It’s easy to judge, right?

Who doesn’t love awards season? After a year of hard work flexing creative muscle to deliver against ever-evolving business objectives, it’s a brilliant opportunity to showcase and celebrate your latest and greatest campaigns. Why wouldn’t you? Good work deserves recognition; you've grafted for it, delivered results and have earned some notoriety. That is of course, if you win.

There can only be one winner on the night and, unlike other accolades you achieve in life, the process of bestowing awards may seem a bit grey. If you find yourself going home empty handed, you may feel a little resentment. Sure, the party was good, being shortlisted was nice, but clearly your campaign was the best - so what happened? It must be rigged, or perhaps not enough flattery was given to the Awards organisers over the year. But in fact, it’s not quite that simple. There is a whole host of people behind the final verdict. There were over 30 judges in this year's B2B Marketing Awards. Experienced marketeers that not only carved out time to look at hundreds of submissions, but have day jobs and lives outside of work to boot. I've never heard anyone talk about what it is like to be a judge and I was intrigued. So here is the untold story (at least in part). I spoke to these exceptionally talented B2B marketeers who are either judges this year or have been in previous years:

  • Charlotte Kennet, customer engagement & reference programs director at Blue Prism
  • Rachel Hinde-Harris, head of business and industry marketing at Panasonic Business Europe
  • Kate Hassler, director, brand & communications at The Access Group
  • Faith Wheller, senior marketing director at Cisco
  • Abhi Morjaria, senior global cloud marketing manager at Ingram Micro
  • Mark Larwood, head of strategic customer marketing at O2
  • Waheed Warden, head of ABM & digital marketing for Northern and Western Europe at Fujitsu

Thanks to these incredible people, this is what I learnt.

The decision to become a judge

My first revelation was that one does not simply choose to be a judge. Why would you?

It’s not like any of us have the spare time. The fact of the matter is that you are chosen by B2B Marketing, or, in the case of Faith Wheller, nominated by someone that knew her the first time she was a judge. A key thing to remember is that you must be an experienced marketer currently in a client-side role. Kate Hassler (director of brand and communications, The Access Group) discovered that having been a judge before she was no longer eligible when she worked as a marketing consultant for a few years.

So really, why would you do it? The responses were unanimous across all the judges from the first timers all the way through to serial judging enthusiast Waheed Warden. First and foremost, it is a privilege and humbling. Rachel Hinde-Harris said: “It’s exciting. It feels like all the work you have done up to now is valued and you are being asked to apply that experience.”

It might seem pretty obvious, but, unlike people who work in an agency or as a marketing consultant, client-side marketers are often in their own microcosm of marketing. Apart from independently reading from publications, they are not exposed to new ideas or other ways of thinking; or as Waheed put it: “It also gives me a really good benchmark for the marketing work that I lead. It gives me a broad perspective of what is happening in the industry. I have been in the IT and tech B2B industry for over 20 years and this gives me insight into how marketing concepts are being applied in different industries to mine and that gives you a bigger perspective as a marketeer.”

Another key draw that all the judges cited was that it was great for their personal brand. Charlotte, who places great importance in building networks, said: "I didn't expect the number of positive responses that I got form the social post that I did.”

The most surprising thing…

Like many of us, the judges get to see the submissions and I was curious about what they found to be the most surprising thing that they found about the experience. There were some clear leaders that all the judges spoke to, namely: objectives, ROI and business impact. However, every single judge mentioned how many entries just don’t clearly articulate how the campaign impacted the overall business or, in Mark Larwood’s words: “There were a couple in my category that just shouldn’t have been entered. One of them didn't even have any objectives at the front. How am I supposed to judge an award if it does not give me an indication of its impact on the business? You might have had a good outcome, but if you can't tell me what you set out to achieve in the first place, then how can I judge that against delivering against objectives?"

The other big theme the judges spoke to was the manner in which the responses were written. They could tell the difference between an organisation mass producing awards through a formula and those that gave extra attention to how they could lead. The big takeaway here is that the judges only have a little bit of time to get under the bonnet of your campaign, so be succinct, answer all the questions clearly, and bring some creativity where you can to make yours shine. There was acknowledgement of the fact that the submissions are templated so it is limited but it can be done!

Your process of judging

For context, the majority of judges I spoke to were 'first-round-judges'. For those that don’t know, this is all online. Each judge is given a specific category with 15-20 submissions. They are given guidance on the scoring criteria and a deadline to complete their scoring of the submissions.

There were two clear camps in the arena of finding time to score the submissions that they were allocated. In camp A were those who preferred a single 3-4 hour session, while Camp B worked in bitesize chunks of roughly a couple of hours each. However, even though each judge had their own nuanced way of scoring, every judge continually reviewed how they scored previous submissions, often changing the scores as they developed a benchmark. What was interesting is the seasoned judges developed a benchmark first. Kate Hassler said: “I read through all the awards first to get a feel for them. I put an emphasis on ROI. We have to work hard for our budgets and that’s how we mark ourselves.”

One of the big questions for me in the process of judging is around the creativity/innovation score against each category. What does creativity mean to the judges and how do you compare all equally when some clearly have bigger budgets than others? The judges’ responses to this surprised me because each of them was unequivocal it comes down to process, innovation and outcomes. Kate Hassler said: “I really wanted to find some who did something great regardless of size of budget.” I also really like Mark’s point that was he was looking for something that somebody had tried; something that might not have done before. Charlotte was particularly looking for entries that were fun and had a visual impact.

The hardest thing about being a judge

It really isn’t easy. At all. In fact, the kudos, personal brand and exposure to the wealth of knowledge contained within the entries does not come cheap. The judges all feel the responsibility of giving every entry the same attention from the first to the last. Many spoke of the difficulty of being a first round judge because of working in isolation with no-one to discuss your thinking. Those that had done second-round judging (in-person) previously noted that discussing the entries as a group is much easier.

In summary, the judges care. And I mean they really care. About doing a good job. About the teams who’s work they are scoring. About recognising great campaigns. And about celebrating the best of our industry.

I asked everyone I spoke to the one thing people should know about being a judge. Here’s what they said:

  • Rachel: "Being a judge is a privilege and humbling."
  • Charlotte: "Try and stand out in the way you write the entry. Easy-read entries get more consideration."
  • Kate: "It comes round once a year. It doesn't take long and it is really great for team moral and personal brand. Just get your submission in."
  • Mark: "It’s hard. There is pressure. I really implore people putting the responses together to really answer the questions with brevity and clarity; the people that are reading them are people like you."
  • Faith: "It’s fair. There is the misconception that you win awards on how much money you spend. You see people winning year on year and you think hmm. That just isn't true."
  • Waheed: "There is a big commitment by the judges to ensure that every entry is fairly judged. The judges really want everyone to do well."

Next time you look to submit a piece of work for an award, remember the level of energy and commitment judges give to celebrating the best of the best. So, heed the advice from our judges and remember they are people and marketers, just like you. The judges are experienced marketers that understand the blood, sweat and fierceness that goes into the work that you do, they do every day. They are benchmarking their own work and experience against yours, being inspired by it and celebrating the best of our industry.