6 2021 EXCEL Award Winners Follow Paths That Are Replicable for Others

Every association [and organization] has anniversaries, and they mean more than a date on the calendar. Use them to boost engagement and membership and raise a little money.” That idea came from Stacy King, executive director of the Federal Bar Association, during a presentation last year.

The centerpiece of their 100th anniversary was a coffee-table book—Centennial: 100 Years of the Bar and the Bench, 1920-2020—that turned into a Bronze EXCEL Award winner. An impetus for the book was, of all things, our new virtual landscape.

“Attorneys love books,” King said. “They really do. Since we’ve been doing all these Zoom calls, I never realized how many of my leadership has just books on books behind them. Everyone has that prestigious bookcase with all of their books. The other [reason] was that when the [centennial] was over, we really wanted to make sure we had something to celebrate, something about the bar for years to come. We also wanted it as a marketing tool to raise our profile.”

Besides the lift that journalism awards can bring to careers and hard-working staffs, they can also help your peers. The 2021 EXCEL Award winners discussed here spotlight underserved segments of your audience, promote DEI, celebrate an anniversary and explain a complicated system—all replicable ideas in your own niche.

An EXCEL Award can often be the icing on your accomplishment cake. But you have to enter to win. The early-bird deadline for the EXCEL Awards has sneaked up on us fast—it’s Friday, Dec. 17. Submit your best work in one or more categories (including our new category: Best New Innovation). (We also need judges. Register here.)

Here are five other winning entries from 2021 and the great lessons we learned from each.

Focus on an underserved group. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) won a Silver EXCEL for Rising Up, focusing on women scientists. It leads with an inspiring tic-tac-toe scientist board (pictured above) and then moves to engaging intros. “If someone tells you that you can’t do something, then that probably means that you should go and do it. Don’t let other people hold you back,” says Andrea Dutton, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who studies ancient coral reefs with an eye on today. Jennifer Eberhardt studies unconscious psychological biases at Stanford University, and her findings have been used to reform police departments and challenge the constitutionality of death sentences. “Racial bias is something that’s difficult for many people to see and to talk about. I’m looking at something that’s everywhere, yet it’s invisible at the same time.” The real faces are powerful.

Provide a needed service and subvert stereotypes. The American Bankers Association won a Gold EXCEL Award for Best Website (General Excellence) for Banks Never Ask That. This is a clever microsite that has responded to a common problem, with a quiz to test your scam IQ. “Show us you have what it takes to outsmart online scammers, then encourage friends and family to do the same!” There’s also a humorous video about phishing. “I love fishing,” says Tim. “No Tim, not the kind with rainbow trout and good memories of grandpa,” the narrator says. “This is bad guys tricking you into sharing your password or pin.” Later a millennial woman says that, “senior citizens are always falling for internet tricks.” “No,” the narrator says, “people under 30 are more likely to become victims of identity theft for phishing.” “Sorry,” she says, “typical millennials. Narrators are so helpful.”

Use video to explain something complicated. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Institute swept the three awards in the category Video – Single Entry (Education). The Bronze winner, Reality Check: What Are the Costliest Insurance Claims?, is a straightforward, professionally done video with a polished spokesman. Compared to how an article might handle this, it’s all easy on the eyes and ears as he explains what needs to be done. And it has a sponsor, AssuredPartners Aerospace, showing that sponsors will get behind many types of content, with the right push.

Use a blog to lead your DEI efforts. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America won a Silver EXCEL for Best Blog Site (Overall) for the ACCA HVAC Blog. Some of their posts are in front of the paywall, and some are “member exclusive.” “Login to access this member exclusive. Not a member? Join now!” There’s one post that especially caught my eye: How Do I Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? Beyond just making a statement, the article interviews people in the field who are making a difference: “According to Jennifer Pierce, general manager of Clay’s Climate Control located in Linwood, N.J., DEI training is the key to identifying your unconscious biases… For example, a ‘Culture Day’ is created at Clay’s Climate Control where staff members are encouraged to celebrate their differences.”

Plan special issues to highlight a big topic but don’t limit your coverage to there. In the award for Best Single Topic Issue, it was good to see a range of topics among the winners: climate change (Project Management Institute); inspiration (Council for Advancement and Support of Education); artificial intelligence (National Investor Relations Institute); mental health (ASCD); civic engagement (American Alliance of Museums); and DEI (International City/County Management Association). One tip that I’ve heard repeated is to try to integrate these key topics into many issues or areas. For instance, diversifying your sources and writers in all of your content should be an overall goal rather than just a special issue on diversity. Similarly, AI—while making for a great issue—is such a huge topic going forward that it needs to be discussed in respect to many topics.

Again, the early-bird entry deadline for the 2022 EXCEL Awards is Friday, Dec. 17. Enter today and save—and maybe win!


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