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Lessons from PR Week judging

“It’s the Oscars of the PR industry”. These were the opening words of PR Week Editor in Chief, Danny Rogers, as he welcomed the judges to the day of reckoning – a full day of analysing, challenging, deliberating and ultimately deciding who will walk away with the gongs at the PR Week Awards ceremony in October.

And he’s not wrong. These are the most coveted awards in what feels like an ever-expanding sea of opportunity for agencies and in-house teams to show off their work. I’ve judged the awards a few times and I’ve always loved the process. This year is the 30th anniversary of the PR Week Awards, which coincides nicely with our own 30th birthday, so it was even more exciting to be involved.

Before we embarked on the task in hand, Danny urged us to prioritise campaigns that demonstrated clear strategies and measurable outcomes, with strong return on investment. Sound advice, but a little surprising that he had to give it. And it has to be said that some entries still don’t tick some basic boxes – namely, a clear strategy that links firmly back to the objectives delivered by the client (comms and/or business); an innovative approach that enabled the team to execute a brilliant campaign with tangible results; and of course, proper measurement.

I didn’t see any AVE, but some of the stats seemed mind boggling at best, made up at worst. It’s easy to see how this happens: we all have access to tools that spit out some nice-looking numbers to impress our clients (reaching 1.2bn people in a UK award category was a highlight), but we’re better than that. It almost feels like in our desperation to provide killer results (‘if you put the coverage end to end it would reach to the moon and back’ – don’t worry, that one’s made up), we’ve forgotten the important stuff – why did we do it, and how did it help our clients?

That said, in our group of judges we also discussed how the industry has ‘grown up’ and talked about the value of the profession and its role in modern day marketing. This is really encouraging and we’re on the right track, with what has been described as a breakthrough year for PR in Cannes. We judged some outstanding displays of creativity, and clearly PR agencies across the UK are doing some great work.

But I have a confession to make. As an agency, we’ve not always been brilliantly represented at PR industry awards. That’s partly down to not dedicating enough time to it (because let’s be honest, award entry writing can turn into a full-time job) but also not feeling that the work we do is necessarily eligible for many categories. There’s a natural slant towards consumer and not-for-profit campaign work, and that’s understandable: you can judge on creative brilliance against clear strategy and objectives that delivers unquestionable (and robust) results, and it’s also easy to understand.

Corporate comms is often more nuanced and behind the scenes (“oh let’s celebrate that huge crisis that we managed to avert by drinking champagne and jumping up and down on stage”). Business to business campaigns are, in my mind, no less creative or impactful, but perhaps don’t inspire the same number of entries. Maybe this is why the Krispy Kreme ‘Double Hundred Dozen’ campaign was highly commended in the B2B category in 2015 – a simple lack of entries. When a campaign that aims to raise the awareness of doughnuts in offices comes second in a B2B award category, you start to worry.

It’s not the fault of award organisers, but there are brilliant minds working in B2B that could pay more attention to awards. At Nelson Bostock we’ve had a good year and been nominated for 10 awards already, but we could certainly shout more. And that’s what we’re going to do. Watch this space!

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