By Nicole Laoutaris

Winning an ACE Award will earn you industry recognition, strengthen your strategic communications skills and allow you to celebrate your work with your peers in Toronto’s public relations community. But, before you can earn such a distinction, you need to enter a submission.

Whether it is your first year applying or you are a seasoned pro, preparing your CPRS ACE Awards submission can be a daunting task.

What are the judges looking for?

CPRS Board member and ACE Awards judge, Lawrence Stevenson, APR, weighs in on how you can get your submission to rise above the rest. Lawrence, who has been judging the Awards for the past five years, shares some of his top tips to help you on your way to ACE.

1. Read the requirements.

Too often, submissions do not even meet the eligibility criteria for the executive summary. The judges are very stringent about details like the page length and font size.

The guidelines require the entrant to prepare, in only two-pages and minimum 10 pt font, an executive summary that includes a brief description of the strategy, quantifiable objectives, audiences, plans and tactics, budget and restraints, and the results. For full ACE Awards 2012 Entry Guidelines, click here.

2. RACE can take you from ‘good’ to ‘great’

Many submissions fail because they do a few things poorly. First and foremost, follow the RACE formula: Research, Analysis, Communications and Evaluation. Be clear about the components and set measurable objectives. ‘Raising awareness by xyz’ is not a measurable objective. Objectives should be SMART.

Poorly articulated research can negatively affect your submission. You may have done primary or secondary research, but how did it impact your decisions? You may have done a media scan, but what does that mean? Did you look at similar campaigns, or last year’s campaign? Tell the judges.

Then, did you evaluate based on your SMART objectives? The very best submissions restate objectives and discuss what was actually achieved from them. Conversely, if you didn’t achieve them, explain why because it could be due to some compelling mitigating circumstances. Mistakes do not negate the work of the campaign; being able to identify your mistakes can still result in high scores.

3. Do not gloss over (or completely leave out) your budget

Budgets are sometimes confidential, but there are ways of presenting it in such a way that is representative of your work, without breaking confidentiality. Without giving a specific dollar amount, illustrate where you spent your money.

For example, you could simply document that you spent 90 per cent of your budget on a guest speaker. This does not disclose your actual dollars, but it is a large portion of your budget and needs to be presented. If you’re a not-for-profit with a smaller budget, a guest speaker could be the strongest element to your campaign and well-worth 90 per cent of it. Clearly explaining this will earn you a higher score.

4. Know your campaign

Entrants are more than welcome to submit their campaign to more than one category, but be selective. If you have a special event campaign that also excels in media relations and you decide to submit it to both categories, then make sure you illustrate the difference for each. Do not just copy and paste your entry for both categories.

5. Edit your work!

First impressions are everything. That goes for your ACE Award submissions too, and it is very difficult to undo a bad first impression. Your initial executive summary is your opportunity to introduce yourself to the judges. The small details are important. You could provide an award-winning campaign, but the judges will not be able to see it through an entry that is riddled with errors.

Remember, this is your best work in a campaign, so it should be your best work in the submission.

So, what are you waiting for? Submissions are due on January 26, 2012. You can enter here through the online entry form. And be sure to save the date for this year’s gala on Thursday, April 26, 2012.