Is it ethical to outsource award writing?

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Award WinnerThis is a question I recently saw posed on a business forum. The person who posted it felt that it was somehow disingenuous to employ a professional copywriter to put award entries together. She argued that it was impersonal and could come across as too ‘marketing-speak’ rather than conveying the real stories in the company. For these reasons she felt it inappropriate for them to be written by an external person

But is it really? I don’t think so.

“You would say that!”

Well, coming from the point of view of a professional copy writer who does write quite a lot of award entries, yes I guess I would – but I can justify my position (beyond the obvious ‘because people pay me to do it!). Hear me out…

  1. Impersonal v Objective
    While the owner/manager of an organisation, or someone else employed by the company, is definitely going to know more about the business than I ever could looking in from the outside and while that gives great insight, it can also cloud judgement and cause a person to be very subjective. The reason people working IN a company often find it difficult to write about it is precisely because they are too involved. It’s much harder to define which elements a judging panel will truly see as interesting, innovative and entrepreneurial and which will only add bulk but no substance to an entry. I usually write entries for clients I’m already working with but even when I’m working on it as a standalone project, I will always speak to people within the business and listen to their stories and achievements in their own words. I can – because I am objective – usually sift out the true gems of information that I think will engage with judges.
  2. Marketing-speak v compelling, professional copy
    Marketing-speak is usually the term given to cliched copy that sounds like it’s been taken directly from a sales brochure or presentation. Actually, you often find that award entries written by people who are not accustomed to writing includes exactly this because they’ve lifted bits of information from various sources which can result in a bit of a patchwork quilt of copy that doesn’t have a single ‘voice’. Award entries shouldn’t be written like your sales brochure but it should be compelling and it should showcase your strengths. A professional copywriter will craft that copy so that it does this in a tone that is appropriate to the award (they are all different).
  3.  “I wanna tell you a story”
    Judging panels love love love a story. Nothing quite captures their imagination like a rags to riches, challenging adversity, learning by your mistakes, hitting upon a genius idea, entrepreneurial story. While these stories can only come from within the company, it often takes an external (again, objective) person to recognise the pertinent ones. The ones that really demonstrate what you’ve achieved and provide a hook to hang your pitch around. You’d be surprised how many people don’t realise the truly valuable tales. Those off-the-cuff asides during conversations often turn out to be the really interesting points that get your entry noticed.
  4. Award writing know-how
    Award writing is a skill. The more you enter, the more you get to know how they work. You need to ensure you’ve met every criterion and understand what they’re looking for. You need to make clear points in a succinct way because word count matters – too short and you haven’t provided enough substance, too long and you risk being disregarded without even being read: do you know how many they go through? You have to make your points clearly and quickly. You need to hit the right tone – some are quite informal, others are very corporate. Some demand exact facts and figures, some want more qualitative information. All are looking for somebody to stand out. For a person within a company writing 1 or 2 entries a year this is hard work. For a professional writing entries regularly across a range of sectors, it’s second nature.

A word of warning

While I’m obviously making the case for outsourcing your award writing, make sure you use someone you trust and takes the time to get to know about your business. Some can just churn them out and become lazy, re-purposing content from other clients and other entries. If you don’t feel the copy reflects your business and your values, it’s counter productive.

Though an ‘outsider’ is writing on your behalf, you should still be very much a part of the process so that their writing and marketing skills and your knowledge and insight into the business combine to create a killer entry.

Why enter awards?

Apart from it being a great ego boost and recognition of your success, winning or even getting shortlisted for an award not only helps you achieve great PR and exposure, it demonstrates to customers that you’re doing things right and have an edge on competitors. It also gives you chance to get dressed up and go to a swanky dinner! This year my client, Janine Dutton from Belle Lingerie won the Bradford Means Business Business Woman of the Year award and has been shortlisted in the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business awards. Previous successful entries have included New Vision winning the Bradford Means Business Innovation award, 3Style Kitchens winning Garden and Home Retailer in the Wakefield Retail Awards, MonitorGO being selected as a Theo Paphitis SBS business and RTR UK Ltd winning Business of the Year at the Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce Business Awards. All gained considerable benefits from their wins.


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