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And the Winner is…Project Management for Award Submittals

It’s “awards season” in the AEC industry, the time of year when firms eagerly nominate clients for leadership awards and submit projects to prestigious award programs for design accolades. Award programs run the gamut, from product-focused to innovative design, in all genres and vertical markets, and from simple, online entries to complex, multi-step submissions. Just as no two project proposals are the same, award programs often require a particular set of materials or customized information. When a “call for entries” is announced, be ready to bring your “A” game in project management to smooth the submission process for everyone.

Make a Go/No Go Decision

Before committing the time and resources to preparing an entry, thoroughly evaluate an award program to be sure it’s the right fit for your firm or project. Does the project match the criteria and meet the requirements? Does the person you’re nominating qualify in all the judging categories? Will your team have enough time, project information, and supporting materials to successfully complete a submission? Determine if the entry requires an online form or a designed submission in PDF format. 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.

Map out a game plan

With the decision to pursue a particular award program, create a schedule and determine the content and resources needed to get it done. This is the crux of project management for award submittals, requiring a strong attention to detail and organization of contributed information. The key to crafting a winning submission is telling a compelling story of a successful project while scrupulously adhering to the precise directions and deadlines in the call for entries. Enlist the help of other project team firms to provide descriptions of their work on the project, and set clear deadlines for completing these tasks. Check the award criteria carefully for requirements such as floor plans, photography, video, reference letters, or supporting documentation such as client testimonials, press releases, and articles. It can take some time to pull these materials together, so build that time into the schedule.

Preparing the submission

Award programs often have very specific criteria for winning projects, and require detailed written responses in the submission package. Online form submissions typically have strict word counts, while emailed packages may have font size, margin, and file restrictions. Award submittals will likely require a project description, client goals, project challenges and solutions, team approach, and unique project aspects. Some design awards ask for an inventory of materials and products used. The goal is to be as clear and detailed as possible within the word count constraints.

To organize the information and work offline as you prepare the entry, create a blank submission form in a Word document. Include all required questions and data fields, and note any word count limits or specific criteria for the responses. The form is a helpful tool to compile information by question, write the entry, and circulate it to the client and project team for review and approval before final submission.

Manage the process

It can be challenging for consultants to find the time to write a reference letter or design description for an award submission. For many people, writing is a time-consuming process. As the project manager, offer to interview people and gather information to write the project narrative, photo captions, and reference letters for their review and approval. If contributing the information is a roadblock for them, make it easier by setting up a call so people can discuss the questions and answers. Talking out their responses can also help to solidify the overall project story you’re trying to tell.

Monitor for and communicate all deadlines to people contributing content. Make note if an award program requires registration and payment for the entry by a date ahead of the deadline for submission. Allow ample time to compile all the materials and secure client approval on the submission, if needed. TIP: It is helpful to maintain a checklist of required deliverables on the working submission form.

While it can take some time and effort to prepare an award submission, effective project management can streamline the process for all involved. The time devoted to crafting an award submission is worth the investment when your project receives that much-deserved accolade.


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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