What I Learned From Judging the Azbee Awards

Danica Tormohlen, President of ASBPE’s Kansas City Chapter, shares her secret recipe for winning an Azbee.  

When I began judging this year’s Azbee awards, I had just turned a brilliantly written 2,700-word article that my publisher said was too long. Like just about every other writer I know, I was quick to justify the long prose I had submitted.

But after reading some slightly more brilliantly written articles from a variety of different industries that I knew nothing about, I was reminded to look at my own work and magazine with the same objective, scrutinizing eye of a judge.

This is one reason I have volunteered to judge the Azbee awards competition, as well as other writing competitions, for the last several years. Of course, I feel it’s the least I can do to give back to the industry that has served me so well. But the real reason that I spend hours and often days reviewing submissions is that I always learn something that inspires me to be a better writer. Here are a few tips and reminders I picked up this year:

  • Write for digital natives. Today’s readers simply aren’t going to spend much time reading a business feature. Use subheads, bullets, sidebars, photos and captions to complement the story and break it up into easy-to-read chunks. Page after page of copy will be glossed over.
  • Write like you are writing for your favorite business publication. Who are the B2B magazine industry leaders you look up to? Emulate them when you are working on an article. Would this piece be published in their magazine? Why or why not?
  • Ask yourself what’s in it for the reader. While you might have a great story to tell, if the business reader is unclear how to apply what they learned to their jobs, you are not doing your job as a trade magazine writer and editor.
  • Play devil’s advocate. Did you interview outside experts? Did you talk to a variety of sources? Is your coverage fair and balanced? Even when you are writing a case study about a business success story, discuss the downsides and challenges your sources faced or the reader won’t get a full picture. And it helps to build an even stronger story.
  • Look for story ideas in the most unlikely places. I got story ideas from just about every entry I judged, despite the fact they focused on industries that have absolutely nothing to do with my own.
  • Ask yourself if you would enter the article you’re writing or editing in a competition. If not, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. What’s missing that would make this an award-winning entry?
  • And last but not least: Just do it.After judging this year’s entries, I went back the story I turned in and looked at it through the eyes of a judge.The truth is: It was way too long. I cut some copy and put it into a sidebar with bullet points, and I tightened the rest of the story, focusing on a clearer explanation about why it was valuable for our readers. So when the invitation to judge comes out again next year, I won’t hesitate to respond. I’m sure my boss and our readers will be happy I did.

Trade Show Executive contributing editor Danica Tormohlen, who served as editor-in-chief and publisher of EXPO magazine, has covered the trade show industry since 1994. She has won numerous awards for outstanding editorial and design, including the Folio: Award for Editorial Excellence and Best Web Site Redesign from min’s b2b. Tormohlen is active in the trade show and publishing industries, serving on various committees for the International Association for Exhibitions and Events (IAEE). She was recently elected president for the Kansas City Chapter of the American Society of Business Press Editors. She can be reached at (816) 803-8103 or danicat@tradeshowexecutive.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanicaTormohlen.

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