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Mar 07, 2006
How To

Head Judge Reveals 7 Tips to Increase Your Chance of Winning a 2006 ECHO Award

SUMMARY: If you want to be recognized as a results-driven genius in the direct marketing industry, you need an ECHO on your mantle. In our exclusive interview updated for 2006, head judge Sid Liebenson reveals his top seven tips to bring your entry closer to the winner's circle.
If you're a direct marketer, winning a DMA ECHO Award is a lot like winning the Oscars. We asked the Chairman of the International ECHO Awards Committee what factors will make your entry rise to the top.

"What we're looking for is the whole package," says Sid Liebenson, EVP/Director of Marketing of Draft. "To win an ECHO you have to have great strategic thinking, display marketing and creative innovation, and show evidence of breakthrough results. We're looking for the "wow" factor -- not just a solid execution of something everyone has done."

Judging is based on creative, execution, and results, in equal parts. "If you have pretty cool creative but no results to share, don't enter," Liebenson warns.

Here are seven more critical tips:

-> Tip #1. Start early

Although the deadline is April 24th, 2006, there are good reasons to start early. First, clients must approve the entry, and that can take ages -- particularly when you suddenly learn that key people are on vacation, sick, or traveling. (It's inevitable.)

You'll also want to spend the time gathering the most accurate, extensive results possible, as your results information is a key ingredient in the judging process.

Finally, the best entries come when marketing and creative work together on the entry form -- and you know how long *that* can take...

-> Tip #2. Spelling and grammar count (math, too)

We know you hate to hear it, but spelling and grammar count. "You don't want to look stupid," Liebenson says. The DMA maintains archives of winning entries, so poorly written entries make you look bad for years to come.

Bad math is also a pet peeve of judges. He's seen entries, for example, that made a claim such as: "This campaign got a 4% response this year, as opposed to a 2% response last year, so we got a 2% increase." "No, you didn't," says Liebenson. "You got a 100% increase."

6 more tips on copywriting a strong entry form:

--Write it as an interesting story, as though the campaign is the most fascinating one you've ever developed and the judges should see it that way, too.

--Don't leave anything blank -- be clear and concise - and use only the space provided (no extra points for weight).

--Don't go acronym overboard.

--Avoid oodles of adjectives. "Maybe you did get an 'amazing 4% response,' but let that be the only adjective."

--Avoid all mention of the agency name. Judging is supposed to be blind.

-> Tip #3. Keep hotlinks live until August 2006

Unlike some other awards, the ECHO judges want actual, live samples. That means if you're entering something that's three-dimensional, you'll send an actual sample instead of an electronic photograph.

It also means that if you're entering electronic media, your Web site should be live, and it should continue live -- exactly the same as it was when you entered it -- until August.

"You can't just send a screenshot if it's a Web site you're entering," Liebenson says. "We want to see the entry in the way that the consumer would be seeing it. First round of judging takes place in May, and by the third round of judging it's late July. Special awards are judged in August. You have to make sure your site is still up."

The ECHOs have, in fact, lost some good entries when people don't realize the site has to stay live in order to be judged. "You may want to move it to a server so it's the way it was at the time of entry."

-> Tip #4. Put challenges and results in context

When you explain the marketing strategy, Liebenson suggests, "Set up the marketing environment so the judges know the challenges you faced. If they don't know what you were up against, they won't know why the entry was so good."

Similarly, explain why the results are important. "Say you do a direct mail package and you got a 4% response rate. It might be absolutely incredible for your category, or maybe it went to the same people you've solicited for the last x number of years but your new creative boosted response. Or maybe it went to a house list where 4% is not that great. How are the judges going to tell?"

-> Tip #5. Select your category carefully

ECHO Awards are based on business category rather than media or marketing category. Make certain you enter the proper category based on the business you're in, and that you double check categories so you don't get confused.

For example, insurance has its own category, so you wouldn't put it under financial services. Telecom marketing would go under communications, not services.

"Within these categories, all the different media will be competing for that same award. There will be winners in communications, and a Gold ECHO might go to an online campaign, with a Silver ECHO for a DRTV campaign."

-> Tip #6. Doublecheck online elements

"In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in entries that include online components. This reflects the integration of media channels used in direct marketing campaigns around the world," says Liebenson. It also presents a challenge for those who enter online elements.

If you're sending a URL, make sure it works (you'd hate to lose simply because judges couldn't access your site). Often agency webmasters put client creative behind protected walls. You may think the link works fine because you've automatically got employee access to the page ... but it may not work for the public. Also check for case sensitivity issues on the spelling of your URL.

Test everything, and make sure that the creative you enter matches the work described on the entry form (in other words, that you don't write up one campaign but send a sample from a different campaign -- it happens).

-> Tip #7. Borrow portfolios of past ECHO winners from the DMA

The DMA maintains a complete collection of ECHO entries for award Winners, Leaders, and Finalists from the last several years of competition -- a total of roughly 1,700 portfolios.

You can request to borrow a portfolio (free for DMA members) to see which direct marketing campaigns really worked, and how the entry form was written. Budget and response information is often included.

To borrow an ECHO portfolio, send email to the Library & Resource Center at

Useful links related to this article

MarketingSherpa's ongoing list of marketing, advertising and PR awards deadlines (updated weekly)

ECHO Awards entry info for 2006

See Also:

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