By Katie Macaulay, managing director 

At the end of this year’s IoIC Awards ceremony a client approached me and said: “I’d like to win a Gold Award next year. What do I need to do?”

It was an excellent question. According to the IoIC, its Gold Awards “are awarded each year to the ‘best of the best’, to the winning entries that demonstrate the full package of high quality, brilliant execution and killer measurement.”

This year, Courier, Royal Mail’s monthly newspaper for the nation’s postmen and women won the IoIC’s Gold Award. In 2015, the accolade went to Wow, the monthly magazine for Post Office employees. As the agency responsible for writing and designing both, we should have the answer.

But like many deceptively simple questions, the answer is rather complex.

Fabulous award-winning work is a collaborative effort borne from a true partnership and a shared vision between agency and client. No agency is a creative island – the best work needs a client willing to be brave, bold and original.

Both parties need to share what author Jim Collins calls a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This is a powerful mechanism to stimulate progress.  A BHAG is not a typical project goal. It is not nuanced, subtle or commonplace. A BHAG reaches out and grabs us in the gut. “It is tangible, energizing, highly focused.  People ‘get it’ right away; it takes little or no explanation,” writes Collins.

The best work is never built on assumptions. We might make a few educated guesses about what type of communication will ‘move the dial’ – but every supposition must be supported with cold, hard data. It is hard to imagine any award-winning work not emerging from insight and research.

We received Gold Awards for projects that challenged convention. Wow was created to compete with mainstream magazines employees were paying to read in their lunch breaks. It took the notion of a title ‘for and about employees’ and pushed this to the extreme. It was a great example of user-generated content before the phrase was in common usage. Courier has redefined the notion of a tabloid newspaper. In recent years it has embraced augmented reality, QR codes, video content, contemporary design values and tailored regional content. Award-winning work is never ‘me-too’. It breaks new ground.

With all award-winning work there is solid, quantifiable evidence of success –what the IoIC calls ‘killer measurement’. Ideally, this happens before and after the project to prove – categorically – its impact. Successful measurement does not conflate satisfaction with effectiveness. While your audiences may like what they received, you need to aim for more than contentment. There should have been a strategic shift in opinion or behaviour.

In the past two years, AB has won 24 Awards of Excellence, five Class Wins, one Gold Award and a nomination for Best Agency. When I reflect on these award entries, there is one common characteristic. Each one told a story – a genuine and compelling story rooted in the background and context of the business. We shared a tale of how vision, creativity and tenacity overcame obstacles and challenges. We were honest about failings and mishaps. We explained how they happened and we learned along the way.

While there is no shortcut to creating award-winning work, a common pattern emerges. Most notably no one involved in the project shrugs their shoulders and settles for just good enough. Everyone, at all levels, cares.

Here’s our top tips for winning awards