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How to win (or at least not lose) contests

Just got back from judging a regional press contest today – four of us had all of the multimedia and blog and general online categories. This is the third year I have helped out and a few obvious trends are apparent.

A) It is really EASY to lose a contest
B) It is not that hard to win or at least place

The ways to lose are more apparent and more fun to mention:

1) Make sure the URLs you submit actually work by the time they get to the judges. Seems simple, apparently it is not.

2) DO NOT submit URLs that the judges will need to hand-type but which consist of a string of indecipherable letters, numbers and symbols longer than the text of the Gettysburg Address. Yes http://newspaper.com/video/2008/01/03/NEWS/ELECTIONS/0,93,45,21/MULTIMEDIA/player9873645/a38409dfhd73520213473hd83463249/ver?1203946&AD=sjdfuerfhndas8837&Q=M209374/video.flv I am talking to you. Consider using bit.ly, tinyurl.com or how about making a contest page linking to all of your entries. Seriously.

3) Do submit a cover letter explaining some of the context of the project. Include some traffic metrics or ad revenue if appropriate. Since the judges are probably not familiar with the story or your market – every clue helps them make a judgement.

4) Make sure you actually have a story to tell. Hook the reader early. Tell the narrative in the fewest frames possible.

5) Doing something new and different and interesting is more likely to win than ‘the usual’ – but it still needs to be ‘good enough.’

In general – we saw a lot of nice video and slideshow projects. That is good news, and I think the multimedia entries in have doubled or tripled in the past few years.

Most of the multimedia work was of a high professional quality and some was of network TV quality. However, very little of it combined a good story, good photography and good editing. As an industry, we still have a ways to go in that respect.

Everyone has different opinions about contests in the first place. Pleasing an audience is obviously more important than winning awards. And, judges are usually a bit more cynical and well, judgemental than the average reader. But, I bet that if we were not engaged with a project within¬† 10 – 15 seconds, your audience probably wasn’t either. And after looking at 40 -50 projects today – I can tell you engagement is something almost everyone (us included) could benefit from thinking more about.