How to Play the Awards Game

Donna O’TooleAugust 21, 20177min0
Winning awards for your personal and professional achievements is a seriously competitive business. And like any match worth winning, having a game plan will get you so much further than throwing everything together and hoping for the best.

Winning awards for your personal and professional achievements is a seriously competitive business. And like any match worth winning, having a game plan will get you so much further than throwing everything together and hoping for the best. Here are my 5 top tips for playing the awards game like a pro.

Read these and you too will be beating your industry competitors game, set, and match.


Every great sports team has a clear strategy in place to help them win. They know who has previously won the cup; they know their biggest strengths, and just as importantly, their biggest weaknesses; and they know exactly how they are going to approach the next big match.

The same principles apply to winning industry awards, and you will only have a chance of winning if you are running in the right race. So to give yourself the best chance of success you need to start with a clear strategy – or game plan. Know your business goals and focus on how awards can help you achieve them. Do your due diligence and look for patterns in previous award winners. Assess your strengths and focus only on the stories that highlight your best results. And know your weaknesses, understanding how you will address and improve them to turn them into strengths.


Picking your awards team early will improve your results by far. First, select an awards captain who will commit to making you a winner, leading you only into the competitions that will deliver the best return on investment.

Next, once your captain has decided the awards and categories you are entering, get the right team members on board and involve them in the decision-making process for both the written entry and the presentation. Pitching for ‘someone else’s project’ hardly ever does it justice, so ensure your team are fully prepared for a presentation to the judges with all the right members are on board – get your key players up front, and support them with a strong backup team who know the fine details of your commercial and operational results to prevent any own goals at the final.


I’m all for pushing boundaries, but rules are rules in any competition, and if you break them you risk losing points, or worse, getting a ‘red card’. So make sure you read all the awards criteria before you start your entry or make your presentation. Find out your word limits; know the supporting evidence requirements; research the time allowed for presentations; and find out who can be in the pitch.

Some awards are fairly flexible on their rules and ask you to just send in a project brief – others are extremely strict and don’t even allow your brand name in the entry for fear of influencing the judges. Some start their clocks when you step in the door to present, and others give you time to warm up. But most fall somewhere in the middle, with clear guidelines and transparent judging criteria. And you’ll often get feedback on your entry after the event too, so use this to learn from and develop your strategy further, ready for the next awards match.


If you go into an awards competition expecting to win, you are more likely to achieve your goal. Not because wishful thinking will get you everywhere, but because your winning attitude will resonate throughout your entry and presentation.

It is true that language breeds culture and drives behaviour – so the words you use will influence the impact of your pitch, and therefore the result. Choose words that are packed with meaning and confidence. Being humble won’t help you now, but neither will arrogance. So be honest, insightful, creative, and interesting. Connect with the judges’ on a human level whilst backing up your awards game with a strong and tactical evidence to support your entry.


So you’ve won your first match – great! But why stop there? If you have an award-winning project in one set of judges’ eyes, the chances are it will also score with another set of judges.

Increase your awards success by entering your business or project into a range of awards and categories using different angles and approaches. For instance – if you are a digital team with an excellent web-based project you have delivered for a property company you could enter this into digital awards, campaign categories, team categories, cross-sector awards, and even supplier awards for the property industry – getting you straight back in front of a target audience of more potential customers. Aim high with your awards pitches and use any wins or short-listings as momentum to springboard on to even greater success.

From starting off in small local competitions, aim high and go for national and international awards – and you could even reach the prestige of competitions like the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise.

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Donna O’Toole

Donna O’Toole is an experienced awards and communications expert who delivers recognition to national and international businesses. Donna has directed the content strategies behind hundreds of winning award entries for innovative brands, SMEs, entrepreneurs and business leaders, and her unique profiling and writing techniques have resulted in 100% of her entries being successful in the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise competition. As well as providing outstanding awards expertise, Donna’s team offers personal-branding strategies, social-media management and content creation.

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