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Why I enter the Silver Quill Awards—every chance I get

The Silver Quill Award is the Goldilocks Zone of professional communication awards programs.

You know the story: Goldilocks is caught breaking and entering into a very nice middle-class bear family household, eats their food, sits on their furniture, and sleeps in their beds. It’s a reprehensible act, unconscionable by any societal standard, no matter how cute the perp’s blonde curls may be. But I digress.

The value of Goldilocks is that she delivers the concept of the middle of the road, the balance between extremes, the “just right” solution, as Stephen Hawking called it. Silver Quill is the Goldilocks Zone in the world of awards programs: not too expensive, not too hard, but offering way more competition (and therefore street cred if you win) than your local chapter awards programs.

Not to throw shade on either the Bronze (local) or Gold (international) Quill programs. You should enter them all. My point is that you should not skip over the Silver Quill. Here are three reasons why:

1. Your Bronze Quill is great prep work. Enter it to get your thoughts on paper, articulate your strategy, and gather your work samples. Bronze levels are usually cost-effective to enter, and if you win, you know your thinking is on the right track.

2. Your Silver Quill is just an upgrade from your Bronze. Use your judges’ comments to tighten up your entry, polish it, add more visuals, cut out wasted words, and most of all, document your measurement. A Bronze will sometimes let you get away with anecdotal measures such as numbers of impressions or “The CEO liked it,” but a Silver won’t. Get your crap together and show how your project made a measurable difference in achieving business objectives. (Note: this is great annual performance review fodder for justifying your existence, and maybe even your next promotion.)

3. Your Gold Quill is practically in the bag. If you enter the awards programs in order, it’s a pathway to a Triple Crown. Yes, there is method to the IABC madness.

The Silver Quill puts you on a national stage, which is a decent platform for determining whether you have the chops for global communication professionalism. Even if you don’t win the Silver or the Gold, the process teaches you so much about the rigors of the profession that it’s equivalent to taking a course (which is how you justify the fees to your boss). Plus: you’ve got one case study in the bag for your CMP certification!

Full disclosure: in my 25-year IABC career, I’ve entered the Gold Quill only twice, and won only once. It’s not a shoe-in, and it is a lot of work. But… every time I’ve entered a Bronze level at the chapters I’ve been part of (Colorado, Tennessee, and South Carolina), I’ve won—and every time I won a Bronze, I’ve entered it in the Silver Quill, and won. This process works.

And why all the awards? Because I like to dust more objects on my shelves? No. Because I’m hopelessly narcissistic? Possibly. But winning tells yourself, your peers, and your present and future bosses that you know your stuff, not because your resume says so, but because an unbiased panel of professionals has put their stamp of approval on you. And that kind of validation is worth its weight in silver.

Michael Deas

Michael Deas, ABC, SCMP, serves as the VP of Awards with the Southern Region of IABC. He is the corporate communications manager for Zeus Company, a global manufacturer of high-tech polymers based in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Mike's wide range of experience in both internal and external communication roles--for companies large and small, public and private, for-profit and nonprofit, on both sides of the Atlantic, in two languages--equips him with insight on the challenges facing today’s communicators.