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Award Winning Advice: The Art of Crafting a Winning Award Submission

You met – and exceeded – client goals. Your design was exceptional. Your project team deserves to be recognized for its quality work. With AEC award season approaching, it is time to prepare award submissions to highlight your firm’s expertise and project successes. Where do you begin?

Award programs run the gamut, ranging from product-focused to innovative design, in all genres and vertical markets, and from simple, straightforward entries to complex, multi-step submissions. Just like no two project proposals are the same, award programs also call for a range of information and materials.

Make the Go/No Go Decision

Your first step should be researching award programs applicable to your firm and current projects. Carefully review the requirements before you make a Go/No Go decision. Does your project match the criteria? Will you have enough time and the correct supporting materials to successfully complete a submission? It’s helpful to review past years’ award winners to get a sense of what the judges are looking for: can you deliver a submission of that caliber? If not, it might be wise to pass and consider other awards.

Assemble a Team

When you have decided to pursue a particular award program, assemble a team to collaborate on the submission. Your team went after the project, won it, and completed it together, and now should earn accolades together. Assign the various written and graphic design requirements to different team members, with clear deadlines for completing these tasks. Allow ample time to compile and review the pieces and confirm that all criteria have been met. Be sure to build in enough time to get client approval on the completed submission, so work as far out as possible.

Review Submission Requirements

Award programs often have very specific requirements for written responses, photos, and videos. Typically, there are stringent word counts, and sometimes font size and margin restrictions. Monitor for deadlines. Some programs require you to register your intent to submit while others give separate due dates for supporting materials. The key to crafting a winning submission is telling the story of your successful project while scrupulously adhering to the precise directions and deadlines.

Create a Blank Submission Form

To help you organize the many requirements, create a blank submission form that will allow you to work offline as you prepare your entry. Compose a Word document that lists each question you must answer and makes note of any word count limits or specific requirements. This allows you to keep track of every requirement and work at your own pace on each section. Submissions typically require a project description, client goals, project challenges and solutions, team approach, and design concept details. Some design awards ask for an inventory of materials and products used. The goal is to be as clear and detailed as possible within your word count constraints.

Previous winning entries are often available as examples. Research past winners and use their submissions as a style and content guideline for how you should craft yours.

Finally, check with the award organization if there’s a question you can’t answer. Many clients prefer to withhold project cost, and organizations understand the confidentiality of that. You can still submit a project for an award while withholding sensitive information.

Plan Graphic Design Components

Award submissions are usually comprised of project text and accompanying photos, video, and other design images such as floor plans or site plans. In the past, project videos featuring client testimonials were optional pieces. Now, most submissions require this supporting component. Read the criteria carefully as they often have specific rules that determine the quality, size, and number of photos or length of video. Some programs require all photography to be captioned and provided in a specific order. It is helpful to include a checklist of required deliverables on your blank submission form.

Submitting Your Entry

After your team has assembled the submission, seek client approval (if needed) and circulate internally to double and triple check that all requirements have been met before you submit your entry. Most award programs utilize online submission forms. Keep in mind that they often time out, so frequently save your work. Some allow you to save the submission mid-completion and return at a later date to finalize. With a completed working submission form, the online submittal process will be much quicker and smoother for you.

Small omissions can disqualify an award submission. It is crucial to answer all sections, provide supporting materials in the requested format, and submit any entry fees by deadline. If you miss a deadline or need to edit your entry, contact the award committee and explain the omission or edit. It is sometimes possible to alter your submission.

SMPS Boston is hosting a program for you to hear directly from judges and past SMPS Boston award winners on what the judges are looking for, plus learn tips and tricks for making your award submission stand out from the rest. Held on Wednesday, February 15 at the UMass Club in Boston, the two-part program begins with a panelist of judges discussing their vast array of design experience, followed by round table discussions with some of SMPS Boston’s most prestigious multi-award winners. Learn more details and register for this great event!

Use the prestige and honor of winning an award as the motivation for completing your submission. The time devoted to crafting award submissions is worth the investment when your project receives much-deserved accolades. Good luck this award season!

Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM


Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations, a full-service PR and marketing agency focused on meeting the unique needs of professional services firms. Rhino PR offers customized services based on each individual client’s goals and budget. Susan received the 2016 SMPS Boston Marketing Professional of the Year Award, which honors marketing excellence in the A/E/C industry. Follow her @RhinoPRBoston or visit for more information about how Rhino PR can help you take charge of your PR.

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