Tips for Winning AACE

AACE 2015With the deadline for the 2015 AACE Awards deadline approaching, we thought we’d share a few tips on winning.

Download a copy of the 2015 AACE Awards brochure.

If you have questions concerning the AACE program, please contact Pat Barnes at (304) 876-3624 or by email at patbarnesart AT

Entering AACE – Things to Know First

  • 2015 Deadline – February 17th
  • Any current corporate member may enter.
  • Restrictions: A company may not be a Top Winner more than once each year.
    They can be a Runner Up Winner & a Top Winner, or Runner Up in several categories. They cannot win the same top award two years in a row. No such restrictions apply to Runner Up Winners.
  • You will be judged on ESOP/Ownership communications, not on products.
  • Materials are returned if you request it. (Do not send anything you cannot replace)
  • Entering AACE provides an opportunity to review your current communications program, look over the past, and plan for the future, in an organized way. It is a way of providing an illustrated, written record, over many years.
  • Come to the Annual Conference in May and you will be able to see what others have done, “borrow” (and improve on) good ideas, and meet and interact with other creative people in your field. Start to establish your own communications network, sparked by the knowledge, experience, and creativity of many.

Organizing Your Entry (Please read the entry form carefully!)

The entry format is slightly different for 2015. Enter by category, i.e. Printed Materials, Special Events, ESOP Advertising/Ownership Marketing, etc. (The Total Programs Category will be judged as an accumulation of all the rest). Each category should be represented by a notebook (don’t overfill!) or well-bound packet. It is important that it be well-marked with company name and category, and easy to find. You may have to duplicate materials entered in more than one category. Each category should have a brief commentary page in the front. This is your opportunity to communicate directly with the judges.

A link to Presentation Videos (place them on YouTube, 5 minute limit) and your web site (if you are entering this in the competition) should be sent to PatBarnesArt AT  between February 1 and February 17th, 2015.

It is recommended, but not required, that you add to your entry with a display board, which does not have to pertain to any particular category. (Limit one). Use a standard sized foam core or cardboard backing, such as those used for science exhibits. Label everything with your company name, especially small things. Disks must be labeled with company, title and time. See the entry form for further information such as shipping requirements, weight limits, etc.

How AACE is Judged

There are five judges each year. An effort is made to procure outstanding, knowledgeable people, from different sizes, types and locations of companies, both male and female, and both management and line employee owners. Four judges are new, with the AACE Chair returning for continuity.

The judges only know what you tell them, so be clear in your commentary. Anecdotes are welcome! Organization, presentation, free items, etc. count, but above all else is content. The big question is, how well and how often are you communicating ownership?

Tips on Winning an AACE

  1. Notice everything you do/have with the words “ESOP” or “Ownership.” Start a file early on, and keep it current.
  2. If you haven’t already done so, start putting “employee owned” on everything; business cards, stationery, invoices, signs, trucks, advertisements, job applications, web sites, flags, product packaging, etc.
  3. Keep a camera on site. Designate a photography buff to take lots of pictures, and put them in the newsletter, on the web, on bulletin boards, and in the AACE entry.
  4. Consider making company events “ESOP” events, such as a picnic or a brown bag lunch, a parade float, or Employee Owners of XYZ Company working for Habitat for Humanity, or the Animal Shelter.
  5. How much and how often the ESOP is mentioned counts, such as in a newsletter, in the educational structure, the brochures, the web site. Does ownership permeate the company culture? Tell the judges.
  6. In printed materials, clear, easy to read information and good graphic design counts (not necessarily expense). Ownership communication content is paramount.
  7. Education about ESOP counts. The more informative, fun and creative the better.
  8. Tap into your funny, creative people. Fun and good humor are very powerful. Best of all, upper management with a sense of humor is invaluable, a huge asset.
  9. Consideration for the employee owner counts. Respectful feedback for suggestions is important. Is there a forum for concerns? Write it up as an asset.
  10. Employee owner involvement in the ownership aspect of the company, as well as in actually preparing the AACE entry counts.
  11. Having a theme can make it easier to plan a series of events, or a whole campaign. A fun theme often sparks creativity, and spins off ideas in new directions. It also makes things easier to remember.

Not an AACE Tip, But Important

  • Setting up lines of communication and building credibility in the good times makes it far easier to communicate in the bad times. Honesty is important.
  • Not communicating is still saying something.
  • According to research, ESOP companies who communicate ownership well are among the most productive companies.

A Few More Things to Remember

Have someone who always has access to a camera at all events. However, a flood of pictures really is not necessary; usually some good pictures, with a clear explanation of the event and how it tied into ESOP/Ownership understanding is better.

Judges love a theme — i.e. a “team theme,” a cruise theme, a game theme, a farm theme, etc. That sometimes makes it easier to plan events as well. The more fun you can put into it the better, while still educating (i.e. ESOP “Jeopardy” with a really nice prize). Mixing “old” and “new” ESOPpers to do a skit is a possibility. Someone did a silly (but wonderful) skit on Dorothy & the Land of Oz (ESOP) one year, including upper management.

Speaking of that, if you have management behind the communications effort, you have a “leg up” on the ladder. Their sincere belief in the ESOP goes a long way, and plays well in a video, as long as the employee owners are featured as well. (Avoid “talking heads” in a video as much as possible). If you can “mix up” the new/old employee owners and not just introduce the management to the new ones, it would probably mean more.

A lot of events can be labeled “ESOP” events, such as picnics (games with ESOP items for prizes?), Eggs ‘n ESOP, a team of employee owners helping Habitat for Humanity, an “ESOP Run” for charity, etc. High visibility of the ESOP logo, posters, cups, etc. is a good reminder. Don’t forget stationery, business cards, brochures, ESOP on the web and advertisements. And food!

Sometimes something simple can have great impact. In one company, only the management had their own ceramic cups for coffee. Everyone else had generic Styrofoam cups. When they introduced the ESOP, everyone got a ceramic cup, appropriately labeled. This was very symbolic, and was very successful. Another new ESOP company this past year had a meeting at which little black boxes tied with gold cord were given to the employee owners as they arrived, but they were told not to open them. At the end of the presentation, they opened the boxes to find a little mirror engraved with “Owner.” It was simple but to the point.

If you have a mentoring program, you might feature the program and how it works. A lot depends on the culture of your company and the proximity of other possible locations.

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