How not to win awards

I have just wrapped up my reponsibilities as a first-round judge in one of the longest-running, most prestigious award competitions in technology and education. And what entered companies go through in their efforts to avoid winning amaze me.

In the interests of protecting the clueless (or perhaps in this economy, resourceless), I won’t name the companies. Or even the competition. But if you’d like to waste your award entry money, you do so can very efficiently by following these three easy steps:

1) Don’t correctly list the product name in the entry. In a world with the Web, you have to assume that the judges are going to go to your company’s Web site to get some background information on your entry. Especially in a competition for products that were supposed to be available in the previous calendar year. Yet several entries I judged were listed with a product name that clearly matched no single product on the entering company’s Web sites.

In one case, when I did find the name used, it was as a headline in a product description. I figured that was the right product. But I was corrected by the company itself and told that wasn’t what they entered — their own Web page was in error. In a second case, I had a trifecta: a company exec, the company’s Web site, and the company’s award entry all disagreed on what products made up a “suite” that had been entered. Any customer wanting to buy that suite, should it make the final award ballot, is likely guaranteed a sour experience. No company should force a judge to figure out what the entrant meant to enter.

2) Don’t offer a complete customer experience. If your product has both an authoring/creating mode and a user mode and you do a guided demo (due to a product’s complex nature), don’t just show one mode. For the product to be judged properly, you should show how something is created, and then how it’s used. This seems like a no brainer.

Yet three times I saw only saw part of a product because, I suppose, the company thought it was the most impressive. That would have been fine, if they’d just entered part of a product. It’s like being asked to issue a full report on the moon but only being shown the side that always faces the Earth.

3) Make your judging material confusing. One company, a major, well-known software developer, kindly provided me with a log-in to their Web-based product and a reviewer’s guide — a reviewer’s guide in which the thoughtful, detailed steps didn’t match what was actually possible once I logged in. As a matter of fact, all of the demonstration content in the reviewer’s guide was nowhere to be found in the Web-based product; I had to approximate it. All that was missing after I logged in was a splash screen reading, “Imagine if you will….”

In all of the above cases I was able to figure out, to the best of my ability, what had actually been entered, how it might work if I had access to the full product, and what steps to take to see all the key features. Barely. But if winning awards has marketing value — and that is, presumably, the major reason companies enter these competitions — dropping the ball when judging begins is akin to dropping the entry cash into a very deep fixture with blue water at the bottom.

If you’re a marketing or other company exec wondering why your firm never wins any award competitions it enters, I suggest first looking at what you provide the volunteer judges after you fill out the entry form and cut the check.

Sure, you can’t win if you don’t enter. But you also can’t win if don’t pay attention to what you do after you enter, either.

One thought on “How not to win awards”

  1. Hi Frank –

    Thanks for the description of judging products — I love doing it, am thrilled by a great demonstration, and will continue to judge as long as I’m asked. However, just like you, I’ve run into some of the same problems — some great products that don’t win because companies fail to show them off in the best possible light. Maybe we should write a guide for “winning” awards. 🙂

    Hope you are doing well.

Comments are closed.