Alan Lakey: What I look for when judging awards

'Be truthful, be interesting and try to stand apart from the other entrants'

Alan Lakey, director, CIExpert

Alan Lakey, director, CIExpert

COVER awards judge and CIExpert director on shortlisted award submission dos and don’ts

I've judged at numerous COVER awards which, overall, provides a very enjoyable experience yet I continue to be amazed at the varying quality of the entries.

Many are succinct, crammed with assistive information and providing tremendous illustrations of prowess and capability. Unfortunately, some others can be dreary, annoying or infuriating. Below are a few of the irritants that always seem to creep into the shortlisted offerings.

Badly written - and grammatically bad and inept

Reading poor entries can occasionally create an element of amusement. However this is tempered by the knowledge that the entrant has limited communication skills which reflects badly on the organisation that deemed them competent to create a winning entry. 

There are certain annoyances that are guaranteed to raise my ire - something described as ‘very unique', or ‘effected by' and the use of ‘loose' when the author really means ‘lose'. Locating a capable person to proof read the entry would appear to be an essential step for all firms.

Clichéd phrases

Am I alone in reaching for the sick bucket when reading that an organisation has carried out a "deep dive into data", or maybe experienced a "water cooler moment", underwent a "brain-storming" session or has possibly favoured "blue sky thinking"? These and other banalities lost their impact ages ago and are deserving of nothing but opprobrium. Maybe blue-sky thinking would be okay if it resulted in the writer turbo-charging his entry and parachuting in some inspired phraseology and lucid prose.


Judges are often required to read well over 50 entries and frequently we are served up a solid block of text devoid of any element of formatting. Not only does the sight of such an entry send a chill through the heart but it's also hard reading that is sure to be reflected in the resultant scores.

Just as bad is the entry that bores. Writing can be inventive, inspiring or amusing and judges naturally react favourably to the rare gem, particularly if they have dragged their eyes across a host of dull or sleep-inducing documents. Oh, and one other matter, please don't commence the entry by telling us how proud you are to be shortlisted, we know.

Reading like an advertorial

Whilst statistics and proof of success are encouraged the entry should not read as an advertorial or a technical document. Listing reams of facts in a staccato frenzy fails to delight judges who require a solid rationale for selecting a winner.

Failing to meet the entry requirements

Sometimes it seems as if the author has forgotten which category he or she is entering. We sometimes see an entry providing a list of plan benefits when the criteria actually calls for examples of marketing expertise or customer service. This immediately eliminates the entry regardless of the content or quality of the writing.

Finally, the entry requirements stipulate the time-frame which, as an example, might say the year up till June. Those entries that wind the clock back months or years claiming past glories as recent initiatives have stubbed their toe and fallen before the final hurdle.


Be truthful, be interesting and try to stand apart from the other entrants. Read the entry back to yourself and be honest - is it boring, is it full of puff and bluster, does it flow? Is it overly technical and monotonous and/or overflowing with statistics and lists? Ask yourself, "would I award this entry the prize"?

Alan Lakey is director of CIExpert

Check out the provider shortlist for the COVER Excellence Awards 2020

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