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Going for the gold--as in Gold Quill Award for 2003. (Case in Point).

Editor's Note: In this new CW department, two Gold Quill Blue Ribbon Panel judges outline the do's and don'ts of submitting a Gold Quill entry. Subsequent issues will spotlight Gold Quill award-winning communication plans. The 2003 Gold Quill Awards program is sponsored by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

Entering the prestigious IABC Gold Quill Awards program is a communication exercise in itself. Having a fabulous project is not enough. With more than 1,000 entries each year and only about 100 winners, you need to be able to present your project work plan clearly and articulately to the most discerning audience of all--your professional peers.

If your entry makes it through divisional and regional judging and reaches the second stage of judging, the Blue Ribbon Panel, your final judge and jury is a two-person appraisal team. Each team member is a senior communicator, an IABC member (most likely accredited) and a former Gold Quill winner. Panel members are also chosen for their global perspective; the 2002 judges, for example, hailed from 12 countries.

A Blue Ribbon Panel judging pair may evaluate as many as 30 entries over two days, so it's critical that you fine-tune your work plan until you are sure all information adds something to your case. Include only information the judges need to understand your story, what you were trying to accomplish, how you went about achieving your goal and how you know it worked.


The plan is everything! The project sample simply validates it.

If you've got a unique project, winning a Quill is well within your realm of possibility. Simply follow the guidelines. The work plan instructions in the Call for Entries provide a logical paint-by-number framework. Each section is weighted equally and all are related.

* Need/Opportunity: Paint the appropriate background to provide context for the project. This crucial segment must be clearly written.

* Audience: Because each section of the application receives an equally weighted score, a single bad, or even mediocre, score will bring down your average and can make the difference between winning an Excellence or Merit Award--or no award at all. Understanding that, how would you score an audience definition that describes the target in a single sentence like "customers living within ABC geographic area"?

You should know much more about your target group than gender and age. If you list an audience as "the general public," you can be sure you will receive a failing score for not targeting appropriately. Supply research if you can, and tell the judges everything you know about that person whose behavior you want to influence with your project.

* Goals and Objectives: This section of the work plan is often confused, so it s worth clarifying here what the judges are looking for. Goals generally describe what you want to accomplish in the big picture sense. Objectives are measurable and specific targets.

* Measurement: This is a critical make-or-break element of the plan. If you have not identified a point of departure, how can you measure your accomplishments? Show a clear link between your objectives and your results. (Some entrants make it easy for the judges by reporting against each objective.) You may use anecdotal evidence for your measurement, but you must be specific about it. "It was a very successful project judging from the large number of emails, telephone calls and positive comments from senior staff" simply is not enough. Quantify these results and compare them with other program results. Make sure you include a couple of examples. You're after behavioral change, so make sure you know what it is you're measuring.


The judging score sheet includes the question: "How well was the project implemented in terms of budget, timing and resources?" In most cases, this is a difficult one to assess. Make sure you cover this information under the "Implementation and Challenges" section of the work plan.

Why do we want to know? It's pretty simple: If you have a small budget and managed it cleverly and creatively, you will score very well. If you had a generous budget, you'd better show worthy results. Some entrants are reluctant to include budget information, but all entries are confidential. If your entry is a winner, you will have the opportunity to remove anything commercially sensitive before the work plan is published.


Two major problems tend to surface here: volume and navigation. Judges have limited time. If you don't prune or provide clear navigation, judges can only flip through or select randomly. Label your material to help the judges navigate your entry, and refer to it in the work plan. Highlight support material, such as audience research, that you would really like the judges to consider. Also make sure support material is appropriately presented and encased in sturdy packaging. Your entry may be judged by several people who will unpack and repack it. Use a ring binder where possible.


* Overusing jargon, especially if it's liberally dished out in an alphabet soup of acronyms. As judges, we don't have time to keep referring back to page one, especially when the letters start sparring with each other. Keep things simple and crystal clear.

* Making parochial assumptions, including use of words like "national," "state" or "provincial" without qualifying the geography. Think global.

* Using third-person constructions, such as referring to the entrant as "she" or "he."

* Jumbled or hard-to-read entries. In most cases, a winning entry was accompanied by a work plan that was a joy to read. The writing style mirrored the clear, strategic thinking that had gone into creating the winning work itself.


Most winners begin to get an inkling they might have a potential Gold Quill winning entry about halfway through the calendar year. Still, it's not too late to assemble your entry for the January 2003 entry or begin planning your 2004 Gold Quill win right now. Start thinking about how you will woo judges in those three or four pages. Start planning a scientific approach to your measurement strategy. It's amazing what effect it will have on the way you approach your project.

And read the Call for Entries carefully. Good luck!


The Gold Quill awards section of the ABC web site ( has information on the 2003 Call for Entries. The early-bird deadline is 22 Jan.; final deadline is 5 Feb. The site also offers sample work plans. Do what the samples do--but do it better and tailor it to your specific needs!


Missed out on an award for the third year in a row? Perhaps you're a first-time entrant not sure where to start? This primer is for you. Two Blue Ribbon Panel judges present their ideas to help you win a Gold Quill in 2003.

Michael Metzger is a director of Metzger Communications based in Wellington, New Zealand ( Penny Poole, ABC, is a communication specialist for the Asian Development Bank -- Water Awareness Program. She is CW Regional Editor for Asia (
COPYRIGHT 2002 International Association of Business Communicators
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Author:Poole, Penny
Publication:Communication World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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