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.

Why?

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:

https://youtu.be/DbRS9NxgWBU

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.

Judging the 2013 ECHOs: A View of Data-Driven Marketing’s Best

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field. The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work

This past year, I had the honor of joining the Direct Marketing Association’s Board of Governors for the International ECHO Awards. That’s my disclaimer.

Two weeks back, I had the opportunity to judge Rounds 1 and 2 of the ECHOs this year—and while sworn confidentiality requires me to remain mum on actual campaigns I encountered there, I want to comment on the value of judging itself, from my perspective as a public relations practitioner in our field.

The ECHOs have been around a long time—since 1929 to be exact. But what really makes me excited to see the campaigns as a judge each year, is that they represent agencies’ and brands’ self-selected choices on what they consider to be award-winning and innovative work based on the three criteria: marketing strategy, creative and results in equal parts. 2013 is no exception. The honors—which will be announced on October 15 in Chicago—will be the world’s best in data-driven marketing. (Breaking News—comedian Jake Johanssen will be this year’s host.)

There are no longer media categories among the entrants—a reflection of how marketing has converged. Instead, channels serve as brand engagement vehicles, and what matters most is their effectiveness in design, dialogue and generating responses to calls for action—from leads, to sales, to audience engagement on a measured scale. So a direct mail piece that is entered may exist (and be judged) alongside entries that represent Web sites, search campaigns, mobile apps, call center efforts, or—most often—integrated marketing campaigns. Again what matters—and only matters—are the strategy, creative and engagement metrics that define marketing effectiveness. Both consumer and business-to-business markets are incorporated.

The categories where entrants are recognized are by industry—15 altogether. You can review the list here.

This is what being an ECHO judge tells me every year:

  1. How are brands and their agencies measuring effectiveness in data-driven marketing? What metrics have they chosen to index or communicate? How is marketing return on investment conveyed? Increasingly, marketing dashboards appear to be in use—with relevant components part of the external results story.
  2. What creative trends are in play? What constitutes break-through creative? What is the unusual and innovative? Where has risk been met with reward? And who (clients and agencies) are being the most courageous worldwide—while also being effective?
  3. How are data being collected, analyzed and—in some cases—visualized? While the entry forms this year were streamlined and don’t have as much budget information in the past—this really has served to heighten visibility on the data, analysis and segmentation techniques being deployed in the strategy.
  4. What is state-of-the-art in data-driven marketing on a global scale? This year, as always, entries were submitted through various partners and submitted to early judging in Denmark, Australia and the United States, comprising dozens of countries in nearly all continents. It is great to see how globally data-driven marketing is practiced—and the creative genius and extraordinary results achieved in both mature and less mature markets.
  5. Finally, judging happens on an individual basis—as a judge you evaluate a campaign, providing your own perspective. But the judging is a collective one—bringing together experienced peers from all over the nation and world. Once the entries and judging scores are in, we do tend to share with each other our impressions of the experience in the aggregate—and meet great people in the process.

In brief, the ECHOs are an idea store for marketing strategists, creative professionals—and the PR folks like me who support my clients in entering awards. I’ve learned not just about how to create great marketing—but how to tell the story behind great marketing. Both count when it comes to crafting an award entry that wins.

You can find out who the winners are firsthand by attending DMA2013 in Chicago, USA, this year (October 12-17, 2013). Make sure to indicate in your registration for a ticket to the ECHO Awards Gala where a separate registration is required: http://dma13.org/registration/

Come October, I’ll definitely be sharing in this blog snippets from some of my favorite campaigns this year!