by Charlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) Having recently returned from another year of judging a very mixed bag of Assegai entries, I thought it’d be useful to offer some pointers as to what constitutes a winning award submission. Hopefully, this will help some of you pick up more silverware and, in the process, provide some relief to the judges’ tension headaches.

The local award season’s in full swing. With the Loeries having come and gone, we’re now at the sharp point of the year where performance takes over from creativity and the quality of our industry’s output is validated against the hard currency of results. This is the time that the Assegais and The Bookmarks take centre-stage.

Effing great news

In a real boost for results-oriented marketing, we can also look forward to our very own South African Effies from next year, following the ACA’s decision to shutter the APEX awards and align itself with the world’s preeminent industry awards.

Aside from my own musings, this column also draws on some great guidance from the pugnacious marketing professor, Mark Ritson, and insights from the IAB’s recent podcast series, Work That Wins.

1. Fit for purpose

First up, make sure your entry’s fit for purpose. If you’re going to spend time and agency cash putting a submission together, do it properly. Most awards follow a fairly standard format and ask for insights into your strategy, your creativity and your results. It’s really not a tough recipe to follow yet, in my experience, it’s one that only about 20% of entries manage to nail.

In a supporting feature to his regular Marketing Week column, Ritson has spent the past couple of months unpacking the Effies, which is now in its 50th year. He’s reviewed a staggering 9 000 entries to distill the attributes of an effective campaign. It comes down to doing the basics well — expressing the problem marketing’s looking to solve before outlining the strategic insight that’ll tackle the challenge and progressing into the tactics and creativity that’ll deliver the desired results. With most awards applying a broadly even weighting to the three key considerations, he advocates taking a balanced approach where you aim to demonstrate real competency in each area, instead of trying to shoot the lights out in one.

2. Work that wins in digital

His guidance is echoed in an excellent podcast series that the local IAB is currently curating.

The first episode, Work That Wins in Digital, featured Clare Trafankowska, head of digital for Carat South Africa and DentsuX, and Ernst van der Merwe, integrated creative director at Ogilvy Johannesburg. In the initial segment they tackle performance campaigns which, because they often rely on smart insights rather than conventional creative, must show meaningful innovation to win.

3. Beyond housekeeping

And innovation doesn’t mean using a tool such as Google My Business to deliver results. Optimising a retailer’s physical stores to appear in location-based search results is standard housekeeping and is not award-worthy. Innovation, they stress, comes from applying critical strategic thinking to business challenges.

As an example, one SEO campaign removed a client’s phone number from search results. This encouraged customers to visit its online self-service portal and saved the organisation millions in call-centre support costs.

4. Show me the money

As well as showing a novel insight or use of tech, entries — particularly in performance categories — need quantifiable business metrics. It’s infuriating to judge submissions that speak of growth in traffic, clickthrough rates or even leads, as these mean little if there isn’t a direct correlation with revenue generation. This, after all, is the single purpose of most marketing interventions.

5. Seeing is believing

Please, please make it visual. Ideally, put together a video that distills the campaign’s key points. At a minimum, incorporate design elements into your entry. While judges try as hard as they can to really analyse every piece they look at, if you’re reviewing 50+ submissions a day, work that’s easy to digest stands out.

6. Involve the client

I know agencies often obfuscate over this point but I like seeing some client involvement in entries. Judges have to take work at face value and there have been many times when unsubstantiated claims have set my bull-o-meter oscillating. Incorporating a brief testimonial — and I mean no more than a few words — from the marketing director provides credibility and delivers an assurance that the work submitted (probably) aired.

7. Bring out the pedant

Every team has one, and proofreading award entries is a great way for the pedant in your midst to shine. While I’ve never knowingly marked a submission down because it’s full of typos, it does create a subconscious perception that the agency’s not that invested in the campaign.

8. Customise to the category

Lastly, avoid my pet peeve. If you’re going to submit the same campaign to multiple categories (in the era of integrated marketing, there’s often good reason to do so), then tailor each entry to the specific criteria of the category you’re putting it into.


Follow these tips and you might get a little closer to some metal. But, if you plan to submit your work, remember that awards are intended to inspire us by recognising excellence, not mediocrity. At this year’s Bookmarks, only 18% of entries made the cut.


Charlie StewartCharlie Stewart (@CStewart_ZA) is CEO of Rogerwilco, a multi-award-winning independent digital agency best known for its expertise with Drupal, SEO and content marketing. A Scot by birth, he moved to South Africa in the early 2000s in his quest to support a winning rugby team — a search he’s reluctantly forsaken. Together with Mark Eardley, he co-authored Business to Business Marketing: A Step by Step Guide, (Penguin Random House, 2016) and may be found on LinkedIn. Charlie contributes the monthly “Clicks ‘n Tricks” column, which looks at how brands are using digital channels to engage their customers, to MarkLives.

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