Never judge a contest by its cover

Last month I had the honor of judging entries from the American Advertising Federation – Great Lakes Bay Region (AAF-GLBR) for their upcoming ADDY awards, which is the first step to a national award.

This was my first time judging and it was a fun, eye-opening experience. I learned quite a bit and wanted to share some random bits and pieces from the day.

  1. Judging is hard. In this type of competition, you run into some entries that clearly had a large budget and some that had a very small budget. How can you compare something professionally printed on high-quality paper versus something printed on a home printer? There are so many factors to consider, like how well the campaign was executed and how creatively they worked within their budget. I had to strip away the bleeding-heart element at times to fairly judge a piece – and that was not fun.
  2. Judging is so subjective. There were three judges with three different perspectives. I may have scored something highly because they used the color green and we all know how much I love that color. But another judge may hate the color green and scored the same piece lower. Now I have a better understanding for when I submit work and know not to take anything personal.
  3. A small market can produce big work. Just because you work in a smaller market doesn’t mean your work is small. I saw pieces and campaigns throughout the day that could easily compete on a national level. Don’t ever underestimate a market based on size or location.
  4. Don’t let the piece dictate your work. One of my favorites was a corporate standards brochure. The brochure had a die-cut on the front, nice paper and engaging content. When was the last time anyone was excited about corporate standards? That piece changed the conversation and was a good reminder that just because the project sounds boring doesn’t mean the execution has to be.
  5. Nonprofits rule! Some of my favorite pieces of the day came from nonprofits. They traditionally have zero to small budgets and little marketing experience. Their materials proved where there’s a will, there’s a way.
  6. Judge’s fatigue happens. There were some entries submitted in multiple categories. And to be frank, I got tired of seeing the same piece over and over again. Be careful and considerate with your entries.

Competitions are a great way to show off your work and reenergize yourself. Enter contests (or judge one) to make your work better, so long as you expect to accept some criticism.

I left the day feeling inspired by the work I had seen and excited to share with my co-workers. Thanks again to the AAF-GLBR for allowing me to spend a day in your market. And good luck to all who entered their local ADDY awards!

Nadia Zerka is a past ADDY award winner and looks forward to attending the AAF – Greater Flint ADDY award ceremony on February 24, 2017.

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