How to win awards

You know you’re good and you know that your work is good. What you really need is recognition, and creative awards are a great route to fame. We reveal some winning tips.

Win an award and it’s a vindication of months of hard work and a brilliant team. Lose and, well, it wasn’t that important anyway. But, if you have a sneaking desire to decorate your office with such baubles and take advantage of the glory that they bring how do you go about winning them?
Ben Terrett from the Design Conspiracy says it’s simple: “Do really, really good work.” Well yes, that’s a given. But there are other tips that might help you on your way. Here they are.


Garrick Hamm, creative director at Williams Murray Hamm and a veteran D&AD judge says winning awards is a byproduct of doing “original, different and better” work.

“It’s the big idea that catches the eye," he says. “A great idea well executed." The standard is high, so aim higher to win. Big awards like the D&ADs get 25,000 entries and nominate 50 for prizes, so your work must stand out.

“Work has to be immediate and it has to grab you," says Hamm. On top of that, the work must stand up to discussion among your national or international peers.

“At the top everything has to be perfect," says Hamm. “Judges look at every detail."


“The category is important," says Terrett. “You can help yourself by choosing the right one. It should be obvious, but you have to read the rules carefully." If you’re still unsure, look at what won in previous years and see if it’s the same kind of work.

“Sometimes you can’t tell," says Hamm. In that case his advice is if money allows enter your work into more than one category. For example, take a corporate campaign with six pieces and enter some of the elements as independent pieces in other categories.

“It means different judges on different days," says Hamm. “Sometimes it helps to hedge your bets."


Entering costs time and money entering the D&ADs for example costs between £95 and £295 depending on the category. Make sure you know the rules, deadlines and how work - and how many copies - needs to be submitted.

“Most of it is done online now," says Hamm. “Do your research and find out what they need. If they need a 100-word description, give yourself the time to write it." Deadlines are throughout the year, so know them, work out a “competition schedule” and decide what to enter early.


“If you can, enter contextual material," says Terrett. A written explanation of the work, or even photographs of the work in situ can help judges understand your work. And if you can, says Terrett: “Get some publicity for the work beforehand, in design magazines and Web sites. While such publicity won’t make you win, the recognition factor can help judges make an initial decision."


Understand how awards are judged. Unless the competition is judged by the public, a panel of judges will decide who wins. In the case of the D&ADs for example, this will take a full day.

Starting at 9am in a hall with up to 400 exhibits, the six judges will make an “in/out” decision on each piece. “The best always stands out, says Hamm, “They’re easy to spot." After lunch there will be 50 or so pieces left. This is where the debates start.

“They can get quite heated," says Terrett. The second round of judging is the most taxing agrees Hamm. “That’s where you get into execution. It’s a case of ‘great work, but the type’s not quite right'."

Judging is always done anonymously. Unless a judge knows the work, says Terrett, “there really is no way of knowing who did what." Don’t try bribery that’s called cheating.


Jurors feel a sense of responsibility towards the history of awards, says Terrett, who has been a judge for the D&ADs. “Look at the great work that has gone before," he says. Judges want to meet, if not better, last year’s standards. So research past winners and see if you can spot a trend. If you do, play to that and interpret it in your own way.


Like they say at school, remember to answer the question. If the category is “Design for Kids” then make sure your work is aimed at children, not merely selling children’s products. If it asks for interactivity, don’t enter something simply because it’s online.


“Be hard on yourself," says Hamm. “Make sure it’s great. Don’t water it down with less good work. If you have two good pieces and four average, only enter the good. Average pieces can drag the whole lot down.

"And don’t over complicate keep it simple, and beautiful. Lay it out so people can understand it easily. Ask yourself, ‘Is it obvious what we’ve done?’ If judges are asking ‘what’s this about?’ you’ve lost the initiative."

Terrett agrees. “Shoddily-printed stuff, Sellotape, it doesn’t really make a difference because the good work stands out, but give yourself the best chance." Also, watch for “self promotional work," says Terrett. “Enter work you’ve done for a client not yourself - it has more validity."


If it’s interactive or online make sure it’s functioning. Check links and downloads. If a judge has to watch it on DVD or CD, make sure that when they put it in their machine, it will play.


“There is that saying, ‘Clients don’t care what awards you’ve won as long as you’ve won some'. That’s probably true," says Terrett. “However, awards help attract staff and they’re good for moral."

Winning can also help you get noticed, get a job or win further work. “In advertising, you win one and go and see your boss the next day to get a pay rise," says Terrett. “In design that’s maybe not the case, as if you win you probably own the company.

Hamm agrees: “A lot of clients want to be around people winning awards. And from a peer perspective, it means you get good applause for good work." Being nominated is worthwhile too - it lets you network your way through the awards dinner and if you win you can kick back and bathe in the glory.

What to enter

D&AD Global Awards
The UK’s most prestigious design awards, covering film, design, and branding.

Webby Awards
Global Web-design awards with plenty of celebrity clout.

Benchmark Awards
Branding awards from the UK’s Design Week magazine.

British Interactive Media Association Awards
Prestigious UK interactive media and digital content awards.

Art Directors Club
One of the toughest international awards.

ID Awards
Important awards from US International Design magazine.

Clio Awards
High profile advertising awards based in the US.

New York Festivals
Recognising the “world's best work in advertising and programming” for 50 years.

Acknowledging creative excellence worldwide in advertising.

Cannes Lions
International advertising festival celebrating creativity.


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