Third party verification. It’s a continuous pursuit for professional services firms.

They seek testimonials and referrals from clients who recognize their great work. But for many, nothing is as gratifying as winning an award from a valued association. Professionals display these gleaming plaques and trophies for years as a constant reminder of their project’s success. The challenge, of course, is preparing successful award submittals for architecture, engineering, planning and construction firms.

Eight-Step Process Following this eight-step process will help you win awards and reduce headaches along the way. And even if the project doesn’t get the top prize, the content and graphics can be repurposed in many ways to successfully promote a firm’s brand. During my many years working at a professional services firm, I helped obtain 40 awards over a ten-year period. (Pictured is the award-winning State Street/Library Mall project in Madison, Wisconsin.) My goal is to share what I’ve learned to help you streamline this sometimes-complex process. Like most projects, planning is key. Follow my roadmap and then relax once you’ve submitted your entry.

Seek Buy-In Before you proceed with an award, make sure you have proper management approvals. Even if fees are minimal, award submittals require a time commitment from both technical and marketing staff. Managers also may have to decide which project to submit in a category. Multiple project managers may believe that their projects deserve an entry. If a conflict arises, consider delaying one project for a year, if rules allow, or submit the same project for another related award. Companies typically don’t want to compete against themselves in the same project category. And, of course, the client should agree to the submittal.  Some clients even push for an award submittal because they’re so happy with a project outcome. And in most cases, they’ll also receive a plaque, if the project receives an award.

Planning Ideally, professional services firms have determined their award plans for the year. If not, now’s the time to select projects to submit and the staff who will work on them. The next step is to schedule an initial meeting with at least one marketing representative and the project manager or designated professional. In preparation for this meeting, the marketing professional should review the award requirements and available project information, photos and graphics. What’s missing? During the initial meeting, participants can allocate responsibilities and establish realistic deadlines. Further research may be required to fulfill award requirements. Establish deadlines for writing drafts, initial review, graphic design and 90% review by at least one manager. Don’t forget the following:

  • Client letters of recommendation – get these early
  • Flash drives or notebooks for award entries
  • Award entry payment
  • Management signatures on forms or approval to use e-signatures

Photography/Graphics How will you tell your award story? Do you have sufficient photos and graphics of the project and supporting data? If not, how will you obtain the graphics or photos? Who will handle these tasks? Consider the following options:

  • In-house photographer, videographer or graphic designer
  • External photographer, videographer or graphic designer
  • Drone photographer

If you need photos, obtain client permission. You may decide to schedule a photographer and videographer at the same time for the award entry and future public relations purposes. Encourage them to coordinate efforts. They may wish to visit the site before the official photo/video shoot. If it’s an outside shoot, they’ll need the flexibility to deal with weather conditions and move dates, if needed. Inform all parties of your intent to avoid surprises. Here are some other key factors to consider:

  • When is the best time of day to take photos?
  • Will your drone operator need special permission from a nearby airport or another facility?
  • What kind of lighting is desired for an evening/night shot?
  • If people are in the shots, photo/video releases are needed.
  • Will a staff person accompany the photographer to give direction?

Supplemental Information Encourage project managers and marketing personnel to save news releases and YouTube videos of project-related pieces. Links can quickly disappear. Most award entries benefit from “before,” “construction,” and “after” photos. Ideally, photos show the same site before and after construction. And make sure staff takes key project photos at a high resolution. It’s always disappointing to view a great photo saved at a low resolution. For an award document, it may not be possible to enlarge it without losing quality.

Drafts Once you’ve prepared a good draft, who needs to see it? Depending on the award, the project manager, his or her manager, and the marketing manager/director may all wish to participate. Build review time into the schedule. Some managers may only want to see the award entry after it’s designed and ready to be submitted. Others will want to get involved after an initial draft is prepared and before the design stage. Know preferences early in the process.

Submittal/Delivery Your due date for an award should be at least one day, if not more, before the official deadline. You’ll want to receive confirmation that the award entry was received. Don’t wait until the last minute and face technical difficulties or other delivery issues. You’ll sleep better at night.

Repurpose Content Now that the award is submitted, it’s time to repurpose that content. You may not be able to announce a victory for weeks or even months, but you still can take advantage of new or improved content and photos. Update the following:

  • Photo files, website, project sheets and case studies
  • Team resumes
  • Testimonials

If you haven’t done so already, prepare a press release and social media posts. Decide which media should get it. You can add the award details once the association announces the results. Schedule a blog post after the award announcement that highlights the project in some way. Include your best project photos to help tell the story.

Celebrate After the award announcement, congratulate the project manager, who now must decide where to display his or her new plaque. And don’t forget to recognize the marketing team that helped prepare the award submittal. (As the pictured Northern Shovelers demonstrate, a group benefits from the talents of different individuals working together in harmony.) Even if you didn’t win the top prize, it’s still time to celebrate your project’s recognition. Perhaps the entry didn’t earn Best of State or some other top award. Many associations recognize a few projects in each category. What’s important for your clients and prospects is that an organization made of up professionals in your field commended your efforts. This recognition provides third-party verification that your firm does quality work. Follow this eight-step process, and your company will be a winner, no matter what the award outcome.

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