Award-winning campaigns

By Kathie Taylor, APR

At IPSM, we’re all about award-winning campaigns.

I recently read a blog post titled “The Forgotten Marketing Tool: Award Submissions.” The gist of the article is that industry awards are like the Oscars or the Grammys – every industry has them.

To the public, when they read your press release, winning awards may:

  • Boost credibility
  • Differentiate you from competitors
  • Increase visibility and may lead to new business

While I’ve had people tell me they saw our story in the news about “winning something” lately, I’ve never had anyone tell me that the 20-some-odd awards we have listed on our website convinced them that we are the agency for them.

Many of our competitors and other practitioners have also won awards, and in our smallish market, it’s hard to differentiate yourself based on the awards you’ve won.

Increasing visibility may lead to new business is partly true. We put out our press releases when we win awards. So does everyone else.

With all this in mind, why do we keep submitting for awards year after year?

Simple. At IPSM, we don’t believe in buying vanity awards – agencies pay big bucks to companies offering awards competitions for trophies and bragging rights. Sure, it looks great in a press release, but what does it really mean? Is there competition? Do you get feedback on your submission to help you be a better practitioner?

Awards celebrations are big money-makers for companies offering awards. And for local chapters of education and professional development-based organizations like the Public Relations Society of America, fundraising is the goal, but learning is the key objective.

Why award submissions matter:

We have actually built our projects around the format for the PRSA award submissions because they are based on the four principles of good campaigns:

  • Research – gives us the foundation and the justification for the campaign
  • Planning – using the research, you can then build a great campaign knowing you have the why, the how, and the who all figured out
  • Implementation – helps you think through the mechanics of the campaign. It might sound good on paper but may not actually work in real life. Good planning includes how you’re going to go about executing your plan
  • Evaluation – measuring everything in the plan to make sure it worked! When we follow this process, it always works. Our campaigns win, not only for the shiny trophy (which we love!) but for the results we get for our clients!

Award events are fun!

At IPSM, we love a good party, and these events are a great way to network with other marketing and public relations professionals in the region. They usually involve cool venues and yummy food, and at the end of the day, receiving one of only two awards given in a category in front of a roomful of your peers is deliciously satisfying.

For an agency like ours serving small and micro-businesses, it is especially satisfying knowing you’re going up against perennial big events like The Great Reno Balloon Race, The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World which made national and international news for a local health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic and the general election of 2020.

How we get better results for our clients through award-winning campaigns

What we really love about choosing which awards we submit for, is that we get to see our judges’ scores and feedback that help us to do better.

For example, we have learned through the awards process that we need to revisit our audience research. “The General Public” is not a good answer. We have to get really crisp, which requires good, really good, research. Here’s a case study, for which we earned a perfect score on our award submission:

Newton Learning Center family Stories: This campaign earned Best of Show for a perfect score and a number of other awards.  But more than that, this campaign exceeded their goals. We doubled the number of school tours and enrollment. Today, Newton Learning Center still shows up first on a Google search as the number one placement with one of our family stories.

  • Our target audience: the audience was really well-defined: Parents and grandparents of children with special needs and IEPs in targeted areas; primarily women aged 25-65 who tend to make most of the decisions relating to education in the family.
  • This audience was defined by research! I read the entire Washoe County School District website and demographic reports from cover to cover and tracked how many children at each school needed an IEP and what kind of IEP they needed – behavioral, physical, etc. to understand where these families resided. I researched who makes the educational decisions in the family, and the ratios of parents vs. grandparents raising special needs kids. And I reviewed every single publication in the greater Northern Nevada area to determine which ones were the right ones to reach our defined audience.
  • We told the raw, unfiltered family stories of how this tiny school for children on the autism spectrum saved their children’s lives (literally in some cases) and their families through video, strategically placed stories in online publications and Mom’s blogs and through social media.

Other case studies for what we learned showcased the importance of patience and solidly produced research.

Meals on Wheels Carson City on Behalf of the Carson City Senior Center

This award-winning campaign earned 3 or 4 awards, but more importantly, it was highly researched, and through that research, we found a number of pre-conceptions we had about our plan going in were proved false by putting out a survey to the community to give us more information. This campaign would have failed had we gone in with our assumptions and not the fact-based research findings. Some of the results of this campaign include:

  • Added vitality to the Senior Center and Meals on Wheels programs
  • Invited and encouraged engagement with seniors in the community
  • Increased sales in the thrift store by 30%
  • Improved their budget from a deficit of $185,000 to a surplus

What we learned:

  • Ensure buy-in from all stakeholders. If your plan is based on a letter-writing campaign, make sure the letters will be written BEFORE launching the campaign. In this case, while the campaign was beautifully planned, executed and successful for various business objectives, the major failure to get stakeholder buy-in basically sank confidence in the campaign, despite evidence of success in other areas. Better to leave it out than create doubt.

Carson Valley Meats

This campaign consistently wins awards year over year. Again, this campaign was highly researched, which allowed us to pivot from an unsuccessful bid by our client to open a meat processing facility in both Douglas County and Carson City to launching a farm-to-fork food products delivery service called Carson Valley Meats Ranch Boxes.

  • We raised awareness for ranching in our community
  • We have doubled sales year over year, and in some months, we’ve tripled our numbers

What we learned:

  • Work closely with the client to ensure they have the resources to manage the success of the campaign and plan for managed growth. The success of this campaign has stretched the clients’ resources as it continues to grow. We are working with the client to manage this.

How can we help you?

We are so proud of the work we do we’ve devoted two pages on our website to the success of our clients. The first is the Case Studies page, with links to many of our case studies, and the second is Our Award-Winning Campaigns, a list of the many awards we’ve won over time with links to the winning case studies.

Check it out, and if any of these stories resonate with you and what we can do for your business, download our free digital audit. It will help you see where your business’s marketing is strong, and where you can use some support. We’d love to help!


Download the Award-Winning Campaigns transcript here!