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Secrets to Winning a Gala Award

Secrets to Winning a Gala Award

You've filled out your forms, expounded on your event, bulked up your binder and signed your check. You've sent your work off to join hundreds of others in competition for the coveted prize. So what happens to your entry once it lands in the judges' hands?

Five judges from Special Events Magazine's 2000 Gala Awards panel explain how they decide what turns a gala event into a Gala Award.


Our judges point to a number of features that make a Gala Awards entry stand out from the pack, but one theme runs through all of them: innovation. “I look for something that surprises me,” says Janet Elkins, owner of Los Angeles-based EventWorks. Elkins, an event producer who has judged “probably every category” in numerous Gala Awards competitions, looks for “something that impresses me because it takes what we do to another level,” versus “something I could easily do or have done in the past.” She also says that “having a positive letter from the buyer is a great advantage.”

Rebecca Coons, vice president of sales and marketing with Extraordinary Events in Orlando, Fla., agrees that a winning entry must be unique. “To just do another swing party because it rained and you had to move it inside does not make it worthy of a Gala,” Coons says. “We are pushing the envelope here, and for these awards we should be cutting edge.”

Every judge stresses that innovation is valuable only if it is backed up with evidence. “Pictures, pictures, pictures” get the attention of Ginger Kramer, owner of Coast Special Event Architects in San Jose, Calif. Coons notes that photos are important because “some people aren't great writers, and you don't want to penalize them because they can't express themselves well in the written word.”


Judges remind entrants to use boundless creativity for event production, but leave it out of budget reporting in their entries. “If [an entrant] spent $15,000 on the decor and $2,500 on the caterer, something's wrong,” Kramer says, adding, “Don't try to fool the judges.” David Merrell, owner of Los Angeles-based An Original Occasion, cautions that untruthful or misleading entry materials “will knock someone right out of the final judging if caught, even if the event is excellent.”


Merrell's mantra is “Write and write and write and re-write.” He recommends that entrants polish their summaries until the judges, who weren't at the event, can “live the event in their minds.”

For Anna McCusker of Toronto-based McCusker2 & Team, taking pleasure in the entry process is key. “The time and effort that goes into [your] entry should be your labor of love,” she says. A Gala Awards entry is an “audit of your event” that may prove to be “invaluable to your professional development,” she explains. “Enjoy it and use what you learn to make your next event even more spectacular.”


The judges also want entrants to feel assured that each judge takes the work of judging seriously. “The ethics that are used in judging are very fair,” Kramer says. She explains that there is no conversation among judges regarding entries and that judges will pull themselves out of judging a particular category if they feel they lack the expertise or impartiality to do so.

McCusker sums up the judges' integrity and dedication when she says that judging entries from event professionals all over the world “is one of the greatest privileges we could possibly experience.”

RESOURCES: An Original Occasion, 323/467-2111; Coast Special Event Architects, 408/244-9700; EventWorks, 323/321-1793; Extraordinary Events/Florida Office, 407/352-5254; McCusker2 & Team, 416/928-1531

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