What’s The Secret Formula for Winning Awards?

It’s awards season again and businesses of all shapes and sizes are launching themselves into the spotlight to bring home the trophies! 

Thanks to Startups magazine, our PR Director, Gaby Jesson shares her top tips for startups to secure the recognition they deserve.

As a startup founder, it's worth knowing the awards landscape has  transformed itself. No longer the private preserve of big business with mega budgets and huge hospitality accounts, awards are now more accessible and open to businesses of all sizes - some are free, many are low cost. In fact, thanks to awards like Startups Magazine Hustle Awards, there are plenty more opportunities to showcase Founders, Startups and SMEs.

But let’s be honest. Researching and writing awards takes a heap of  time. For a busy founder or small team, it definitely impacts workload -  so it’s got to work as an ROI. Not every award is worth entering! Grub Club - a new insect-based dog food - recently became the Grand Prize Winner of the  SKY TV Zero Footprint Fund competition, designed to spotlight and reward the best sustainable startups. 

Alessandro di Trapani, Grub Club Co-Founder advises being super selective about where you allocate your time. “Ask your network or your professional advisors for guidance on which awards are worth gunning for in terms of value and ROI”:

So why  invest the time or money? Aren’t awards and accolades just vanity projects? 

Well, I hope that some of these reasons will convince you - awards are definitely worth the effort!

According to research shared by Business.com, winning an award is proven to  increase business sales growth. In fact, on average an award delivers 37% more business growth potential.

What’s more, receiving an award and sharing that achievement will reinforce positive customer opinions about your company and enhance your status. In turn helping maintain current custom and grow new prospects. Awards and quality marks can boost your organization's reputation and visibility - setting you apart and above your competitors.  

Awards can also give a morale boost to your team. In effect, securing an award is about highlighting their achievements which can generate  team  cohesion, pride and ultimately loyalty too. Being recognised by Glamour magazine as one of the health, fitness and wellness products of the year “was a much needed cause for celebration in the office last week”, says Lottie Whyte, co-Founder of Myomaster- a sports recovery device.

Winning awards that champion your work culture and how well you support your team’s wellbeing are highly relevant for attracting talent- especially in this competitive climate - and when times are tough! 

Often awards are designed or sponsored by  a magazine or publisher, which in turn deliver positive PR coverage. These articles and profiles can then be re-shared across all of your marketing channels - from your website to Linkedin, newsletters and pitch decks. So winning an award can be a highly cost effective form of marketing.

And remember - one award submission can be cut multiple ways for a whole bunch of different awards.. So once your first entry is done  and that foundational content is written, - there’s many more awards to be entered - with only half the work involved.

Finally, award events come with new connections and networking opportunities - not to mention a rewarding night out for your team.  So really what’s not to like?

If this all sounds compelling, now you need to know how to win one!

Top 5 Tips for Winning Awards:


It's a basic lesson but often overlooked. Take time to read through the judge’s tips. These are often shared in blogs or videos. Judges repeatedly appeal to award entrants to make their judging life as easy as possible. Imagine wading through hundreds of entries and trying to shortlist the most compelling. 

In essence, clearly written entries that are interesting to read and flow easily from objectives to tactics to results - all with relevant supporting data and visual illustrations  come high on their list of recommendations.

Use a content structure that’s simple for judges to digest and easy to follow. Paragraphs and bullet points, italics and bold/light contrasts are really useful to help break up large amounts of text.

Most award entries are usually a variation of the same formula: a brief background (what the business does), objectives, strategy, tactics and results, linking back to objectives at the end by way of an executive summary. 

I find it’s useful to dump all the data you have into one place. Just pour in all the information you think is important to include. Then you can edit,  re-shape and refine the priorities, format, flow and structure in your final end edit.

And don’t forget! Read and follow the structure provided by the  award entry form. Often each box is allocated a fixed set of points, so it’s important to understand the value of those content boxes!

Occasionally pitching for awards takes place in a face to face setting. That’s when getting your business story sharp and attention grabbing is key. 

Grub Club Co-Founder Alessandro Di Trapani, believed they grabbed the Sky TV grand prize because the team had drilled down on the judging criteria and curated a business story that was relatable and connected to human emotion.

“I would say to other founders, be laser focused on what the criteria is for winning. Be really clear in terms of what judges or investors are looking for and ultimately remember that people engage with people (and dogs!) - not just their products


Once you’ve completed your entry. Read it back - out loud! How does it sound? Do YOU  think it makes an interesting read? Share with a colleague for that honest feedback. Does each section flow seamlessly to the next section? 

Yep, it all sounds a bit like going back to school…. learning how to write essays again. But once you get the vital ingredients right - you’ve got a recipe for success.

Data and insights are really valuable in award submissions. Ask yourself - what research insights helped inform your strategy - and what data helped you evaluate success? As much as possible, look at the success criteria in terms of growth figures and financial achievements or at least, share data that shows transformation and impact. And always align results with the objectives!


Although some awards recommend not spending  time making attractive supporting presentation materials,  I would say the opposite! Attractive supporting materials! are not hard to make and could simply be data graphics or visual flow charts showing impact in a clear way. You don’t have to employ expensive graphic design support but as the saying goes, pictures tell 1000 words!


If you can use video and it’s relevant for supporting your submission - then definitely add this as supporting material. I recently submitted a Company Culture award which won gold. It certainly helped having a video that shared the team’s voices, all independently endorsing the positive culture of the business.

Paul Finch, Co-Founder of Growth Studio is  a judge for the annual Smiley Movement Charity Film Awards. He  says the power of  visual storytelling trumps the power of words every time, as long as creativity is in play. “I am drawn to entries that disrupt convention,” he explains. “The films that take a different route. Using unexpected content or even comedic effect. In my view, these are the ones that have the best chance of connecting with their audience”.


Even if you don’t win this time,  find out who won and learn what makes a winning award entry. That way you can prepare all the necessary ingredients for a winning entry next time.

Whether you are entering to spotlight a new product innovation, marketing campaign or business culture - it’s worth knowing at the outset, what looks like a likely award winner and build that into the work you are doing now.

It makes life so much easier for any future award, if you gather all the necessary data, as you go along. Doing this preparation work helps everyone remain tied to one singular impact driven goal. With brand or marketing awards, this will help you or your team design the best campaign with the utmost creativity.  

Good luck!

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About The Author

Gaby Jesson
Gaby Jesson

Gaby has worked in PR and marketing communications for over 15 years and her scope of work includes B2B and B2C across agencies, in-house and consultancy. Gaby runs her own agency, The Prospect Society and is also Head of PR and Partnerships at Growth Studio.

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