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How to Win an EXCEL Award? Donít Try - 1/5/2016 -

How to Win an EXCEL Award? Donít Try

Whatís the best way to win an Association Media & Publishing EXCEL Award? Donít try to win an EXCEL Award. Thatís my biggest takeaway from the recent Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn, "How to Submit an Award-Winning EXCEL Entry.Ē

By Sandy Laycox

In late December, I stepped off the elevator in a nondescript office building in Old Town, Alexandria. I was immediately stopped by the strong scent of tomatoes and garlicy simmering goodness. Homemade chili. Where was I? I checked the address. Yep, right location. I was at an association media event. But it was like none I had ever attended. In addition to homemade chili, cornbread, and baked goods, it offered an honest, open atmosphere in which industry peersóall vying for the same thingócould talk about what it really takes to succeed.

We were here to learn how to submit an EXCEL Award entry. In case youíre wondering, the EXCEL Awards is the largest and most prestigious award program recognizing excellence and leadership in nonprofit association media, publishing, marketing, and communications. To help us, AM&P brought in three former multi-EXCEL Award winners to give us some tips: Samantha Whitehorne, Deputy Editor at ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership; Rick Pullen, editor in chief of Leaderís Edge magazine at The Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers; and Rose Johnson, print and digital production manager at NACS, The Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing.

They all had different approaches. Whitehorne talked about resonating with readers ó from cannabis to braille ó creativity and relevancy matter. Pullen shocked us with attitude. "Provoke people, make them mad, and you get read,Ē he said. Johnson dove into her magazineís redesign, discussing in detail the process of surveying readers and re-thinking content and design.

What did it all amount to? You donít create a publication to win an award ó you create a thoughtful, dynamic publication and the awards will come.

Itís a true and sustainable strategy, demonstrated by the quality of work (and prestigious awards) our presenters displayed. And as they dug into the details of their work, answering question after question from the audience, I realized how unique this atmosphere truly was. Some of the most successful media professionals in Washington, DC were sharing their secrets. They were giving us the tools to be better at what we do, which goes far beyond winning awards. We are often competing against each other ó for readers, for jobs, for the next cool idea. But here, spooning up chili and cornbread, we were colleagues trying to help each other. And for that, I credit AM&P.

And finally, for those of you who really want some tips on submitting your actual entry, here goes:

  • Keep it clear and simple ó the judges have a lot of entries to get through. Donít make it difficult for them to get your point.
  • Highlight your strengths ó explain why your entry resonates with your audience. And if you have metrics that demonstrate your success, include them.
  • Donít go it alone ó talk to your team. Talk to your members. What spoke to them? Your submission could change based on their feedback.
  • Judge ó want the inside, inside track to what makes a winner? Sign up to be an EXCEL Awards judge. 

Sandy Laycox is associate managing editor of Leaderís Edge, published by The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. AM&P sincerely thanks her for volunteering to cover this Lunch & Learn for her AM&P colleagues and Sidebar readers.


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