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ESA Awards: A Judge’s Perspective

March 11, 2022

As long-time members of the European Sponsorship Association (ESA) we have had a close affiliation with the organisation and supported its mission to inspire, unite and grow a welcoming and diverse sponsorship industry. The ESA Awards are an important benchmark within the sector, showcasing best-in-class campaigns that cover the entire spectrum of sponsorship disciplines.

Having not only been shortlisted on a number of occasions but also submitting a winning entry, SQN is well-positioned to understand the hard work that goes into entering the ESA Awards. Not only that, but SQN’s CEO Claire Ritchie and Sport & Sponsorship Lead Stuart Owen have also been fortunate enough to be judges for the awards on separate occasions.

As a judge of the 2022 awards, we sat down with Stuart to get his views on the awards, the marking process, and his top tips for those looking to submit an entry into next year’s awards.

  • How important are the ESA Awards to both yourself and the sponsorship industry as a whole?

I have been fortunate enough to have attended a number of the ESA Awards in person, been present when we have picked up an award on behalf of a client, and now to have been on the judging panel – so I feel a strong affiliation to the event. Not only is it a fantastic night to meet familiar faces and network with new ones, but it is a great showcase of some of the finest sponsorship campaigns from across Europe.

The awards are important and necessary to establish the benchmarks in the industry, and for this to be applauded in a very public way. It is events such as the ESA Awards that help to ensure the industry is constantly progressing and the best campaigns are put in the spotlight to highlight what success looks like. Personally, when you review the winning entries, you can’t help but feel inspired, and that’s part of the success of the awards – it acts as a catalyst for improving the standards within the sector.

  • As a first-time ESA Awards judge, how did you find the experience and entire process?

First of all it was a real honour to be selected as a judge. Having undertaken the ESA Diploma in 2017 and gained so much from the programme, it was with real pride that I was then asked to join the judging panel for the highlight event of the year just four years later. Looking at the full list of judges, it’s a great mix of some well-established names from across rightsholders, brands, and agencies, so to be included within that is a real point of gratification for me.

The actual judging process was fascinating; it was really interesting to review a whole range of entries and gain a great insight into the leading campaigns within the industry. It’s a time-intensive and thorough process, but one where you come out of it better off than when you started. Going from the very individual side of marking and assessing the entries, it’s then great fun to discuss and debate the outcomes with fellow judges. We had some very honest and open conversations, that led to changes in winners; hearing other people’s views and feedback was a great way of viewing entries differently or from an alternative angle to your own.

  • During the judging process was there anything that you were particularly looking out for above anything else?

Being a first-time judge, I had the benefit of not being influenced or guided by previous awards entries, therefore I was going into the process completely blind. This meant for me I was paying particularly close attention to the judging criteria and marking scheme as laid out by ESA. Therefore, with all the entries it was important to me that they stuck closely to what was requested by ESA as part of their submission. This allowed me to mark all entries consistently and fairly across the board. There are also extra marks available for those that showed particular innovation and creativity, so this was something I kept a close eye on during the judging process.

However, as an aside to the above, it can be very easy to be caught up completely in the creativity and innovation of sponsorship activation and let that sway your thoughts on the entry. Although this is perhaps seen as the most fun and ‘sexy’ part of sponsorship, the purpose of ESA, the awards, and us as judges is to establish benchmark campaigns that set the standard in the industry. To do this, we should shout about the ones that successfully fulfill the full sponsorship process from A-Z. That includes everything from clear objective setting through to a thorough analysis of ROI and ROO. I was, therefore, more obliged to score highly on those that follow the whole process through in a comprehensive manner.

  • Were there any common themes across the entries, and what tips would you provide to those looking to enter the ESA Awards next year?

Touching upon the point made in my answer above, it was surprising how many entries strayed from the submission criteria in terms of the content produced. There were some big agencies, brands, and rightsholders that clearly had some excellent campaigns but were let down by the quality of the entry. As judges, we are asked to mark purely on the material provided, and that’s why it was frustrating that some great campaigns were let down by organisations not closely following the award requirements and placing too much emphasis on particular areas and ignoring others.

My top tip would therefore be to read the entry criteria very closely and ensure that you go through each section step-by-step in a clear and coherent manner. Ultimately, the easier you make it for the judges to evidently see all required sections of your entry, the more likely they are to be able to score it fairly and appropriately. By simply skipping over or not touching upon a section it could lose you a fair chunk of marks which could be the difference between winning or not!

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