Exclusive Features

“How Does Best of the Best Judging Work?”

By Katrina Olson, Best of the Best Judge

Now that tED magazine’s Best of the Best Marketing Competition is open for submissions, you may be wondering what you should enter and how entries are evaluated. You did a lot of great work in 2023, but what makes a winner?

Consider those marketing activities, communication efforts, and individual public relations activities that were particularly effective, creative, or  impactful, if only for a small but important target audience. Winning is not about how much you spent, if you used an agency, or how high your metrics are, it’s about a the overall strategy, execution, and outcomes based on a number of criteria.

The Criteria

In your Statement of Purpose, outlines your thinking behind the marketing strategy, how you arrived at that strategy, and what tactics were used to deliver your message. The judges evaluate the entry across 11 specific criteria, and one non-specific criteria. They are:

  1. Clear Strategy and Goal

Is your strategy based on research? Do you have a clear target audience? Have you provided sufficient background on the marketing situation. What is your goal or objective? Did you provide sufficient details about the execution? Can you quantify the results or outcome of your campaign or promotion? Do you have customer testimonials or comments to support your claims of success.

  1. Consistency in Message

If you’re submitting a print ad series, brand campaign, digital or social campaign, integrated promotional campaign, product launch, are the message and graphics consistent across all pieces and is the execution consistent with the company brand. Finally, is the message consistent with the goals and objectives outlined in the Statement of Purpose?

  1. Customer Focused

Is the content focused on benefits to the customer or is it all about the company? Does the copy use “you view” or is it “us focused”? Is the information organized in a way that makes since to the target audience (not the company)? Is the content is written from the customer’s perspective, not the company’s?

  1. Ease of Communication

Is there an easy way for the customer to reach someone at the company or provide feedback? Is it clear what “next step” the customer is supposed to take? Have you provided contact information – a phone number, website, QR code, or email?

  1. Clear, Benefit-Oriented Messaging

Is the benefit to the customer clear? Is the copy customer-focused or is it “we, we, we,” “brag and boast,” or overly self-congratulatory? Is it well written and easy to read? Does it flow well and follow a logical sequence? Is the writing free from errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage, word choice, etc.?

  1. Quality of Design

Is it visually attractive? Does the imagery (photos, illustrations) reinforce the message? Is the font/type easy to read and appropriate for the audience? Is it based on good design principles (e.g. balance, contrast, emphasis, proportion, repetition and pattern, movement, white space, variety, unity)? Does it properly and attractively use of the elements of design (e.g. form, shape, line, color, texture, typography, space)?

  1. Reinforces Company Brand

Is the effort consistent with the company’s brand platform? For suppliers, is the execution consistent with the company and the specific product being marketed?

  1. Relevant and Valuable Content

Does it provide information the customer wants and needs? Does the information address how to save the customer time, money, effort or labor? Does the customer care about the content?

Does the content answer the customer’s question, “What’s in it for me?”

  1. Value-added User Tools/Info

Does the marketing effort give the target audience something extra (e.g. lighting guide, phone app, tips or information)? Does it serve as a resource for customers (lighting comparison chart, link to a catalog)? Does the marketing effort provide tools are apps to help customers (e.g. website with estimating tool)?

  1. Well Organized and Presented

This criterium applies to both the marketing effort and how it’s presented as a Best of the Best submission. Make it pleasing to the eye with a nice layout. Include visuals of and label all relevant pieces mentioned in the Statement of Purpose. Ensure all content is large enough to be readable when or include enlarged versions. (Judges do read the content.) Write descriptive notes by your images to clarify the elements of the campaign. On your PDF submission, it’s okay to highlight, circle, or otherwise indicate items you want us to pay attention to. Test all links to make sure they work. Orient all images in the same direction (not sideways) on the PDF pages.

  1. Results

Did the marketing effort achieve the stated goals and objectives? Are those results quantifiable and measurable? Was there a mechanism in place to evaluate the success of the effort? Do you have customer testimonials or feedback to illustrate results? What was the open rate, response rate, conversion rate, or attendance at the event?

  1. Uniqueness or Originality

What really makes a winner is an approach, strategy, or execution that’s different from everything else in the category. Look at something from a different perspective. Don’t do what you (and everyone else) have always done. Use an interesting comparison. Try a little shock value. Brainstorm past the obvious. Make an emotional connection. Play with interesting visuals like putting your product in unique situations to make a point.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s relevant to the product, message, or customer benefit – not just creativity for creativity’s sake. This is only one criteria. But many times as a judge, I’ve seen that je ne sais quoi (literally “I don’t know what”) — an indescribable, special distinguishing feature or creativity — push one entry ahead of another in a tight race. And if it got the judge’s attention, it probably got the target audience’s attention, too!

The Process

The process is rather long and arduous. The judges have access to the entries several weeks prior to assembling. Each judge spends many hours evaluating the entries individually and taking notes. Then we spend four to five mornings together, virtually, discussing each entry and selecting winners.

About 99% of the time, we all agree on a winner. Occasionally the judges are split evenly and we award a tie. Sometimes two entries are so different they’re hard to compare against each other and they both get an award!

The Judges

Hank Bergson – 16th year

Former President of NEMRA and a management consultant, Hank is our go-to guy with product questions. He is so knowledgeable about the products, the industry, and the interrelationships within the industry. If we’re confused, he’ll clarify some product or industry dynamic that makes us look at an entry in a different light. He’s a wealth of information and an extremely valuable member of the team.

Shad Thomas — 15th year 

Shad is founder of a strategic, quantitative research company called Glass Box Research with offices in Chicago and Toronto. He always reminds us to look at metrics and results. When we’re struggling to make a decision, he refers us to the Statement of Purpose. Shad is very cognizant of strategy and creative execution. He keeps us focused and makes sure every entry gets full and fair consideration.

Jan Niehaus – 10th year

Jan is our resident expert on all things green and LEED certification. As a writer for tED magazine and instructional design consultant, she’s very current and familiar with the industry. Jan is extremely thorough in her evaluation and will often find pieces of information in the Statement of Purpose or the copy that the rest of us missed. She asks great questions and constantly challenges us to be better judges.

Katrina Olson – 19th year

I’ve been in marketing and PR for my entire adult life—practicing, consulting, teaching, writing. Having worked in distribution, I’ve learned a bit about products. As a tED magazine writer, I’ve learned about the people and industry. During judging, I focus on strategy and execution, and keeping us on track. I also work with the tED folks behind the scenes on categories, promotion, and improving the process.

Each judge brings something different to the table, but all are very invested in and committed to this competition. We take it very seriously and very personally. It’s an honor for us to be entrusted with this responsibility.


To learn more about the judging process, check out the DistributED podcast hosted by tED magazine Publisher Scott Costa where we talk about these topics and more! And if you have questions about the competition, contact tED magazine Editor Misty Byers at mbyers@naed.org.

Katrina Olson is a marketing consultant, coach, trainer and writer with more than 35 years’ experience including 20 years in electrical distribution. She has been a Best of the Best judge since 2006 and lends her expertise as a regular contributor to tED magazine and tedmag.com.  

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