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Gold Quill: Your Secret Professional Development Tool

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The Gold Quill Awards celebrate communication excellence, but they are also a thorough review of one’s work from the highest level to the tactics and details. If you’re looking to flex your business acumen and see how you stack up against a global standard of excellence, Gold Quill is the professional development exercise to get you there.

To better understand why Gold Quill is much more than an award, we spoke with five IABC members who know a thing or two about the program — having entered, won and even served as Gold Quill Chair in some cases — and are instructors for the IABC Academy Course, “The IABC Model for Communication Excellence: How to apply the strategic planning process.”

Included in this interview are: Cindy Schmieg, ABC, SCMP, IABC Fellow; Neil Griffiths, ABC, Chart.PR, IABC Fellow; Mari Lee, ABC; Dr. Amanda Hamilton-Attwell, ABC, CPRP, IABC Fellow; and Zora Artis, GAICD, SCMP, FAMI, CPM.

How does the process of submitting a Gold Quill Award entry flex one’s critical thinking and business acumen? 

Cindy Schmieg: Only truly strategic communication programs earn Gold Quill Awards. Entrants must think critically about each step in a strategic planning process when developing a communication program. It’s through this thinking that communicators become better at planning and measuring what matters to an organization. Once the thinking is clear, it’s possible to share a logical plan with executives using the common language of business planning that they expect.

Neil Griffiths: The Gold Quill Awards celebrate work from around the world that has been executed according to IABC’s model of strategic communication planning, which focuses on business impact, the stakeholders who are central to success and outcomes that will drive organizational performance. If this is how you approach your work, then you’re practicing in line with a global standard of professional execution. The formula celebrated in Gold Quill is a blueprint for making your communication strategic, insightful and impactful.

Dr. Amanda Hamilton-Attwell: In preparation for the submission, you have to question everything you did and you become intensely aware of your work’s alignment with the business strategy. This process is critical to every role in a business. Having worked on other award programs, I am convinced that Gold Quill creates the highest level of awareness regarding the alignment of your actions to the business strategy.

Mari Lee: In my company, we use the Gold Quill standard of evaluation as a communication framework to guide all strategic communication work — from annual strategies to short-term projects. This setup, which takes you through a full strategic process, provides assurance that the work produced will have an impact on the business. It’s the highest standard of business communication, and it places communication professionals in their sweet spot — the ability to use communication as a tool to directly and indirectly influence business results.

Zora Artis: Whether or not you win an award, the process is worthwhile, as it stretches you to evaluate your work against the detailed criteria for each section of the entry. Being able to apply critical thinking, creativity and measurement to your work, then align it back to the business issue, is essential to showing your value as a strategic thinker and effective tactician. It proves you are confident in your work’s impact and you are comfortable being accountable for your work as a communication professional.

​How does Gold Quill benefit one’s professional development journey? 

CS: Gold Quill award evaluators are experienced: they’re required to have at least 10 years’ experience in the field. The feedback from these communicators is valuable. Praise for excellent work builds confidence so the entrant knows to continue the practice. Constructive feedback helps to point to a new direction that should be more successful.

NG: Earning a Gold Quill is not an easy feat, and that is because you have to score consistently well across the entire submission to meet the standard (a minimum of 5.25 out of 7). When you meet that mark, it demonstrates you have truly met a global standard of excellence — a huge milestone. I know many people who felt they “made it” when they achieved a Gold Quill-winning project.

AH: Receiving the award is a feather in your cap. If you use the process to be strategic, you will have more confidence to state your case as a strategic business partner. It gives you the narrative to have strategic discussions with business leaders.

ML: Creating the submission is an opportunity to take a step back, marvel at what you achieved and realize areas of improvement. It’s a powerful and cathartic process. It also allows you to build a library of case studies. DevCom has entered Gold Quills locally in Africa and globally every year. Each team member writes two case studies. We coach each other and the winning two or three from our team enter the Silver Quill Awards. Those winning entries are then improved for global submission. We’ve made this part of our professional development process for communication consultants. It is a joyous learning moment, measuring yourself against global best practice standards.

ZA: Gold Quill is one of the few awards that recognizes the standard rather than a “winner” in a category. If your work meets the standard, then you receive the Award of Merit or the Award of Excellence, and the latter is certainly not easy to attain. If you do receive one, then you should be very proud of your work being amongst the best in the world.

What have you personally learned from the Gold Quill Awards? How has it served as a means for professional development for you?

CS: Some years ago, I entered an annual report in the Gold Quill Awards. It didn’t win. The feedback I received was that the measurement wasn’t concrete enough. I thought it was. (I guess I’m still not over that disappointment.) Ever since, when I prepare a communication plan, I ensure my objectives are definitive by including a specific target number and completion date to measure a change in behavior, understanding, awareness or perception that is directly aligned to the business need. The feedback fine-tuned my strategic planning ability.

NG: I use the IABC approach to strategic communication planning even if I know I will not enter a project for an award. It’s important I do this, not just for my own professional sensibility, but also because it’s good for the organization. It has happened more than once that, well into a project, someone has asked for details of a plan and, because I put the time in upfront, I was able to supply the information with ease.

AH: What is amazing is that the Gold Quill standard is the same for everyone — nowhere is it asked if the entrant is on a foundational or business leader level, or if the person is a strategic advisor or a generalist. The standard is the standard.

ML: The discipline to work according to the standard to begin with — and then the opportunity to measure, keep monthly and quarterly notes and prepare for the entry — keep you focused and ensure that your business gets the best results possible. I’ve submitted many entries that did not go home with gold, but the feedback from the evaluators showed different perspectives. The process is the reward in all aspects.

ZA: I’ve been fortunate to have received multiple Gold Quill Awards, and have also been a Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) evaluator. I know the quality of the work that is required, as well as the effort it takes to meet the standard. It is not an easy task. As an evaluator, I can’t tell you what joy it brings to my co-evaluator and me to review an entry that is the Award of Excellence. The evaluation process gives you insight into some of the best work from a breadth of categories from across the world — it is a privilege.

Do you have a case study that’s of Gold Quill caliber? Entries for the 2021 awards open soon. Keep an eye out for more information from IABC. 

Kristin Frankiewicz

Kristin Frankiewicz is the senior content coordinator for IABC.

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