And, the entries are rolling in from all over the country!
ACC wishes the best of luck to everyone who entered! Finalists will be announced in mid-February, and the 2008 Beacon Awards® Gala will be held Tuesday, April 1, 2008, at The Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
For more information on the 2008 Beacon Awards, please visit www.cablecommunicators.org/awards_beacon.
By: Kim Gilmore, historian; director, corporate outreach, A&E Television Networks/The History Channel
Hello ACC members and Beacon Award entrants! Time is ticking- only a few days left to get in your submissions before we can gorge at Thanksgiving. It’s a busy time of year, but I know many of us are diligently filling out our Beacon Award entries and reflecting on the past year. I’ve never blogged before but since creativity is the topic I am writing about, I am plunging into new territory to give it a try. Here goes….
Everyone loves a vacation, and if you’re like me (and Clark Griswold), half the fun is in the planning. If I am planning to go somewhere new, even if the trip is not yet on the horizon, the first thing I do is go to the bookstore and start looking at the guidebooks. Through guidebooks, we can start to envision a place and imagine what it might be like there. How can I connect vacation to the Beacon Awards, you might ask? Well, a great Beacon Award entry is like a colorful and well-written guidebook. What you do when you create your Beacon Award entry is an act of translation- you are describing and capturing your event or program for someone who most likely was not at your event. Since my background is in history, I am often thinking about what it was like in a certain place at a certain time. A similar factor comes into play with a Beacon Award-a good entry is really just a mini-history, telling the judges what happened and why it mattered. A creative and well-structured entry grabs the attention of the judge so they can conceptualize what the project was all about, and why it was important to those who experienced it.
Like guidebooks, not all Beacon Award entries need to be the same or follow a formula. Creativity is crucial- on more than one level. Creativity may not be the first thing that pops into your mind when assembling a Beacon Award during a busy week- but remember-at 20% of the total Beacon Award score, it is critical that you keep it in mind! First, your entry should highlight what was unique about the project or program. In other words, why is this campaign special, and why does it deserve recognition? The perfect way to help a judge answer those questions is to enact the creativity factor by submitting the entry itself in a colorful or unique format. A table of Beacon Award judges always perks up when an entry hits the table in non-binder form. I remember one entry that included a backpack in the shape of a monkey (a giveaway from the event), one in the shape of a lunchbox, and others that were presented like an old-fashioned photo album. While Beacon Award judges pore through entry upon entry, darting to the cookie tray or coffee station in between for sustenance, the entries can start to blend together. These kinds of special touches make the event or campaign feel real to judges, and also flag the project as one you and your group really cared about and want others to notice. Even if you take the traditional binder route with your entry, think about including photos, newspaper stories, and visuals so judges can picture what it was like and why it was important to those who participated.
Creativity in Beacon Award entry design is a bonus, yet equally important is the ability to translate for a judge what was particularly new or significant about the campaign. Even a truly innovative and novel campaign can sometimes fail to grab a judge’s attention if the entry doesn’t help do the work of showcasing what was unique and important about the project or program. Many local campaigns and projects are part of broader national initiatives. When you assemble your entry, think about the local flair your event or project brought to the national campaign- what was your spin, and why was it important locally? I’ve been a Beacon Award judge for several years, and one thing that will definitely relegate an entry to the middle of the pack is if it just seems like “more of the same.” Even if the campaign has been around for awhile, we know how a person or new twist can help breathe new life into the program.
I had a creative writing teacher in college who had a mantra-”show me, don’t tell me.” His example was the famous Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski, who wrote vibrant travelogues, novels, and vignettes full of imagery and flavor. He didn’t have to tell you what he had seen and experienced; he made you feel it. Well, perhaps a Beacon Award entry is not equivalent to a work of creative non-fiction, but there may be some similarities nonetheless. Like with any piece of writing, a good Beacon Award entry needs a dash of art mixed in with the science of numbers. Every judge ultimately wants to look at the results- the scientific numbers which help quantify how many people were involved in the campaign and how far its reach may have extended to reveal to our communities the public affairs work of the cable industry. Yet most judges weigh the results more heavily, or are compelled to think about them carefully, if they are already intrigued by an entry because of the creativity of the submission and more importantly, the campaign itself.
And finally, to take a step back a bit, the topic at hand is creativity in Beacon Award submitting, but in some ways the process can work both ways. It seems like the reason creativity is a factor in the Beacon Awards is another way of encouraging everyone in the cable world to think about new ways to connect with people in our communities, and to illustrate the ways our companies and our medium can affect lives for the better. Choosing creativity, pushing forward in new directions, and thinking up campaigns with originality and flair are fundamental to making great programs, and as a consequence, standout Beacon Award entries. After all, a fun or meaningful Beacon Award entry is just a reflection, a guidebook, to the campaigns and projects we put our energies into in the hopes that they will catch on in our communities. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear what you’re saying….”who has time to be creative; I’m busy just making it through my day-to-day responsibilities!” Good point. But how boring would life be if we never tried to expand into new territory, or help other people see how what we are doing is a new take on an old issue? It’s a simple yet vital concept. Whether in packaging, conceptualization, or implementation, creativity is always a plus!
So before you even sit down to submit a Beacon Award entry, when you are imagining a new project or campaign, remember the creativity factor. Some new ideas will be a smashing success, others will take a while to catch on, and others may not get off the ground. But keeping creativity at the forefront benefits all of us. How can we keep what we do exciting, relevant, and fun? Not just during Beacon Award season but when we sit down or daydream about what project to work on next, some thoughts to revisit: “what is something new I can do this year?” “How can I take last years’ project and add a twist?” And finally, “how will this campaign affect and reach people in new ways?” These questions can help generate a full 20 points in creativity for your Beacon Award entry, but equally as important, they help raise the bar for our projects all year round.
To my fellow past judges, what is the most creative entry you’ve ever seen while judging? How do you try to make you own projects stand out? How do you find ways to be creative in your campaigns?
By: Amy Cohn, executive director, public affairs, Cox Communications, Inc.
One of the greatest challenges we face as communications professionals is directly linking our efforts to the company’s bottom line. But, in today’s hotly competitive environment where resources are increasingly scarce, it’s never been more important. Great communications programs go well beyond the best laid plans and flashy execution. Proving your impact through measurable results matters most, and showing a return on a program’s investment is the best way to earn a Beacon Award for your organization.
As Janice Caluda mentioned in her blog post, the results your organization achieved make a campaign stand out. From a judge’s perspective, results separate the winners from the hundreds of other entries. Did your program drive sales or RGU growth? Did it earn accolades from regulators, government officials or influential community groups? Did it increase viewership among a key audience for your network? Did it improve employee buy-in or positively enhance your company’s image? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, prove it by showing the judges your measurable results.
Effective measurement begins with a well-defined objective, so be sure to clearly spell out the goals of your program up front. It is important that your objectives look ahead to your results. The most impressive three-page summaries link the results achieved to the objectives the project set out to fulfill. As you’re thinking about the objectives your organization set out to meet with its initiative, consider the following: What was the issue or challenge your initiative was designed to address? Who was the target audience? What creative approach did you employ to address the audience? And, don’t forget the means to the end. How you used your resources to make an impact-whether you have a lot of resources or a little-really does influence judges’ decision making.
Bear in mind that measures of successful public relations run the gamut from highly quantitative to totally qualitative, so be creative in describing your impact. There are many ways to point to measurable results besides describing how your efforts contributed to the bottom line. ACC has written a Best Practices review on the topic of Measuring Results, and a link to this can be found in the links section of the blog’s homepage. Consulting this document can be very helpful as you’re thinking of ways to dazzle judges with results that matter.
Finally, we know you’re proud of your work. Show it off! Take credit for it by including media coverage, thank you letters, proclamations, research data, user stats, etc. in your entry. When including support materials to back up your results section, make sure they are relevant to the information contained in your project summary. All materials should be accompanied by some sort of explanation detailing how they demonstrate the results your organization achieved in a tangible way.
Measurable results point to the fact that your organization’s communications and public affairs team is continually contributing to the overall efficiency of the organization as well as to the bottom line. Remember: what matters most to your organization and to a Beacon Award judge is what your company got out of what you put in.
What tactics does your organization use to measure results? As you put together your Beacon Award entry, how have you handled your own results section? What kind of support materials will you be including to enhance your results? To my fellow judges, what impresses you the most as you read through an entrant’s results section?
By: Stu Zakim, vice president, corporate public relations, Showtime Networks, Inc.
Last fall was the first time I entered the Beacon Awards. I submitted 11 entries, and three ultimately were finalists in the same category. When I judged the Beacon Awards in January 2007, I learned what I could have done to improve my chances to become a Beacon Award winner.
One obvious conclusion was that I should not enter so many submissions in the same category. I ended up competing with myself and one other small cable network. I decreased my own chances of winning by entering so many submissions in the same category.
Judging really helped me understand the categories better. As you review your accomplishments of the last year and decide which campaigns to submit, take a few moments to look at the brief addendums and three-page project summaries from past winners online at www.cablecommunicators.org to see what kind of projects warrant being recognized. This information will tell you what your peers considered to be the best communications campaigns last year. How do your efforts compare?
Another lesson from judging was that some categories receive many more entries than others do. For example, there are much fewer entries in the media relations category than in the community relations category. By identifying the “road less taken” among the categories and tweaking your project summary so that you address the goals of that category, you may increase your chances of winning.
As cable network projects, many of my submissions last year were not as public-service oriented as those from operators. They were pure program publicity. Given the changes in the association, non-public service communications projects need to be able to find a place in the Beacon Awards. I worked with ACC and my fellow communicators on the Beacon Award committee to develop a programming publicity category that will recognize the best communications work of network publicists such as me.
In fact, with the changes in the Beacon Award categories over the past year and the expansion of ACC’s mission, the majority of the current categories do not require a public service component. The Beacon Awards will continue to honor the best of cable’s efforts to help the communities it serves, but they also will recognize the many ways cable communicators improve the bottom line.
Is this your first year with the Beacon Awards? What challenges are you facing as you prepare your entries? If this is your second year with the Beacon Awards, what did you learn last year that makes it easier to enter this year?
By: Ann Ruble, public affairs manager, Cox Communications, Greater Louisiana Operations
Like an author trying to start the “Great American Novel”, writing a Beacon Award entry starts with the blank page. And, like a novelist, you probably consider the project you are submitting for judge’s consideration an extension of your life. You’ve worked hard for months or years to make the project come to life. How could you possibly boil it down to three pages? Well, if you want it to be considered, you have to do it. No questions asked.
As in writing a story, novel or script, you need to start with your outline. Lucky for you, the kind folks at ACC already did that for you. It is posted on the web and probably buried in your snail mail in-box. It is called the “Call for Entries.” If you look at Step 3 of this document, everything that needs to be fleshed out is there. Let’s look at it by section.
Planning & Strategy. Clearly write out (and consider bulleting) the objectives, target audience and messages. Give me the background and setting for the project and put all of your considerations and challenges in plain language. Make sure the objectives, targets and messages match your background. And, remember, I don’t know anything about your system. When writing, pretend you are completely clueless about your project and system – because nine times out of 10, your judges will be. Let me know your competitive background. Small system or large, what are the historical, geographical or human circumstances that influence your thinking and planning? Make me (the judge) feel like I have insight and knowledge and can, for just the judging time, walk a mile in your shoes. Most of all use this section to frame the results that you will deliver in the last section. And remember, results are not just the numbers. If you laid out objectives, targets and messages in this section, be ready to refer to them in the next section and drive them home in the last section.
A special note: one of the best entries I read was an initiative that won in the past, but made huge modifications for the award year under consideration. And, they drove this home by using the word “new” throughout the entry. Every time they discussed a target, message or intended result, they put “new” in front of it. It dispelled any doubt of whether it qualified – and in fact – it won. Another great entry seemed to be in the wrong category, but they wrote the justification statement so well that I was convinced it needed to stay for consideration.
Implementation. I’ve seen a lot of entries go into excruciating detail on the strategy, tactics and steps for implementation, but completely miss the boat on the second part of this area – its efforts to build relationships, change behavior or increase recognition for the cable industry. I’m not saying don’t give me the details that went into making your project a success. What I mean is, don’t tell me how many pens and balloons you ordered, but fail to tell me the non-profit, governmental or other non-traditional partners that you brought in to collaborate and make the project a success. Let your creativity shine as you detail the ways you saved time or money by working with a different department, taking a path less traveled and or changed some preconceived ideas mid-stream to make the project more successful. You can tell me the number of pens, but also make sure I know the creative steps you took to make this project one that other cable operators and peer companies in your community envious.
Results. Lord help the submission that forgets or gives little attention to this area, because the judges won’t. It is so disheartening to read an entry that started out with great planning, obviously had great implementation, and didn’t document the results. A great rule of thumb – parallel the first section on planning and strategy. Reiterate your objectives, target audience, messages and background challenges/opportunities. Now, tell me how you delivered on the objectives, target audiences, messages and challenges/opportunities. Use numbers or anecdotes. Use press clippings or letters from participants/recipients. Use attitudinal surveys from before and after. Find any way you can to prove to me that you met or exceeded your original plans.
And, for your attachments, please label them. If I see a picture of three smiling people I think, isn’t that nice, folks had fun at the event. If I see a picture of three smiling people with the caption “US Senator X and Mayor Y Join Our GM in Celebrating Our Success” I think WOW. Remember what I said earlier, I don’t know your system. I don’t know your elected officials, your top management or the intricacies of your world. Explain them to me.
This seems like a lot to put into three pages or less, but you’ve put your heart and soul into producing an award-winning event, it is time to document it. And, after you’ve written your first draft, take a breather and give it to one or more of your most trusted colleagues. Even best-selling authors have editors. They keep us honest. And, if we’ve run on too long, they can tell you the sections, phrases or words that most made them stop and say WOW. Don’t take it personally – this is the only way to make a project summary ready for judging.
For those in the middle of writing your project summary, tell us – what is driving you crazy? What is the hardest section to tackle? Are you still staring at a blank page or is the summary starting to take shape? Whom do you trust to read your entry, and why?
By: Janice Caluda, Vice President, Operations for the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association
A maxim of communications is to remember your audience. What’s in it for them? The audience for your Beacon Award entry is the judge, your fellow cable communicator. What is he or she looking for in a Beacon Award entry?I’ve judged the Beacon Awards for many years, and I can tell you what I’m looking for when I pick up each entry I review. I want to be impressed. Originality and creativity are the keys. The smallest system can get a Beacon Award that shines just as bright as the largest. Judges take into consideration your size and your budgets so don’t let that deter you. What will attract attention is the original spin you put on your efforts. Show us something we haven’t seen before. How much could you do with your resources? Cable in general is famous for excelling at making the most of limited resources!
I want to know what’s new and creative about your campaign and what you achieved with it. What were your goals and strategies? What did you have to overcome? Most importantly, what were your results? Did you reach your goals or find out something new?
Some of the most impressive Beacon Award entries I’ve ever seen were ones that captured the heart of a big problem in a small way unique to cable. We were all moved by the efforts of large and small systems and programmers who went to the assistance of their employees and their customers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, and post-9/11. But it doesn’t take a huge disaster to make a good entry. What did you do that was uniquely yours in your audience’s arena, and why were you the best to do it and the best at it? Make me feel it!
I want the three-page project summary to be easy to read but thorough enough that it answers all my questions. The heart and soul of every entry is the three page summary. Make sure your entry is easy to read and attractive enough to make a judge want to read it. Some successful entrants use bullet points and headings while others write a compelling summary with a strong narrative drive that is a joy to read. If the project summary is longer than three pages and in tiny print, I may get impatient and not read every word. I’ve known other judges who asked for a video to be turned off if it is longer than five minutes. I’ve even known judges to attempt to disqualify entries for not following these rules. That’s heartbreaking. Don’t let that happen to you!
And even if this has been said a thousand times, I’ll make it a thousand and one. If your press release went out with typos, someone out there was judging your competency. The same is true of the Beacon Award judging process. How many points would you take off for a typo or grammatical error in the project summary?
Pretty packaging and impressive supplemental material can turn my head (in fact, it does all the time. If I’m in Barnes and Noble and a book calls out to me, I’ll pick it up – I may even buy it. But I may not LIKE it after that) so if your campaign did not achieve the results it set out as its goals, it might stay on the “bookshelf.”
Make sure you tell us what to look for – in other words, your ends should fit your means. It could help to work backwards from the results to get your premise. For instance, I was watching an episode of “Top Chef,” (kudos to Bravo!) and upon judging a chef’s entrée, the judge said, “He over-browned the topping. All he had to do was call it ‘crisped’ and I would have voted for it.” This doesn’t mean an inedible dish will win “Top Chef” and it doesn’t mean a flimsy entry will get by a Beacon Award judge, either. Each year the judging gets tougher. But it does mean that you probably accomplished goals that can be proven simply by assuring that your results fit your goals.
My final advice to everybody putting together a Beacon Award entry is to try to make the process of reviewing your entry as easy as possible for the judge. A first round judge may review more than 50 entries over two days while a final round judge may review more than 30 in one day. It’s important to make your main point easy for a tired judge to locate and read. You don’t want a judge to miss a critical item in your summary.
To my fellow Beacon Award judges out there, what has impressed you the most in finalist Beacon Award entries? What is lacking from the ones that do not earn a high score from you? What are you thinking when you pick up a Beacon Award entry to judge?