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December 03, 2010


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Nice. And, of course, if we want to be treated that way then the challenge for all of us is to not act like the "poor downtrodden corporate communicator with a hopeless handicap and a pathetic need for validation." Instead we should conduct ourselves as professionals "who can bear to look at the vast distance from the real to the ideal" (and accept that this wide gulf exists) and set our course in the proper direction against the wind.

Getting good feedback from an outside perspective is invaluable. However, as far as contest judges go, Bill is a rarity. I have received comments back from Bill, and they are thoughtful, plentiful and full of constructive criticism.

I have also received commentary from judges that could barely complete a sentence or a thought, and the commentary was completely useless. A lot of contests play up the fact that corporate communicators will get a critique of their publication back from some consultant/judge. We use that as a way to sell spending the money on entering our publications in contests. When all is said and done and you don't receive anything of value, you feel a bit let down and less likely to participate in the contest in the future. I once received commentary back from a judge that used less than 50 words to evaluate all five questions. Here's a few excerpts (which is actually more than half of all the commentary I received from this particular judge):

--"A publication moving in the right direction."

-- "Nice shift to the employees -- but let's hear their voice more."

-- "There's a mix, but order needs more attention."

These things read like the headlines that Bill was bashing in an earlier post. Bill should hold judge training, it would make the contests more worthwhile.

Well, yes Bill should hold judge training. But the original problem is the promise of a critique with the awards, in the first place.

It costs $159 to enter the Ragan Recognition Awards. Built into that are marketing and administrative costs and a profit, presumably. So how much is left to pay Bill Sweetland or anyone else for a detailed, expert publication critique? Fifty bucks max?

I have done critiques of employee publications--and speeches and many other communication vehicles.

If done right, they take FOREVER. Hours must be spent reading through issues, thinking about the strengths and weaknesses, thinking about the industry the organization is in and the culture of the place. You've got to figure out the editor's aims and capabilities and figure out what to focus on and just how critical to be.

That's all before the writing of the critique, which is careful and slow, because no matter how Sweetlandic your criticism, there is a sensitive and vulnerable person on the other end whose daily work you are criticizing, and whose boss will ask to see this critique.

For a real critique like this--one designed to sincerely help the recipient improve their communications--I charge no less than $1,000.

And anyone who does such a critique for any less is either desperate for money, looking to use the critique as a loss leader to get more work from you ... or Bill Sweetland, who just cannot help himself.

In the immortal words of Run DMC: It's like that, and that's the way it is.

I guess the point is don't make promises you can't keep?

I think editors understand the monumental tasks that judges face. I don't think anyone is expecting a detailed story-by-story critique, but I would say at least give some thoughtful input, or at the very least, judges could try to make it seem like they spent five minutes skimming through the pages.

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