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?