For Christmas, my daughter received a book about creative story-telling.  Within it was a simple, and rather wonderful concept, one that I had not come across before in years of creative-writing study and work as a journalist: The Story Mountain.

The premise is a delight – all stories need a beginning, middle and an end.  Before you start writing, plan an outline of what is going to happen in each part that will take you up and over the mountain to the end.

In accordance with the story mountain, my daughter had carefully set out her story. A little girl saw an acorn in a tree and, even though it was autumn, it still had not fallen from the old oak.  So, she found a big stick, and spent the last light of the September afternoon trying to knock it from the tree.

In the eyes of a proud father, this was beautiful in its brevity and purpose but I might be more than a little biased!  It also had an effect on me as, at the time, I was writing a number of submissions for the British Council of Offices’ awards, and was struggling for inspiration.

Award submissions are always tricky. I find myself putting them off – prevaricating.  I start with wonderful intentions of clarity and purpose but become bogged down in a dogma of my own making.  Experience sometimes complicates matters as mistakes can become learnt, assumptions of knowledge creep into copy and jargon seeps in at the edges.

That is why the story mountain was a small inspiration.  Award submissions should be rooted in simplicity.  Set up a problem.  Describe the approach to overcome this problem. Then set out the evidence to prove its success.

That is all an award entry needs to convey.

It is easy, however, to get lost in the complexities of formatting, the distraction of including different media, and the need to try and use a higher form of language.  There is nothing to suggest in award submissions that we should adopt a different register of language, but it is a trap that I still fall into when I read back some of my work – and I believe that others do too.

Thomas Brown, the Chair of the PMA judges set out in a blog post last year the relevance of awards and his tips from having read hundreds of submissions.  One point of particular relevance for me was when Thomas said: “Awards create those natural moments to focus, reflect and importantly to learn, we should treat them as such – a chance for the team to learn and improve.” He is right of course.

As marketers, we have so many daily tasks, so many tactical requirements of us that it is easy to lose sight of the simple, strategic priorities of our role.  Awards are a moment of reflection, but also the chance to boil down our objectives and our approach to them.

The story mountain is simple. Every marketing campaign has more than one up and down.  I can state that from experience! But even if you face more problems, or several different peaks, then the direction of travel still remains the same and the objectives do not differ. Even the most complex award submissions have a beginning, middle and end and every idea can be conveyed in straightforward language.  The most successful stories are usually the most simple.

Award entries are a great opportunity to tell a story, and to enjoy the process – the most successful submissions almost always demonstrate this quality.

John Williams
Head of Marketing, Instant Group and PMA Committee member