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You Deserve To Be Celebrated

Late Bird applications for the Gala Awards are still open through 1/15/2022.

Think back over the past year. Or even the past two. Are there any catering jobs that stand out to you? Is there one event that makes you proud to be a caterer? Maybe you presented an awe-inspiring action station, or composed mouth-watering boxed to-go options.  No matter what it is, we want you to share it with us! 

In this crazy year, the best thing we can do for our companies is celebrate the wins and show the world—and each other—how resilient we are. There have been some incredibly beautiful events across the world this past year—live, virtual, hybrid—most definitely deserving accolades; and you could certainly be one of them! 

Submissions are still being accepted for the 2022 ACE and Gala Awards, which will celebrate events from both 2020 and 2021!

The awards ceremony we host in 2022 will be a culmination of events that occurred any time after September 30, 2019 (pre-COVID), all the way through to December 31, 2021. We will also be changing some of the categories to reflect circumstances, solutions, and charitable endeavors. And in more good news: This year, you can enter the ACE Awards in the same online portal as the Gala Awards. And pleasse note that the categories below are not final, as we are continuing to evaluate the categories based on the current state of the industry. 

So get started on your submissions and be ready to celebrate with us in 2022! 

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What wins?

In the words of one judge for the Gala Awards, “Galas are the time to raise the bar.” So, what qualities elevate an entry to award-winning status? Veteran judges of the annual Gala Awards competition—all members of the Special Events Advisory Board--reveal how they settle on scores, and offer tips on submitting a top-notch entry.  

1. Get it together. 
Across the board, judges are in accord: What you leave out will cost you. “The first thing I do is check to make sure all the components are there,” says one judge. “I know it has nothing to do with how talented these people are, but it’s part of the [entry] directions.” 
Another judge states, “I believe it is critical to follow the instructions as the bottom line for an entry—that way, everyone starts out on an even playing field.” 

The same judge cautions, “Having even one point deducted because you overlooked a component can have a marked effect on the outcome.” In short, “Incomplete entries will kill you.” 

2. Write it right. 
While they don’t base their decisions on prose alone, judges say that strong, accurate writing goes far in furthering an entry’s progress in the competition. 

One judge says he seeks out “concise and cogent wording that makes me interested in learning more about the event,” while he docks entries that are “too wordy, not precise enough to sell the event.” 

The judges are human and there are a lot of entries, so you need to keep the judges’ attention,” cautions another judge. She says she is turned off by written responses that are “too vague or too dry.” 

For yet another judge, redundancy raises a red flag. Entering a single event in multiple categories without providing different written responses for each category is a no-no, he notes, as is “repeating the same phrases in the answers to different questions.” 

You can make only one first impression. Since the written description is the first aspect of your event that the judges see, make it memorable with a neat, spell-checked entry. As one judge puts it, "If you cannot write well, then hire someone who can." 

3. Make your photos do the talking. 
Proving the saying “A picture is worth a thousand words,” judges frequently say they wish they could see more photos in entries. Adding extra high-quality photos packs a visual punch, allowing the judges to better appreciate your event. The Gala rules require 10 photos, but you can upload up to 20. Do not include collages. 

Don't just tell the judges why you deserve a Gala Award--show them why, with pictures that are of professional quality. Bear in mind that the event description and the photographs should complement each other. The photos should verify--not contradict--the claims in the description.  

4. Let truth be told. 
All judges agree: When it comes to entry content, honesty is the best policy. 

Many judges point to budget as an area that they watch closely for signs of trouble. In categories that require budget information, entrants “have to remember the event has to be able to be duplicated exactly with the budget that’s given,” according to one judge. She offers the example of a decor-category entry whose budget omitted lighting—a key ingredient in the production, she says--because lighting was an important element in the photos submitted for the entry. “It was definitely a mistake on the entrant’s part, because it was a great entry, but, unfortunately, that hurt them.” 

Don't try to cram a pricey event into a lower budget category. "We just don't trust those entries because we don't believe them," says one judge. 

Another judge warns against stealing the spotlight. “If it appears you and your team are taking credit for work performed by someone else, you’ll lose points,” he explains. For example, if your sole contribution to a wedding was strictly the floral, then think about entering one of the decor categories, but do not enter "Best Wedding." 

5. Get down to specifics. 
It's fine to enter the same event in multiple categories, but be sure to write an original entry for each category. 

For example, don't submit the identical entry you used for “Best Logistics” in your submission for “Best Wedding.” After seeing the same entry in more than one category, judges begin to skim the now-familiar material, and consequently lose the full impact of the event. Therefore, they may deduct points if the submission does not address the specific category in which the event is competing. To impress the Gala judges, take the time to tailor your entry to its individual category. 

6. ‘Why does this entry matter?’ 
A first-rate entry answers the question “So why does this matter?” and convinces the judges that the challenges overcome to accomplish this event were noteworthy, making the finished product worthy of a Gala Award. 

As one judge explains, “Installing a tent in a flat field on a calm summer day is not going to get as many points as one that was installed on a cliff at the height of tornado season.” 

A word of warning to entrants claiming they've overcome “outrageous” challenges in the course of producing an event: Explain why that aspect of the job was troublesome. It's not enough to bemoan such common problems as cantankerous clients, tight budgets, or rain on the Big Day.

Remember that the judges have produced events, too; they know what qualifies as a difficult challenge versus problems that occur on a regular basis in the industry. 


Be careful; failure to obey these rules means the judges will deduct points from or even disqualify your entry!

  • Did you include required elements? (See Rule 1 below.)
  • Did you make sure your entry is anonymous? Check to make sure you kept your name off the 1,000 Words, Four Questions, Photos. and Video Link. (No problem if your name is on the Referral Letter; the judges do not see this.)
  • Did you include at least 10 print-quality color JPEG or TIFF images? (You can include up to 20 images; no collages or watermarks, please. And feel free to add photo captions.)
  • Did you include client contact information on the Entry Form and online registration? This can stand in for the Referral Letter.
  • Does your budget include the planner’s fee or markups? (You don’t work for free, do you?)


1. Each entry must include: The 100 Word synopsis; the 1,000 Word Description; the Four Questions (1,000 words maximum for all four); the Photos; Referral Letter (if available); and the Budget—if required—using the Gala Awards Budget Template.

2. The Referral Letter should be from the client or vendor who contracted you or your company. It must state that you met the requirements of the job and that the client or vendor was pleased with the work done. If you are an in-house planner, your supervisor can write the Referral Letter. If no Referral Letter is available, client contact information on the Entry Form is fine.

3. All budgets submitted must be in U.S. dollars and retail (the amount the client would normally be billed, including planner’s fee or markup). Budgets must include the retail value of all items used, including donations and inventory. Use the Budget Template here.

4. In all categories, video links can be submitted in addition to the required photos. Video links are mandatory if you are entering Best Event Entertainment Concept and Execution. Do not include your company name on videos.

5. To qualify for the 2022 Gala Awards, the event must have taken place between between Oct. 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2021Events that take place after Dec. 31 may be entered in the 2023 Gala Awards.

6. A company or individual can enter an event in more than one category. Each entry must stand alone and requires separate documents, photos and fees.

7. The categories entered must correspond directly with the work that was done. For example, if you enter Best Wedding, you must oversee the wedding, not provide only one element such as floral. (Here, it might be smart to consider a joint entry.)

8. Entries will not be returned. All material submitted to Special Events magazine becomes the property of the magazine—no exceptions.

9. Special Events magazine reserves the right to change the category of an entry.

11. Awards will be presented at The Special Event 2022 in Anaheim, CA. Transportation to and from The Special Event is the sole responsibility of the nominees.

12. Members of the Special Events magazine Advisory Board will review entries using the Four Questions as criteria to select nominees and winners. All decisions are final.

13. Each entry is $160 if the entry is received/paid for by January 15, 2022, by 6 p.m. Central Time/4 p.m. Pacific Time.) Joint entries are $200 at all times. All entries and payments should be submitted online.

14. Ineligible events: Industry events based primarily on donations—e.g., events at The Special Event, ILEA chapter events, etc.—are not eligible. Events must have been created for a paying client or as part of an in-house event professional’s salaried job.

15. Anonymity: To ensure fairness, make sure your name/company name does not appear in your documents, as watermarks on photos, or on your video link. (It is fine to have your name on your Referral Letter because the judges do not see this.)

16. Questions? See our FAQ’s here.

Find all the details about categories, how to enter, and deadlines by cllicking here.

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