‘Your ZIP Code Is Not Your Destiny’; EXCEL Awards Finalists Bring Power and Emotion

Judging by the incredible finalists in our EXCEL Awards, 2021 was a life-changing year for so many of us. Here are five examples of moving work, from the impact at the 20th anniversary of 9/11, to the commitment to the arts to change lives in a small town in Texas, to new narratives on breast cancer survivors that it may have took a minor revolution to uncover.

“I don’t know that parents, the community, and the legislators fully understand that the arts open the doors for these students that they couldn’t otherwise afford.” That quote comes from a stirring story from the National School Boards Association. It combines the words of contributing editor Glenn Cook with wonderful photos (such as the one here) that I just noticed he took as well.

Looking at winners and finalists in our Neal and EXCEL Awards is among the best ways to get new ideas. We’ve started a series on the Neal winners, but with the EXCEL Awards ceremony for association publishers set for next Wednesday evening—following the first day of our AMPLIFY 2022 Content & Marketing Summit—here are five finalists that stood out for me in the type of work they’ve created—moving and replicable.

How We PTA – encouraging change. In Best Pandemic Response Campaign, the National PTA did a storytelling campaign using “PTA” as a verb. “Learn How We PTA. Find inspiration from PTAs nationwide who have positively affected their communities with these stories of change that originated at the PTA with leaders just like you. Click a category below for stories about the power of the PTA.” The categories included: Advocacy, Building a Community, Social and Emotional Wellbeing, Bridging the Digital Divide and Addressing Food Insecurity. “There’s no wrong way to PTA. However you do it, it’s all an investment in your child.” The positive message resonates strongly.

Find a small-town story. Anything Is Possible, a feature story from the National School Boards Association, is nominated in the category of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives. “Aldine Independent School District’s Carver High School (Texas) offers award-winning programs in visual arts, vocal and instrumental music, dance, and theatre, giving its students—many of whom live in poverty—a safe environment to discover and be themselves.” This incredibly positive article about the power of the arts included a series of moving photos. “We say it all the time: Your ZIP code is not your destiny,” says Aldine Superintendent LaTonya Goffney. “We want to make sure our students have the same opportunities and exposure to the arts as anyone, anywhere. They deserve it, and they benefit from it.” Look for articles that can touch your audience and show the best of what people in your niche can offer.

Deploy the power of video. Accident Case Study: Into Thin Air, is a Single Entry Education video from AOPA Air Safety Institute. “Join the AOPA Air Safety Institute as we follow the Bonanza’s likely encounter with high density altitude—an inherent hazard in high terrain significantly degrading aircraft performance. Deceptively upsloping terrain would leave no escape for the flatland pilots facing the canyon trapping them.” The 12-minute video provides huge lessons for that audience—and what went wrong with this undertaking. In this case, the video tells the story in a way that would have been hard for an article. Members get credit to their ASI transcript for watching this video, which “uses FAA ATC radio communication transcripts, NTSB documentation, and video animation to recreate accidents and share critical lessons, so we can recognize and avoid similar mistakes.”

Using a podcast to motivate and entertain your audience. For Best Podcast Series, the American Legion put together a series called 20/20/20—20 episodes leading up to the 20 days marking 20 years since the “attacks that changed the world.” In one episode, Tango Alpha Lima, the name of the podcast, remembers 9/11 with motivational speaker USMC Cpl. Josh Bleill. Working a corporate job in Indianapolis on Sept. 11, 2001, Bleill was so moved by that day that he soon found himself “following in his father’s yellow bootsteps at Marine Corps bootcamp. During a deployment to Fallujah, Iraq in 2006, a bomb exploded under the vehicle Josh was riding in. He woke up five days later to the realization that he had lost two friends and both of his legs in the blast. [His] journey through recovery led him to a new role as a motivational speaker, trying to help veterans and civilians alike move forward with positivity by taking just one step at a time.”

Drill down on a single issue. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is nominated as a finalist for Best Single Topic Issue for Breast Reconstruction 2021. What’s notable about the cover of the magazine is how diverse the women are. The tagline is ”WHEN YOU SEE US – Amplifying the Narratives for Thrivers of Color.” The issue includes stories on: Amplifying the narratives for survivors of color; Bringing home to breast cancer patients in Africa; Removing barriers to reconstruction in Louisiana; Supporting breast reconstruction efforts in California; Tips for traveling to another city for reconstruction; A survivor helping other women to stay strong and “fight pretty.” “Recent studies show more than 3 million women have a history of breast cancer in the United States. Every woman should know her options and have adequate information to make an educated decision about her breast cancer treatment.”

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