Over the years I’ve judged a number of creative competitions, the most notable being D&AD and The One Show. Sitting on that side of the table has allowed me to spot some easily avoidable mistakes that are a one way ticket to fail. Here’s the five blunders I’ve seen most often.
1. Failure to provide access to digital work.
It’s astounding just how many entries to digital categories, and categories that allow online presentation of the entry, simply are not available to view when the judges sit down to discuss the work.
The main reason for this seems to be that the judging often takes place several months after the deadline for submissions, during which time campaign websites complete their run and are taken offline. Many of the larger agencies have dedicated award entry portals that host a mirror of the site with password access, but again you’d be amazed how often the password doesn’t work .
This is incredibly frustrating as the work is often accessible during pre-judging which is a process where judges, working online prior to the big judging meet up, create a shortlist of the best entries as there are simply too many entries to work through on the day. I distinctly remember my frustration at the disqualification of a wonderfully crafted website that I voted through to the shortlist for the website category at D&AD which we were unable to access on the day.
Solution. Ensure access is simple and reliable to your entry until the winners are announced, bearing in mind this might be more than a 6 month commitment. If at all feasible, host a mirror of the main site as a back up.
2. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.
Consider the context of the pre-judging. Each judge has to go through hundreds of entries in a limited time, and when you consider that judges all have busy day jobs, you’re going to have to make an impression very quickly.
If you are entering a web application that provides rich interactions for members that have created detailed profiles then it’s unlikely any judges will get to the good stuff unless they are already signed up. Some elegant narrative works that build to a crescendo as the user invests their time and emotion never make it past pre-judging for the same reason.
Solution 1. If your entry requires a detailed site registration then pre-populate an account that brims over with the joys of your entry, and provide the log-in details as part of your entry.
Solution 2. Create a video that demonstrates highlights that mark your project as an award winner. Keep it to less than 60 seconds and host it somewhere reliable—password protected on Vimeo is always a good option. The purpose of the video is to whet a judges appetite for them to then want to sample the wares for themselves.
3. Don’t patronise the judges.
I know this contradicts problem 2, but it is possible to over simplify the explanation of your entry. I have witnessed entries being shot down partly because the page on the agency’s entry portal is so patronising.
Solution. Remember the judges are carefully picked for their depth of knowledge on the category you are entering. For example it is safe to assume that the judges of the website category in D&AD know a lot technically and creatively about making websites, and that they will be very familiar with popular platforms, social networks etc.
4. Don’t lie.
If you didn’t create a piece of work then don’t enter it for awards. If you played a role in a cast of many, then be very up front about that role and be quick to credit the other major players.
As mentioned above, the people judging your entry will have a great deal of experience in the medium they are judging. They see a lot of that type of work and are very connected in the industry. If a project is truly wonderful enough to be worthy of a gold at The One Show, then chances are one of the judges will know the people involved in the making of it.
Solution. Tell the truth.
5. Check the rules.
That small print on the back page of the entry form, or the long blurb you clicked “I Agree” to on the online form contains various criteria that is actually checked against your submission.
The biggest culprit I’ve seen is entries that don’t fall between the right dates. This is a tricky one for websites, as if a site gets a lick of paint a couple of years after launch does that now mean it should eligible as a newly launched site? Whether this should matter is an argument for another day, but for many competitions it does matter.
Solution. Be pedantic, and check the small print.
Finally one thing that people get really hung up about is which category to enter. Especially in digital categories there can be a huge amount of crossover and ambiguity, resulting in a fear that a project doesn’t neatly fit into one or another category.
Don’t let this stress you out. Make your best guess and enter anyway, and the judges will quickly see the problem, especially as it’s an issue we’ve all experienced oursleves. Several of the yellow pencil hopefuls we didn’t feel were in the category that gave them the most chance of winning were moved with the minimum of fuss to help their chances.