To Win Top-Tier Awards, Write in Narrative Structure

By Lauren Edwards

Ernst & Young, Silver Anvil and other top-tier awards go to those who also use the right writing style, not just to the most worthy nominees.

If you aren’t familiar with novel or screenplay structure and how to overlay it onto a PR situation, read on. This is a step-by-step recipe.

I’m not going to define “narrative structure” (think novels and screenplays) or say why you need it. I’ll go straight to the “how.”

The focus here will be PR campaigns, but the principles apply to other kinds of award submissions, too.

Step One: List business results

Make a bulleted list of results without using full sentences. By results, I don’t mean the number of impressions. I mean: business results or some type of before/after comparison of the business’s prospects for success. Examples:

  • Doubled sales leads
  • Drove 123,000 visitors to Web site
  • Boosted conference attendance by 40 percent

Now forget it for a minute. In the meantime, we’ll move on to a new topic within the submission.

Step Two: Identify the slight tweak

Look for the tweak or new wrinkle in your strategy or tactics.

  • What did you do slightly differently?
  • What was the particular spin your team put on the campaign planning?
  • What did you do that you haven’t seen much of before?

Write down your observations. Now forget about that for a bit. Next topic …

Step Three: List business obstacles

List the obstacles that were overcome. Just as with the first item about business results, don’t write in full sentences. In the PR plan, some of this may be in the situation analysis. Examples:

  • No advertising budget, recently reduced PR budget
  • Rival unexpectedly one-upped client the week before
  • Stock was down, top-tier pub said company was “swirling the drain”
  • New government regulations turn time-tested program into legal liability

Step Four: Contrast obstacles with results

Cut and paste bullets from steps one and three onto a blank new page. Only now should you begin wordsmithing, but keep it loose and rough. Don’t perfect any sentences yet.

Compose two to four sentences that tell a story of transformation. This is where you say that your team found a way to overcome obstacles (one, two or three of them) to accomplish XYZ specific business results. Don’t say how.

This is called juxtaposition. You’ve put two unlike or unexpected things side by side. Juxtaposition adds “wow” factor.

It’s OK if it doesn’t “flow” or even make sense yet. Just show the before/after comparison. Skip the middle.

Step Five: Show effects on outsiders

Brainstorm on *why* the story of transformation just above matters to people who aren’t you, your company or your client.

  1. Why should outsiders care about the company’s plight and remedy?
  2. How is industry or society (not just company or customers) better off thanks to the change?
  3. What can other companies learn from the triumph?
  4. What does the company’s journey prove?
  5. Why does this story matter more this year than last year?

Capture a few of your answers. Then …

Step Six: How did research influence strategy?

Don’t write that you did research or describe your research. Instead say how the findings changed your team’s mind about how to plan for the campaign. Focus on the findings’ effects on your team’s behavior and decisions.

Put another way: What did you do differently that you wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t done the research?

Write down your observations.

Step Seven: Start composing

Now combine steps two and six the way you did earlier with results and obstacles. So this time, you’re combining “slight tweak” with “research’s influence.”

Then add a phrase or as much as one line from step five (why it matters to outsiders).

Attach all of this to your result from step four (the transformation).

This is the content you’ll need for an executive summary or first few paragraphs, which will make or break your submission’s moving on to the next level of screening. I’ve just described the “pre-writing phase,” which means the critical thinking and research needed to get the right ideas in the right places.

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Lauren Edwards is a former reporter for the Associated Press. She has been creating, customizing and delivering workshops for science and technology teams since 2000.

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