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Winning Award Competitions Five steps to find and submit the best application and publicize your win.

By Rachel Meranus

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Each year, numerous publications, industry groups and non-profit organizations publically recognize companies and individuals for their outstanding work in a particular area. For entrepreneurs, winning awards can be a powerful public relations tool to gain an edge on the competition, attract potential clients and boost employee morale.

While the benefits are fairly evident, the process of identifying, submitting and publicizing an award isn't as widely understood.

Follow these simple tips and you'll be on your way to building a strong award submission.

1. Identify Award Opportunities
The most challenging aspect of submitting an award entry is often the relatively benign task of finding contests to enter. While most groups that sponsor an award will issue a call to action, you'll likely miss the opportunity unless you're already on their email list, Facebook fan page or follow them onTwitter.

While you can search online for potential award opportunities, the most direct approach is to browse the various media outlets, trade groups and community organizations that cater to your particular industry. These organizations are often responsible for sponsoring awards due to the bevy of public relations and marketing opportunities for the award host (as well as the recipients).

Most websites will prominently highlight upcoming competitions. If you don't see anything, revisit the site later. Awards competitions are usually advertised three to six months in advance. Once you've identified an award, you'll be ahead of the game for subsequent opportunities since most occur around the same time each year.

2. Submit Early and Keep Track of Deadlines
Awards submissions often have long lead times. Though deadlines may be extended, it's best to prepare your submission well in advance. For one, it'll help you manage the workload and avoid having to rush at the last minute.

Another benefit of submitting early is the potential cost savings. Many awards offer discounts for early entries, or attach extra fees for late submissions. Either way, being disciplined can help save money.

3. Pay Close Attention to Award Categories
Submitting an entry to the most appropriate category will improve your chances of winning, of course. So, read through category descriptions carefully, consider calling the sponsoring organization to ensure you've found the perfect fit for your award submission. It can also be helpful to look over past winners of each award category to get a better sense of which categories are better fits than others.

4. Be Selective
In addition to the time and effort it takes to enter an awards competition, many charge an entry fee. While these fees typically aren't unreasonably high, managing expenses is a heightened concern in the current economic climate, of course.

A good strategy is to identify which awards in a given year would provide the most bang for your buck. Also, it's a good idea to mix it up. Submitting for a broad range of awards over the course of a few years will allow you to better understand what organizations are looking for and gauge your strengths and chances of winning for different campaigns.

5. Promote Your Award
Once you win, roll out a soft-sell publicity campaign to raise industry awareness of your achievement. Such recognition can be invaluable in winning new business, boosting existing relationships and creating opportunities to be a recognized thought leader.

At a minimum, awards should be publicized on the company website, announced in a press release and physically displayed in a prominent place in the office. Award recognition can also strengthen your chances of landing speaking engagements, allowing you to present your award-winning campaign on behalf of your client (or yourself) at upcoming conferences.

Lastly, winning an award also can help your company demonstrate value internally. In a tough economy, recognition for a job well done from a respected, outside organization can go a long way toward lifting employee morale.

The potential upside to winning, even one award, makes the time and cost of submitting worthwhile. After all, in today's ultra-competitive business world, a feather in your cap can go a mighty long way.

Rachel Meranus is vice president of communications at PR Newswire, an online press release distribution network based in New York. Get more information about PR Newswire and public relations with their PR Toolkit for small businesses.

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