Have you ever volunteered as an awards judge for one of your local professional communications, marketing or advertising, associations? While it might sound arduous, time-consuming and clerical, it can be a fun and worthwhile endeavor to work with a different group of professionals of varying skill sets and careers while expanding your “disciplinary dimensions” when casting judgment on an assortment of campaigns, programs or events. By no means am I a seasoned judge, but I have done it on six occasions (three times for IABC Copper Quills and three times for 3CMA Savvys) over the last three years. If you haven’t done it before because you think you are too busy or no one as asked you directly, here are some points to contemplate and why you may want to be a little more assertive the next time a call for volunteer judges surfaces in your direction:
-It can be a great after-hours work session to draw you out of your daily “career comfort cushion zone”. And it really is work, not social hour (though be sure to do that after to unwind from the brain drain that can ensue from rating several entries in a couple of hours).
-Judging in a group for a couple of hours can also prove to be a productive networking and mutual-learning session. I know that I have met new colleagues in this environment that I never would have otherwise worked with.
-You can really glean the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of projects, campaigns, collateral and events in a way that can help your perspective in your work and lead you to develop a stronger award entry for your organization down the road.
-Analyzing a spectrum of budgets, core competencies, experiences and quality of collateral samples can help you benchmark what you have and what you are capable of doing in similar channels for your organization. Perhaps you borrow an idea or a new challenge or concept is sparked from scrutinizing entries. When you become immersed in the whole plan, recap of results and samples, you may end up pondering what the applicants could have done differently or better, all in a productive sense for your approach when faced with a similar project or challenge.
-When all the tedious calculations are done with the weighted formulas, it is just as important to provide some direct tailored feedback on the evaluation form. You are assuming responsibility as a judge and your name is on the form, so provide that valued input in a concise, constructive and straightforward fashion. Just a couple of sentences outlining suggestions or areas that weren’t fully addressed in accordance with the criteria would suffice for all entries whether they are winners or not. Always point out a couple of highlights or strong points in addition to the areas to improve the next go-around. Providing these feedback will help your strategic thinking and evaluating of projects and metrics in your job.
-No rating system is perfect when it comes to picking winners, All-Stars and other accolades, but as a participant it is important to be fair, independent and impartial while applying the criteria in a consistent and meticulous fashion. That includes not peeking at another judges sheet or discussing the entry until you have completed your process with it. These uniform best practices for judges are crucial to establishing the benchmark or threshold for submissions that will advance and those that don’t. Where there are discrepancies between judges, discussion, negotiation and a third judge weighing in will yield to a consensus for an entry that is clearly a winner or finalist vs. the caliber of the rest of the pack. Having these discussions with fellow judges is beneficial for being a collaborative thinker capable of accepting counter-points while being flexible in assessing the final summaries of projects and reported results.
On a related note, serving as a student scholarship judge is another way to be involved in your professional associations, provide your insights into the evaluation methods and get a feel for the work and interests of up-and-coming professionals in the academic pipeline eager to be in the industry and possibly become an intern or entry-level employee in the near future.