10 Tips Judging Marketing Awards Allow Me to Teach Brands

I’m judging marketing awards during the dog days of August, with steaming heat in New York City. It’s been a challenge this week choosing which campaigns will win recognition on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas. Earning my vote takes some doing. Here’s how marketers did it.

I’m judging marketing awards during the dog days of August, with steaming heat in New York City. There’s no better time than now to gather 100 or more data-driven marketing storytellers, strategists and creatives to judge this year’s Data and Marketing Association’s International ECHO Awards. (DMA is now a division of Association of National Advertisers).

It’s been a challenge this week choosing which campaigns will win recognition on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas. Earning my vote takes some doing.


1. Measurement Matters. Great creativity abounds. Yet, what matters to most CMOs is defining what business objective is achieved or surpassed through any campaign. If strategy and creative are stellar, but results toward an objective are nebulous or not addressed at all, then I’m going to discount the campaign’s overall score.
2. Talking to the Category Matters. Many award shows allow an entry to be submitted in more than one category. In that regard, ECHOs are no different. But just don’t check a box when entering. Instead, tailor the single entry campaign description to address in a meaningful way all the categories that are checked. For example, if “customer acquisition” is one of the checked categories speak to customer acquisition in the strategy and results. Show how the creative makes it easy for the customer to engage.
3. Creative Matters All of the Creative. I love a good video that summarizes a campaign entry it’s helpful for the judges in a pinch. But don’t solely rely on the video as a surrogate for showing all of a campaign’s creative elements. Judges don’t want to read or hear about a direct mail piece they want to see the actual direct mail piece (or PDF). Likewise, the mobile app, the landing page, the display ads and so on. Don’t leave a judge guessing which components worked and which may not have.
4. Set a Stage for Strategy. Open with a pain point, an opportunity statement, or some salient market research. Provide the context for the entry with a candid discussion you’ll get rewarded for brutal honesty. If a prior campaign flunked and this marked a turnaround, then say so. We’ve all been there. On the other hand, if a new campaign establishes a new control, hallelujah!
5. Let’s Get Technical. And Let Me Hear Your Data Talk. ECHOs are all about data-inspired creative and accountability. Tell me the customer and prospect data integration story the tech platforms, the analytics, and the personalization techniques. I get high when the love for strategy shows in the data discussion and how that strategy shapes creative and gets validated in results.
6. Make America Great Again … No, Not That One. Courageous clients and out-of-the-box thinking seem to co-thrive in many, many places around the globe. Because I don’t know who will be named ECHO winners this year I can only say from prior years that some innovative strategies are in play … petroleum made from beer:

Empowered sick kids:


And an 800 number answered by a nation’s citizens:

There are many well-executed U.S.-based campaigns with solid results but that extra magical mojo still seems to be shaken, not stirred in cocktails elsewhere. Bring it back home. Be a risk-taker. Let’s get the U.S. Navy more cryptologists.
7. What Was the Budget (Range)? Judges scratch their heads when key elements used to determine return on (marketing) investment are absent, or when no ROI or cost data are shared at all. No one expects proprietary information to be disclosed but there are ways to convey cost or ROI data (cost per acquisition, cost per conversion, cost improvement) in ways that are indexed or objective specific. Judges love understanding if and when campaigns truly break even.
8. Proofread and Check Your Math. I’m one of those people who shudders when The New York Times or New Yorker has a spelling or usage error. (You’d think I’d live my own life mistake-free, well hardly.) I can’t be the only stickler left on this planet, am I? In the rush to get entries in the door ahead of deadlines, errors do get through sometimes slight, but sometimes it’s more substantial “engagement” math off by a power of ten! No wonder the return on investment was so good … or was it?
9. Camaraderie and Conversation Among Peers Are Really Cool. When you judge Round 1 (online and alone), you get to see clever campaigns and a store of ideas to apply in your own marketing. When you are lucky to be chosen to judge Round 2 (face-to-face in New York), wow! You still cast your votes alone but only after a lively discussion, debate and worldwide reality check. It’s an 8-hour day (or three in a row), but with plenty of meal-time and after-hour networking, too. It’s a true marketing exchange and the points of view are well-articulated. Discussions open eyes and minds.
10. Awards Matter, as Do the Entries. There will be Gold, Silver, Bronze and Finalist ECHOs named plus a Diamond ECHO for top campaign overall. Still, there was at least one great idea in nearly every individual entry I saw.

Collectively, I also saw something else, which too often gets overlooked and underappreciated. Advertising and today, that also means the data that fuels it may seem to serve brands. And it does. But this week while judging marketing awards I saw a lot more. Advertising (and data) also creates customers. It creates commerce. It moves markets. It creates and serves audiences. It informs. It finances. It employs. It empowers. It inspires. Advertising is essential, yet we cannot take any of it for granted. Awards call attention to great work, by great people, achieving spectacular returns and those extend way beyond the brand. It’s good to be a judge.