Flying with the BRAVE

We salute the brave ones who over the years had the courage to enter their work to be scrutinised and judged. It is not only their competitive spirit that motivate entrants to enter the annual SAPF Corporate Publication Competition and obviously also not the prize money – because there is none. Asking regular entrants why they participate, revealed that this competition is accomplishing what it set out to do years ago.
Some remarks from a few regular heroes –

“Competition force you to review and assess the work you do regularly, and to compare it to best practice, new ideas, and innovations. They also remind you, and your clients, of the great work done to date. We are so often focused on the tasks at hand that we all forget to take stock of what we’ve accomplished, and to look forward to how we can keep improving,” says Sarah Browning-de Villiers, chief content officer at Machine. Machine has been entering the awards for over eight years.

Nelia Engelbrecht, from North-West University, says while hovering in the background during the first few years of entering, they decided to harness the competition as a learning experience instead of being discouraged. “We studied the winning publications and the excellent craftmanship they bore witness to.” NWU started their journey with the SAPF about 15 years ago.

Johan Jack Smith, editor of Taalgenoot, says it is a shame that there are so few competitions around that reward excellence in this industry. “It is definitely a highlight in our calendar every year.” They have entered since 2017.

Peter Mayer, editor of last year’s best corporate publication, Wits Review, says: “By signalling your ambition (when entering a competition such as this), it provides a psychological boost to your determination to achieve excellence. It also gives you the opportunity to see what is considered excellence and compare that to your publication.”

Tip Africa Publishing has participated in the SAPF Competition since 2013. Magriet Kruger says during that time, they’ve seen the competition grow and diversify. “It has been inspiring to see how the SA Publication Forum has responded to industry developments by adapting the competition. The inclusion of a Covid-19 Intervention category in 2020 is one such example.”

Value of Feedback

All the entrants mentioned the outstanding feedback they received from judges. Nelia Engelbrecht (NWU) says: “In addition to benchmarking our publications against South Africa’s best, we also applied the feedback we received. By implementing their suggestions, we have slowly but surely broadened our horizons, developed our skills, and improved our publications.

“As a higher education institution, we do not have the huge budgets that some of the companies in the private sector have, but armed with the feedback from the judges, we have learned to make the best of the resources we have.”

Sarah Browning-de Villiers (Machine) says they do take the judges’ feedback seriously. “We find it’s helpful to have fresh, objective eyes scrutinising our work. Awards aren’t just about winning – they are about seeing the calibre of work done by agencies and brands across SA, and learning from them.”

Johan Jack Smith (Taalgenoot)  says the competition has provided invaluable advice to their editorial team on design, writing, layout and photography. “I will advise any publication to enter this competition for the guidelines for improvement from a professional panel of experts are invaluable.”

According to Magriet Kruger (Tip Africa) it has always been the feedback that has set the SA Publication Forum Competition apart. “Whereas other competitions might, if you’re lucky, say why they feel a publication is worthy, the SA Publication Forum’s judges also let you know where there is room for improvement. From the judges’ comments it is clear they spend considerable time with the publications and read each attentively. In one case, the judge even picked up a minor slip-up we’d overlooked after multiple rounds of proofing!

“We find the comprehensive and considered feedback provides a solid foundation for enhancing our titles. Comments aren’t merely critiques, but include practical suggestions for developing publications further. In our 10th year of participating, we continue to look on the SA Publication Forum Competition as an opportunity to grow.”

Continued improvement

“We started to focus on responsiveness, social media integration, and links to previous editions,” says Nelia Engelbrecht. “We also realised the importance of crisp, catchy headlines, and content that is balanced and presented with zest. But most important of all: we have learned that we have not arrived yet – there are still many learning curves to navigate, and we are looking forward to continuing our journey with the SAPF and our fellow-contestants.”

Sarah Browning-de Villiers thinks even more PR around the competition within marketing and comms forums would be great. “It’s important to shine a light on our specialist disciplines which often form the backbone of communication strategies for many big corporates, and to celebrate specialist skill sets and the agencies who help to produce this work.

“Corporate communications, publications and content marketing awards are difficult to find in South Africa. They are niche, specialist categories that often don’t get the recognition they deserve within our broader marketing and communications industry, so I think it’s so important that the SA Publication Forum Competition exist in order to offer this benchmark of best practice and recognition.”

A last word

The SAPF appreciates yóúr feedback and is honoured to be part of the growth towards excellence in our industry. We want to offer practitioners even more than the annual competition, we would like to establish a community where we can all share our knowledge, skills, and experience.