Winning Awards for Issues Management a Challenge

Entering public relations contests is a worthwhile activity. CFM just had a winner for the 19th straight year in the Oregon Spotlight Awards, this time for State Lobbying issues.

I do think it is slightly harder, however, for organizations engaged in managing issues or legislative affairs to win public relations awards. This is not a complaint. Just an observation.

One reason, judges in PR contests often have product promotion experience but do not necessarily have the background to evaluate or appreciate the value of what a nonprofit or government agency has accomplished. Having expressed that opinion, I also say: “Get over it.” You just have to work harder to communicate the value of your group’s work.

If a public affairs team is going to win, it must work hard and do a better job in telling the story. The challenge is writing a memorable summary, usually two- to four-pages. The core elements of almost every contest summary are: goals; research; implementation; and results. To, win, there must be something significant stated in all categories. Otherwise, don’t waste time writing an entry.

Here are four shortcomings common to award entries.

Winning is a yearlong process: At the outset of every potential prize-winning project start collecting data and materials demonstrating approach and measurable results. Start gathering planning documents, news clips – even testimonials – well in advance of the award deadline. Look for holes in supporting documents and see what is missing.

Research: Often describing the research is a weak point. What? No research was done? No budget for traditional research? Do simple Internet and literature research, if for no other reason than executing a successful project let alone creating an award winner.

Don’t be boring: In reality, judges spend no more than 10 minutes looking at an entry. Your prose must be memorable. Don’t just tell a chronological story. Write an opening summarizing the importance of the project, why it is significant and the top line results. Sometimes being a little edgy helps. Here are three examples of opening statements from award-winning CFM issues-management entries:

  • National Park Service: This is the story of an extraordinary public-private partnership that has gained attention at the highest levels of the U.S. Department of Interior, the National Park Service and has echoed throughout the Pacific Northwest. It’s also the story of a website that united scores of volunteers, including fundraisers, engaged in building the Fort-to-Sea Trail in time for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial in Oregon.
  • Oregon University System: It’s known as the engineering pipeline problem. While it’s not a problem unique to Oregon, the Oregon University System’s (OUS) response to the challenge may be unique.
  • Clackamas County: Flush it and forget it – until it’s time to pay for sanitary sewer service improvements. That was the problem facing Clackamas County, one of Oregon’s fastest growing areas, where about 375,000 residents live.

Biting the bullets: Just posting laundry lists of bullet points is not good storytelling. Bullets help, but each segment should have a memorable paragraph.

Local governments, nonprofits, industries and businesses do have some great opportunities for recognition from professional associations. They just have to tell a memorable story when contests are entered. Make the time to do it right.

The 2011 contest cycle starts in January. Get started yesterday.