By Brian Davis, @BCDWrites
When I signed up to judge Association Media & Publishing's 2012 EXCEL Awards, I expected to truly enjoy the judging experience—scanning stunning, well-composed magazines and backing those entries I felt warranted a judge's representation—and the judging didn't let me down one bit.
What I didn't foresee was walking out of the room seven and a half hours later and crowning the event the most rewarding networking experience I'd ever had. I hesitate to label it "networking” because as cheesy as it sounds, it was more than that. Here are a few reasons why February 24, the day that roughly 75 of us judged the best in association publishing, became the best opportunity I'd ever had to really get to know my colleagues in this field.
Writers and designers sit at different sides of the table. My eight colleagues and I on Team 2 unintentionally split our table down the middle—on one side, writers plopped down next to writers, and on the other side, designers next to designers. We also sat on different sides of certain issues. As we made our way through the first of the three categories, the writers, myself included, often weighed design with different importance than designers did. I listened to the designers' passion when they judged, heaping praise on the graphic successes they spotted and explaining the design "no-no's” they snared just as quickly. I didn't grasp everything, but I recognized their passion to be the same passion I can't hide on the editorial side about style, flow, and more. I related to them, even if it was one-sided.
You can only hide your opinion for so long. Before we got started, I intended to share my opinion, but wanted to be conscious to never get too hung up on or exasperated by a single decision. But that didn't last long for me or for most anyone on Team 2. Eventually I realized that it shouldn't have lasted—your input is why you're there. I quickly connected with people, again perhaps without them knowing, when they articulated out loud what I was only thinking in my head. You feel a bit thankful when that happens, and you respect them.
That said, when you dish on what you like and don't like about this design or that writing style, you're destined to disagree and maybe even . . .
Argue. It's okay in real life, and it's okay when, for example, judging gold from silver in the most important awards in association media. I gained a lot of respect for a team member who tirelessly fought for the editorial quality of an entry, which had weak design, even after the team handily voted the entry down. Yes, it was an argument, but it ended well. In what other networking venue would I learn so much about my colleagues and what they believe are the most important components of award-winning association media?
Lots of time with the same people. Not in a bad way. You spend an entire business day talking to the same people. We introduced ourselves and explained our jobs and our employers over bagels and coffee. Association Media & Publishing encouraged each team to set its own schedule, so we paused at times and took the opportunity to talk about our backgrounds and our weekend plans. The judge next to me said I could mention his name to the owners of a restaurant in my neighborhood. Another invited me to a Meetup group focused on the arts. We found a comfort that you don't settle into unless you've spent that time together.
At day's end, I had gotten to know numerous association media professionals on a much deeper level—people that may end up being important to my career. Serving as an EXCEL Awards judge took me way beyond "meeting people,” and that's why I'll never skip an opportunity to judge again.
Brian Davis is practice groups editorial coordinator
for the American Health Lawyers Association and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.