes a FREE worksheet to help you organize your entry, enabling you to show the judges what they want: clear connections between research, objectives, tactics and results. This is a long post, best read as you tackle each section on your entry.

AVEs and AVE Nots: Major PR Awards Programs Will Reject Entries Using Questionable Measurement Practice
If you think I’m a stickler about meaningful measurement, it’s worth noting that many of the prestigious awards programs (i.e. the awards that actually mean something in the industry and on your resume) no longer accept shaky measurement practices like AVEs.

And for writers:

Writing Your Writing Award Entry
Making the most of your writing talent to highlight the key program areas judges want to see in your entry.

Additional Resources

The IABC Gold Quill Awards website offers you tips for writing an effective entry, shares the judging score sheet and provides a download of their webinar, “The Midas Touch,” with advice on completing an effective entry.

Early deadline for the Gold Quill Awards is Jan. 31, with final deadline March 5, 2013.

The PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvil Awards site provides the excellent “Anvil Thinking” video, featuring judges discussing what it takes to win one of these prestigious awards.

Early deadline for the Silver Anvil Awards is Feb. 8, with final deadline Feb. 22, 2013.

AVEs and AVE Nots: Major PR Awards Programs Will Reject Entries Using Questionable Measurement Practice

Planning to enter your work in one of the major PR awards programs?

Then you’ll want to acquaint yourself with an important change in the rules, encouraged by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation (AMEC), which has been endorsing the 2010 Barcelona Principles, new measurement standards for PR and social media.

Now that we have measurement standards, how do we get them adopted? That’s the question PR/social media measurement expert Katie Delahaye Paine posed in her most recent The Measurement Standard newsletter. Like the sponsors of some of the industry’s leading awards, Paine believes the answer is to bar AVE measurements from award programs.

The only way to prevent PR practitioners from falling back on bad measurement habits – like Ad Value Equivalency – is to use “fear, greed, or force,” says Paine in her post.

She was half-joking about force (I think…there is a reference to inventing a drone that could deploy “Shame on You” stickers when someone uses AVEs), but she talks tough when it comes to recommending that clients “shun firms that offered them” in measurement reports and “pushed for a rejection of any entry to an awards program that included AVEs.”

PRSA, AMEC and PRWeek now “categorically reject” entries that include AVE as a metric, she notes. Some refuse to give them up, but other distinguished programs, like the Cannes Lions Awards banished AVE measurement this summer thanks to AMEC.

Should AVE Known Better

AVEs (Ad Equivalency Value), like impressions, are considered by many leading PR and measurement experts to be an outmoded form of quantifying the success of a public relations campaign. Although AVE relies on a mathematical formulation – measuring the media coverage garnered on behalf of a client, frequently using a multiplier, and then calculating the value of coverage as if it were paid advertising – the data derived is viewed as unscientific and specious.

Why remove an established albeit old-fashioned measurement from an awards program?

In the past decade, the major PR industry awards programs having been moving toward a standardization of their own. It’s a lot harder to win an award just because the CEO liked your meeting-in-a-box. Judges review entries for quality of work and quantified successes, for content as well as results that link directly to the original objectives for the campaign.

The drive toward standardization is about promoting professional standards of practice in the PR industry, from accreditation to ethical behavior, measurement, and rewards.

If I Can’t AVE You

Now to the important part – what it means for you if you plan to enter 2012 work in a PR awards program that has disallowed AVEs. The good news is that you still have time to “measure what matters,” as Paine puts it.

This means gathering data about the program’s impact on the audience. You should be able to draw a straight line to the measured results from the original communications need through the strategy, objectives and tactics developed for your program.

Doing this kind of follow-up should be simple for corporate and institutional communicators (who tend to have direct access to the audiences they’re communicating with), but even agencies may be able to survey their clients’ audiences with the goal of gathering metrics on campaign effectiveness. There’s certainly an incentive for clients who want the kind of third-party endorsement that accolades offer: Spending a little extra on an audience survey could turn an unacceptable program into an award-winner.

I’ll AVE What She’s AVEing

Paine, CEO of KD Paine & Partners, a PR, brand relationships and social media research and measurement company, is a tireless advocate for accuracy and standards in measurement.

If you’re a “you do the math, I’ll do the words” kind of PR or communications person, you’ll love her take-no-prisoners approach to writing and talking about data. (“Clearly there are still a lot of PR pros clinging to AVEs as a measure of their success,” she writes in her post on adoption. “The best we can hope for in their case is early retirement, since sooner or later the C-suite will see behind the façade and fire them.”)

In just a few years, with the arrival of social media, we’ve witnessed the upending of industries and practices. Paine’s efforts – and those of the measurement brigade – are just as exciting and transformative.

“In reality, AVEs and multipliers won’t go away until clients demand a better solution,” says Paine. “The good news is that it is starting to happen. More and more clients are waking up to the silliness of a chart that indicates that the number of impressions you received last month is three times the population of China.”

We’re about to enter an era when PR measurement is transparent – far beyond impressions, AVEs, Likes, Smiles, and Hits on a newsletter article. Because the tools are already out there, and clients won’t need us to interpret data anymore.

No professional, ethical practitioner should fear this kind of openness. Having these “drill down capabilities,” as Paine calls them, will allow us to demonstrate the ROI of our programs, making our work and thought leadership even more valuable to CEOs and clients. Even more important, it will enable us to refine PR programs so they’re more targeted, effective and meaningful to the audiences we’re hoping to reach and engage with.

For more background:

Katie Paine’s “Everything You Need to Know about the Dublin Summit and the New Measurement Standards” shares tons of links, including one to a glossary of social media measurement terms.

Check out No Bad Language’s posts on writing competitive awards program entries.

The Tweet of My Death Was an Exaggeration

Beyonce’s pregnancy. The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. The arrival of the 7 billionth person on Earth. The passing of Steve Jobs.

What do these events have in common?

They were all considered major news on Twitter, driving exceptionally high traffic and retweet rates, which ultimately became more of a story than the original news.

Is this the Desperate Need to Be There First or the Desire to Try to Quantify Everything about Social Media in Order to Prove its Relevance? I think it’s a little of both, yet I’d argue that neither improves the quality of social media discourse.

I promise this isn’t one of those grumpy posts about social media. I think Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Cowbird, Digg and many, many other platforms are highly relevant, useful and engaging. They’re even great sources of news.

But, I’m suggesting that while there’s relevance to be found in studying social media content and usage, it’s not going to come from stories about who got there first or how much traffic is generated by a celebrity’s pregnancy – or divorce or death or Oscar win.

Here are four essential reasons:

First doesn’t mean best – The received wisdom is that “Twitter broke the news of bin Laden’s death” before traditional news media. If you look at what really happened the night of the bin Laden compound raid, what you get, according to this Fast Company article, is essentially Twitter-user Sohaib Athar’s account of a helicopter making a lot of noise over his neighborhood in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A helicopter circling overhead is not breaking news (especially if you live in L.A.), and it does not reveal what was happening in the compound, why, how, when, and to whom – the basic tenets of genuine news.

As the article continues, it reports Twitter’s attempts to quantify the tweeting as details of the raid spooled out. There’s even an update from Twitter, advising readers that while New Year’s Eve in Japan seemed to be more important than bin Laden’s death – in terms of tweet ratings – the news was more popular than similar news about Michael Jackson.

And, when it came to the 7 billionth inhabitant of planet Earth? We learned that the actual event and person was going to be impossible to identify, rendering social sharing on the subject moot.

Social media platforms are upgraded too frequently – Service improvements increase the speed of traffic, making comparisons of tweet rates (like Michael Jackson’s death vs. bin Laden’s) impossible.

These will always be Apples-to-Oranges comparisons – Since celebrities can’t die twice, or give birth to the same baby more than once, the Twitter counter is left to compare news about one person (who may or may not be popular among social media users) with similar news about another. Popularity contests of this sort will never generate information that allows you to draw meaningful conclusions about the social media platform or the value placed on news or human life.

This is counting not measurement –Counting just adds things up and gets a total. Measurement takes those totals, analyzes what they mean, and uses that meaning to improve business practices,” notes Katie Delahaye Paine in her groundbreaking book on social media analysis, Measure What Matters.

Steve Jobs was considered by many to be a cultural icon and technology hero, and it’s not surprising there were people who wanted to share their sense of loss with others using some of the very technologies that Jobs helped to invent. But, what exactly is the relevance of reporting the rate of tweeting following Steve Jobs’s death? Applying a number to it doesn’t make it meaningful or insightful; it makes it news from nowhere.

Avoiding the Echo Chamber Effect

In Delusions of Grandma, Carrie Fisher comments: “Talk show hosts interviewing other talk show hosts. Many held this to be one of the twelve signs that the world is ending.” What Fisher’s describing is a closed loop, and that’s exactly what’s happening with these so-called Twitter statistics.

So, next time you’re tempted to retweet one of these headlines that don’t add up to anything, take a moment to reflect before clicking: Does the world really need another tweet about Twitter traffic?

Trying to get there first with a tweet or clogging up the social media ‘verse with bogus statistics about social media statistics doesn’t create engagement or enlighten – and that’s really what being out there is all about. When you’re engaging with followers, customers, friends or fans on social media, you’re listening and sharing (not simply pushing) relevant content with the goal of encouraging meaningful dialogue and the exchange of valuable information that people need to know or find useful for managing their daily lives and workload.

Related post: Statistical Significance: Making Sense of Numbers


My Short List of Great 2011 Reads

It used to be Top 10 lists or, to aid the reader, two lists of 10, divided into fiction and nonfiction categories. This year, it’s Top 100 lists.

I read a lot of books this year, and I still couldn’t put together a Top 100 list. Not everything deserves to be “tops” and everyone has their own taste, which, I hope, will continue to translate to a long and healthy life for the publishing industry.

I’ve shared thoughts with you on various books I encountered this year, but here’s a very quick guide to the few chosen ones I’ve been sharing with friends, buying as gifts and recommending to colleagues.

Top 3 Fiction Books of 2011

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Canadian writer Patrick deWitt made it to the 2011 Man Booker Prize short list. Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending ultimately received this year’s honor, nevertheless deWitt’s is my favorite novel of the year.

I’m not usually one for Westerns, but deWitt, with his tight, tense writing style, short chapters, and devilish narrator, Eli Sisters, weaves the perfect tall tale – one slightly darker in tone than even Twain might venture. If the films of the Coen brothers delight you, you’ll adore this.

Perhaps it is their dumb luck or some messed up alchemy that turns every fortune to ash or Eli’s tender spot for his one-eyed horse, Tub, but despite their villainy, the Sisters brothers, make for compelling protagonists in a California overrun with Gold Rush greed.

Nothing Happened and Then it Did: A Chronicle in Fact and Fiction by Jake Silverstein
From the title, you might assume this snuck into the wrong category. It shares the culturally embedded narratives of the best literary nonfiction, but sit with the book for a chapter or two, and it’ll start to feel like a yarn spun round a campfire.

Silverstein sets off for remote west Texas to learn how to become a reporter, visions of The New Yorker dancing in his head. What happens next is a mash-up of fact and fiction: hunting for the bones of Ambrose Bierce, trying to win the Poet of the Year crown in Reno, searching for pirate treasure, missing in its entirety a 2,000-mile road race across Mexico that he wanted to write a story about, and a painful incident resulting from bad Internet research where he has to admit to a source he’s been shadowing for five days that there will be no story.

Set against the desert Southwest, the line between fiction and truth blurs, Silverstein writes. “In the unshaded sun, thoughts twist like timbers, turning from memory to fantasy to silence…the beauty is pitiless and unusual, and the hard dark mountains furnish no refuge, and the effect of prolonged exposure is often to leave you wondering what is real.”

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Obviously, Catch-22 wasn’t written in 2011, and it was a toss-up between this and The Phantom Tollbooth, both justly enjoying 50th anniversary celebrations and reissues this year.

The anniversary edition includes an introduction by Christopher Buckley and essays by Heller, Studs Terkel, Anthony Burgess, Norman Mailer, and Christopher Hitchens, among others. Heller’s essay takes you through the creation of the novel and its early years of anonymity, long before the phrase “Catch-22” became an official part of the English language, not that it was ever official to begin with:

“Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up.”

It’s interesting how great books inform the different periods of your life. I’d read the book one summer when I was still in high school, then found it assigned by a kind, but overly imaginative English teacher the following year. At the time, Heller’s writing about World War II bombing missions seemed perfectly in tune with the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate malaise of the ‘70s. Today, I’d be hard-pressed to say it doesn’t remind me of certain aspects of the corporate world.

That a book can handle so many references, and have different meanings for the diverse audiences and generations who embrace it, makes it one worth re-reading, if only to remember what the fuss was all about in the first place and to have as much fun with the language as Heller clearly did when he wrote it.

Top 3 Nonfiction Books of 2011

The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories by Frank Rose
Rose found inspiration for this book from the subjects he wrote about as contributing editor at Wired. Rose’s narrative is spellbinding, as are the examples he uses to develop his thesis. From film and music promotion to the gaming industry, I was on the edge of my seat the whole way. Thrilling to find a read like this.

Rose has tapped in to the key element that makes social media, gaming and new kinds of storytelling so powerful:

“People don’t passively ingest a marketing message, or any type of message,” he observes. “They greet it with an emotional response, usually unconscious [I think he means subconscious], that can vary wildly depending on their own experiences and predispositions. They don’t just imbibe a story; they imbue it with meaning. Which means that perceptions of a brand aren’t simply created by marketers; they’re ‘co-created,’ in the words of Gerald Zaltman of Harvard Business School, by marketers and consumers together…If individuals in the audience ‘co-create’ a story in some sort of give-and-take with the storyteller, then the whole notion of authorial control starts to get fuzzy. The author starts the story; the audience completes it. The author creates the characters and the situation they find themselves in; the audience responds and makes it their own.”

Inspiration in book form for anyone charged with designing social media, PR, advertising or internal communications strategies and programs. Makes a great Christmas gift for that cranky old uncle who still refers to Twitter as “Tweeter.”

Measure What Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships by Katie Delahaye Paine
When engagement pundits are still proclaiming in 2011 that social media can’t be measured, it’s nice to know Ms. Paine is out there, championing business intelligence. I’m hoping 2012 will be the year of social media measurement.

One way to bring measurement into your work is to read this smart book and follow Paine on her website and blog. Paine takes the mystery and fear out of measurement and supports the use of metrics not to punish poorly performing programs, but to “identify strengths and weaknesses and allocate resources more intelligently.”

What more could you ask for? The book helps you make the case for measurement at your company, choose the right tools, and understand how to target measurement to different stakeholder audiences.

Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett
I had the opportunity to hear Rowse speak at 2011 BlogWorld, and he’s got such a fascinating backstory, I wanted to learn more. Ignore the daunting subtitle and mine this book for astute advice on setting up a blog, creating content and community, promotion, and helpful and easy-to-follow technical solutions. Valuable for anyone – individual, team or corporate bloggers – who wants to develop an engaged interactive community around specific topics.