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B2B insights

Behind the scenes at the B2B Marketing Awards

For those brave enough to submit, awards season is both a nerve-wracking and exciting time. The winners can enjoy recognition not only for the work they put into their campaigns but their submissions too. That said, let’s not forget about the unsung heroes who you are ultimately looking to impress: the judges of the B2B Marketing Awards. I caught up with a few judges to get the inside track on scoring, submission crimes and choosing winners.

My first observation was the judges feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to give each submission the consideration it deserves. As Sarah Roberts told me: “You think it’s going to be black and white, but it’s often grey. You know how much blood, sweat and toil has gone into [the work] … and all that boils down into one submission.” Without exception, the judges overshot the time guidance B2B Marketing provided them by hours. As they each found their rhythm scoring the submissions, they revisited earlier work to ensure parity in their approach. Vanessa Rae even created an Excel table to keep track and ensure her system was fair.

This year, my mission was to get the answers to three burning questions:

1. Can you win the Grand Prix awards with the smallest budget?
2. What makes a great submission, and what are your submission crimes?
3. If you are asked, why should you join the judging panel?

Can you win the Grand Prix award with the smallest budget?

“Absolutely!” was the resounding response. When I started writing this, I couldn’t help but have a wry smile. I could almost hear the collective groan of readers. We’ve all seen the big shiny campaigns that had monstrous budgets to do big out-of-home campaigns, sponsor a sports team, create a virtual world or, dare I say it, paint a plane. I put this to every judge, and the responses were exciting.

“I would argue it has to be yes because that is the reality for B2B,” Jill Murray told me. However, Wiebke Macrae was keen to point out: “Budget is not a limiting factor for creative thinking.”

According to this cohort of judges, it’s all about the return on investment. The reality for most of us in B2B is big budgets aren’t the norm, and so the judges place far more stock in honing in on a customer challenge, taking those insights and building a campaign around them to drive quantifiable growth. Every judge said their first port of call when reviewing a submission was to look at the return on investment, not the budget, and creative came after.

Not that the creative isn’t important, but I doubt any of us can disagree that in B2B we’re not judged on how great our campaigns look. Neill Emmett summed it up well when he said, “Absolutely, it’s not about the budget. It’s about the strategic and creative thinking. Was it customer centric? Did the purpose run through the campaign like a golden thread, and did it solve a business challenge?”

What makes a great submission and what are the submission crimes?

There was so much to unpack from the judges here, including some face-palm moments. At times I cringed at the examples, sometimes I let out an incredulous laugh. Instead of looking at what works well, I’ll focus on the crimes. Then we can avoid these and ensure submission-greatness all round!

1. “Spelling mistakes and grammar. Just get someone to check it!” said Kirsty Bedingfield. Seems a bit obvious, but it seemingly happens.

2. “You are not talking to a single judge. Write as if you are talking to the layman on the street,” was Sarah Parry’s advice. Chances are many of the judges reviewing your submission are not in your category and do not know the benchmarks, jargon or acronyms.

3. “No examples or visuals”, said Jill Murray. The written form of the submissions are often very dense with information and using multiple formats like video and images brings your campaign to life.

4. John Watton noted, “Whether you are taking a creative approach or a scientific approach, it must be founded in data. It’s frustrating when the metrics are not clear, or the wrong metrics are used to measure success.”

5. “Show how your campaign had strong alignment with your businesses objectives,” insisted Neill Emmett. It was surprising to me how many of the judges mentioned the submissions containing campaign metrics didn’t include how they’d contributed to solving a business challenge.

6. Fill in all the information requested on the submission. “You have to follow the submission criteria. You can only judge what is in front of you,” said James Foster. Many of the judges mentioned that some submissions didn’t include all the requested information. So don’t leave anything out.

7. Tell a story. Show the journey from business objective, to insight, to creative, to campaign, and finish up with the resulting ROI. “The submissions that were the easiest to judge are put together in a way that tells a story, and all the pieces linked together. There were a lot that jumped around and didn’t quite have the whole story,” explained Sarah Roberts.

8. Tailor your submission to the category. “Read the criteria for each award carefully and make sure you tailor each submission for every category,” advised Caroline Gyte. “It may sound really obvious but you’d be amazed by how many entries either don’t hit the criteria for the category or are copied and pasted from another category. Many of the judges work across multiple categories, and when they come across the same campaign, they expect to see adjustments that meet the specific requirements.

9. Be economical with your writing. As hard as that may be, you have to remember the judges often have 20+ submissions to review. If they have to work hard to read your submission, you may lose them. “Sometimes the descriptions were so wordy and long they felt like half a book. By the time I got to the end, I forgot what the product was,” said Wiebke Macrae.

With all that said, the judges try to look past foibles to give each submission justice. Even the good ones! “You can get swept away with how well some of the submissions are crafted. You have to take a step back and understand what they are trying to tell you,” Nicola Nicholson added.

Why should you become a B2B Marketing awards judge?

When speaking with the judges, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride for the B2B marketing community. The judges saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community. Let’s face it, B2B marketing has historically been a niche calling. Few went to university looking for a B2B marketing degree. But the industry today is far from what it was a decade ago. Each year seems to bring an evolution of skills, creativity and innovation, resulting in work closer in quality to our B2C counterparts. In my view we’ll surpass them in the near future. One of my favourite quotes is from John Watton: “There has been no golden era of B2B Marketing; this is the Golden era of B2B Marketing.”

In addition, being a judge means you get a ring-side seat to today’s innovations. You get to see what other marketers in adjacent verticals are doing and expand your own education even further. As marketers, we’re all too often trapped in our own vertical echo chamber.

As a judge, you enjoy the opportunity to connect with like-minded marketers and expand your own network. To be invited is also an acknowledgement of your own experience and contribution to driving our industry forward. For this year’s cohort, the time commitment was by far outweighed by what they got in return. It was a no-brainer.

Thank you to the judges who contributed to this article. Congratulations to everyone who was shortlisted and this year’s winners! We must not forget those who submitted their work and did not make it through. The calibre was high this year by all accounts, your work gave the judges pause and made their job very hard.

Bring on another year of the “Golden era of B2B Marketing”.

Want to check out the gold winners from the B2B Marketing Awards? Sign up to Propolis and you can get the inside scoop behind all the winning entries.

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