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Preparing for your gold quill entry: what makes a winner when the profession judges itself.

Preparing for Your Gold Quill Entry:

What Makes a Winner When the Profession Judges Itself?

`Congratulations," the letter reads, "your entry has won a Gold Quill Award of Excellence (or Award of Merit), the highest awards of IABC, the International Association of Business Communicators. You have been judged by top professionals in our association."

By April 1, 1991 select business communicators from around the world will learn that their work in 1990 met the very strict criteria of the most prestigious--and only truly international--awards programme in the world for their profession.

I was privileged to be a member last year of the Blue Ribbon panel of judges to judge entries selected by the first 10 judges from entries worldwide. As a newcomer to the panel, I was teamed with a 10-year veteran judge, the director of corporate communication for a Fortune 500 company. Along with another team we set about judging 20 categories in the programmes and campaigns group.

I was shocked to find how few professionals can articulate the objectives of their programmes, and then demonstrate definitive results that relate to the objectives. In other words, most communicators appear to set out with just a perceived need or a "good" idea, don't tie it back to the goals of their organisation and then, when the work is completed, can't tell whether they've met their objectives.

For those readers who are not familiar with Gold Quill: the 92 categories cover programmes and campaigns (external, internal, marketing, image/advertising, employee, shareholder); audiovisual and print (video, film, slides, annual reports, magazines, newspapers, posters); and design, writing and photography. This year 14 new categories have been added.

Each entrant is required to submit a work sample, be it an annual report, video, or a full programme with collaterals, and a work plan--a document of up to four pages which explains the need, the goals and objectives, the execution, and the results obtained. The work sample and the work plan each account for 50 percent of the score, on a scale of 0 to 7. The final score is the average of the two judges' scores.

Each category can have one Award of Excellence and two Awards of Merit. In our 20 categories, we gave only five awards for excellence and 23 for merit. Why so few?

First, I found that it doesn't really matter how pretty, how creative or how beautifully or cleverly packaged an entry is, or how much money was spent on the programme.

What really matters is how well these questions are answered:

1. What is the need, the problem or the purpose--why was this project undertaken? How is the need affecting the company? For instance, saying that, "The chairman wants the company to be better known" won't do. The professional communicator must ask, why? What will being better known do for the company? What triggered this request? How will the chairman know that the company is "better known"?

2. Who are the target audience(s)? Saying we want to reach "the employees," or "the media" or "the business community" won't do. The professional communicator must define and break down each of the target audiences into various sub-groups. Look at "the employees": how many males, females? What ages, what are their educational backgrounds, their types of jobs, their income levels? One size definitely does not fit all.

3. How measurable and well-defined are the goals and objectives of the programme? Saying, "We want to get employees to sign up for the new benefits package," begs the question: How many, what percentage will be considered a success? Or "create goodwill with the customer"--how will you measure goodwill? How do you know you don't have goodwill now?

The professional communicator will demand that objectives be set, that specific criteria to measure success be established in advance, that everyone agrees on exactly why they are embarking on this particular activity and what they expect to accomplish.

4. How well do the goals and objectives relate to the goals of the organisation? Even though a need has been perceived, it may not fit with or further the goals of the organisation. If it doesn't, why do it?

5. Once the goals and objectives are clearly set, how well are they kept in mind when choosing the medium or media that are used to accomplish the project, and in the implementation of the project? If you're trying to get corporate information to investment analysts, you probably wouldn't find a carnival was the best medium to convey your message. But that may be the best medium for fund raising for a school. The professional communicator chooses the medium or media that can best deliver the message to the specific target audience in the most timely and cost-effective manner.

6. Most important: How well were the project goals and objectives met? How were results measured? Saying "Press coverage achieved 2.5 million impressions" is not enough, unless one of your stated objectives was "to be in enough newspapers and magazines to make 2.5 million impressions." You could have set a goal "to be in `X' named newspapers, and have the product name mentioned in the first paragraph and photo caption at least 60 percent of the time." Then you can evaluate success.

7. And finally we asked: Does the project show imagination, innovation or originality? And how does the plan rate as a sound blueprint for building an effective communication project? Only if an entry scored well on the above points did we look at the work sample--the brochure, video, gifts, releases or whatever used to accomplish the project. With the work sample, we asked: How well do content and design reflect the interests of the audience; how clearly does it merit or exceed accepted technical and professional communication standards; does it show imagination, innovation or creativity; and how close is it to the "state of the art"?

One entry my team rated low stands out in my mind. A large corporation wanted "to be better known" and "create public goodwill." No measurements set up; no statements as to how they would know if they achieved their goals; and no business reason given for the need to be better known or have goodwill.

The company spent US $250,000 sponsoring the making of a six-part TV documentary that was critically acclaimed. It was viewed by millions across the country; 50 people wrote letters of praise to the company. Several reviewers mentioned the sponsor. The company chairman was very proud of the documentary.

What did the project really do for the company? Nobody knows; at least they didn't indicate it on their entry form. Could the $250,000 have been better spent, achieved a more measured effect? What purpose did this corporate activity really serve?

We the judges couldn't tell. So the entry was discarded--no need to look at the video for originality. We had no facts upon which to base our judgment.

The lesson to be learned: no project, programme, activity, even press release should be undertaken by a company or its public relations/communication staff or advisers unless these questions are asked: What is the need? Who are the audience? How do we best reach them? What message will best reach them? How will we measure success? And finally, how can we do this creatively and with flair?

Try it. Discipline yourself and those you work with. Soon all your communication activities will be winners, and a tribute to the profession as well.

Anne Forrest is managing director of the Hong Kong and China offices of Hill and Knowlton Asia, and a member of the board of directors of IABC.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Forrest, Anne
Publication:Communication World
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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