UK Cloud Awards - how to write a winning entry

Several people have asked for guidance as to why their companies didn’t win a project and/or product prize at the UK Cloud Awards.

We had a lot of entries and it’s impossible to remember all the discussions or to repeat all the notes that were made on some of the entries, but I thought I could set out some guidelines that may help companies get things right in future:

1) Read the entry conditions Think back to your schooldays and how you were exhorted to read the question thoroughly: If we say that the product should have been released between Jan 2013 and Jan 2014, then that’s what we’re looking for – if it was released two, three or four years ago, it’s not going to get in. Similarly, if it’s not a cloud service or if it’s not available in the UK, then it’s not going to pass muster either. We rejected entries for all the above reasons.

2) Don’t submit duplicate entries We were happy for companies to submit entries for more than one category. Sometimes it was hard to judge which of two categories it belonged to and we could consider either. That wasn’t carte blanche to enter the same product in four or five categories and it certainly wasn’t the go-ahead to produce exactly the same entry in different categories: if it is going to be entered twice, then make the entries different.

3) Don’t use jargon I wouldn’t say the judges got around to playing buzzword bingo, but they certainly noticed when an entry was stuffed full of marketing speak. Use simple language to explain what the product does and why it’s better than anything else. And don’t just rehash material from the website or marketing brochures – that doesn’t really tell us anything.

4) Business benefits Jane Rimmer (who wrote the winning entry for Databarracks) has some excellent advice on how to write a winning entry. “For me to write eloquently about the product, project or service, I first have to really understand the benefits it has delivered to the customer”. Anyone writing an awards entry should have these words emblazoned on his or her forearm. The UK Cloud Awards are all about business benefits: yes, we like technological excellence, but it means nothing if it doesn’t deliver results for the customer. Too many entries that we read didn’t understand this simple rule. Similarly, for projects, there were a few that didn’t really set out what the aim of a project was. Most were spot on, but there were some that talked too much about the technology and not about the aims.

5) Make it easy for the judges We read a lot of entries (an awful lot of entries) in a short space of time: what really helps is a short paragraph setting out the benefits (see above) and why the product is different. If this is included from the outset, it really helps the judges.

6) What went wrong This is for project awards only. No major project ever proceeds absolutely smoothly without any hiccups, yet too many entries pretend that it did. The winner in the best public sector project, UCAS, had several setbacks but the entry set out quite clearly what they were and how the organisation had reacted. It made the project real for the judges and made the entry stand out.

7) Entries are best from external providers If you’re writing about a product, the entry sounds many, many times better coming from a customer. If you’re writing about the work done by a service provider, then, again, the customer’s words will carry more clout. If you’re providing an internal entry, then make sure that there are plenty of quotes from customers that set out exactly why the product was appropriate.

8)Don’t be sparse on detail There were several entries where the judges said something like “This could be great, I wish we had more detail on it; I suspect this is a really great product/project”. We gave word counts so work with them: work within those limits and give plenty of detail – don’t leave the judges guessing.

9) Use supporting information Your product got a great write-up from Gartner/Forrester? Great, include that. You got a fantastic review from PC Pro/PC World/Network Week? Let’s hear about it. You’ve won other awards? Tell us all. The judges are pretty knowledgeable about the industry but any external, impartial (don’t include sponsored copy) material helps.

10) Be realistic You may have followed all of the above guidelines and still not won or been shortlisted. Bad luck but these were competitive awards. Most of the entries are pretty decent and competition was tough. You could be up against 20, maybe 25 decent entries and it’s hard to make an impact when there’s so much competition. You may well have followed all these rules, but there will be 20 other companies that have done the same. And remember, everything is on the whim of the judges – we’re all impartial but we’re humans, with our own prejudices, likes, foibles and quirks. One judge may like you, another hate you – there’s no legislating for human nature.