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How to win a UK Sponsorship Award 2020 - Winning Tips for Entrants

The UK Sponsorship Awards team is about to embark on the annual process of rounding up entries, selecting winners and finalists and preparing for the big night (March 24th 2020, London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square). For some companies, entering the Awards is a well-trodden path; but for anyone new to the process it can appear quite daunting. So to help those of you who aren't familiar with the format, we have pulled together a few insights into what it takes to win a UK Sponsorship Award. This, of course, is not a guarantee of success. But it should at least help hone your approach as you starting drafting your entry.

It's worth stressing at the outset that, for the most part, the sponsorships that win or get nominated do so because they are the best. Look down 2019’s list of luminaries and you'll see a diverse range of big and small brands from a variety of industrial categories. These companies are marketing-led organisations which understand brand communications implicitly. So it is not unreasonable to suppose they might be best in class – particularly after their entries have been scrutinised by judges from all sides of the sponsorship business.

But this point aside, there are a number of key observations that the judges have made over the years about the quality and composition of the entries they review. There's no question that, down the years, we have seen some entries that could have been category winners – if they'd stuck to the basic guidelines outlined below:

The Entry is Everything

It sounds obvious – but the judges can only make their decision based on the information you supply. As industry professionals, we all walk into the judging room knowing a reasonable amount about some of the more high-profile entries we have received. But it doesn't matter how good or ground-breaking your sponsorship is, you won't win if you don't get the key points across in the entry. There's a good reason for this. Many of our entries are not known to the judges in detail. So to bring pre-judgments into the process would create an un-level playing field and distort judging. The only way for any industry awards to be completely fair is to stick to the stories told in the entry forms.

Keep it Simple

The Award rules stipulate that entries should be 1,200 words. There's a clear rationale for this. The judges have to read scores of entries. There simply isn't time to read a book-length report on every single one. Because the judges are, on the whole, nice people they don't reject longer entries out of hand (so don't panic if you have written 1,202 words).  Just keep in mind the phrase: ‘Less is more’. By the same token, try and tell the story in clear and simple English. You are not writing an academic treatise designed to baffle and confuse. And you won’t further your cause with over-reliance on marketing lingo or obscure technical language. You are trying to help the judges get to the heart of your story quickly. 1,200 words should be more than enough to do that, especially if you include a pithy opening statement. Keep in mind that there is scope to include some additional content as supporting material. Images and videos bring campaigns to life without having to use up hundreds of your allocated words.

Tick all the Boxes

This is in the rules too. But it's worth re-stating. For the majority of the categories, judges want to see objectives, activation/execution and relevant results. They get excited by words like evaluation and research. Your entry MIGHT make a shortlist if it is weak on ONE of these points but it almost certainly won't win. Every year without fail, the judges lament that fact that Entry A would have won if it had spelt out its objectives clearly while Entry B can't be on the shortlist because it hasn't bothered to put down any results. Generating £3 million of media value will not win you an Award if your objective was to make staff happier. Having a fantastically creative implementation strategy will not win an Award if you don't say what it delivered.

Don't Cut Corners.

We've all been there. Time is tight, there are many jobs to do and suddenly there's an Award entry to write. So the temptation is to take an internal presentation and rebadge it as an entry for the Awards. The problem is that the judges can tell.  This isn't to say that the material within such documents can't form the basis of an entry but you need to ensure it is ticking the boxes outlined above.

Take Care with Numbers

If a campaign costs £50,000 and generates £20 million in media value the judges will be suspicious – unless you can provide them with some attribution. As a general observation, everyone makes grandiose claims on media value and audience numbers (e.g., we reached a cumulative global audience of 23 billion with our sponsored three-legged race) so this is rarely a differentiator unless it is a) genuinely amazing b) backed by cast-iron research. Instead, winning awards tend to have a mix of quantitative and qualitative results (sourced) and one or two really compelling observations. For example, "sales went up by X% as a direct result our sponsorship" or "we generated £X million in contracts through our lion-taming corporate hospitality day". If the sponsorship is about less definable brand-based criteria it helps to provide some context. For example, "28% of people said they liked us more and as a direct result, we got new distribution in 52 retail outlets." Or, "younger people said our brand was more dynamic and modern so that has allowed us join forces on a new promotional partnership with funky brand X." The point is that everyone will claim that their brand is more loved now than it was before – otherwise why would they bother entering the Awards? So you have to think of some way of making your claim capture the judges’ imagination.

Plan Categories

There are three issues here. Firstly, some people put their entry in the wrong category. B2B for example is often misunderstood. So, before entering, it is worth talking it over with colleagues so that you all really know what it means. It is not the same as Brand or Social Purpose – though it overlaps slightly with both categories. It is about areas like employee engagement and influencing opinion-formers. 

Secondly, some entries don't fully cover the ground. It’s important to read the criteria to get an accurate sense of what the category is asking for. Over and above the triumvirate of objectives, activation and results, there may be some nuances that need to be addressed. Continuity, for example, is not simply about being around for a long time. It's about showing how the sponsorship has evolved - staying relevant rather than becoming a forgettable background fixture.

Finally, some companies understandably enter more than one category (max of three) But they don't adapt their entry accordingly. If you simply change the category name at the top of the sheet you won't win – because you can't have addressed the specific concerns of both categories. This doesn't mean you have to rewrite everything from scratch – just that you need to add a short category-appropriate introduction upfront and read though to make sure you've talked up the sections that are relevant to each of your categories.

Being the biggest doesn't mean you'll win

Every Awards event is accused of favouring big companies – and ours is no different. The fact is that big companies will inevitably feature prominently because they activate their sponsorships across so many channels. Last year’s overall winner Evian is, incontrovertibly, a good sponsor. So are Accenture and Budweiser. If we didn't acknowledge that fact it would look silly. But that doesn't not mean small companies can't win. For a start, there are two categories that are clearly aimed at them – Smaller Budget and First Time. Then there are areas like Arts, Social Purpose and Best Use of PR where the price differentials are not as great as in – for example – Sport and Media. Last year’s winners included NCS, CELC and First Bus South Yorkshire – which underlines the point; and that doesn't include the finalists.

Entrants should feel comforted by the fact that the judges bend over backwards to be fair. If you spend £20m, you will need to prove it is money well spent. Over the years, many big brands have been savaged for not showing the commercial sense of their investment. By the same token, the judges know smaller companies won't execute their sponsorship across as many channels as big companies and are probably not going to spend as much on areas like research.  The real reason small companies sometimes fall down is usually the same as for big companies – because they haven't ticked all the boxes on their entry form. If you can explain in 1,200 words the points raised in heading three, then you give yourself the best possible chance.

Conclusion
So there it is – the inside track on The UK Sponsorship Awards. The judging process is designed so that the best entries percolate to the surface. Our judges analyse every entry in their own time and then come together on judging day in February to argue their case. There are enough checks and balances to make sure every angle is explored – and that campaigns are not overlooked. It’s not uncommon for one champion to draw the attention of others to a sponsorship’s merits.

And why should you want one on your mantelpiece? Well, the simple fact is that the Awards are the standard by which the UK industry as a whole is judged. Whether you win or are on the shortlist, you can be secure in the knowledge that your sponsorship has been judged objectively by a wide range of experts in the field.

That's useful for several reasons. Firstly, because it's good corporate practice to recognise and reward the achievement of the individuals who pour their energies into making these sponsorships happen. Secondly, because a successful sponsorship is nice to put on the CV (for individuals and agencies). Thirdly, because you can go back to the board and show them it's not just you who thinks the money has been well-spent. We explore the reasons for entering in more detail here.

 

It’s also worth noting that a vibrant Awards scheme says something about the professionalism of the industry. Whether you win or not, by entering you are contributing to the advancement of the sector – either by pushing back the boundaries of creativity or encouraging best practice. That in turn brings the best new talent into the business and drives continued investment. So to sign off, the Awards team would just like to say thanks for entering and we look forward to spending many long hours picking over your perfectly-formed entries.