Increase submissions to your awards through trust

This article is part of a series sharing a decade of experience supporting you to run open calls.

Build trust and increase submissions to your awards

If you are launching an award, it will be essential for you to build trust with anyone who might consider submitting to you. The longer your process and the bigger the submission fee, the more vital it will be to convince candidates you are legitimate.

In this article, we will cover the components of building trust when taking submissions, including:

  • How every detail matters
  • What to focus on to build credibility
  • What elements in your process could strip away trust in your programme
  • How to respond to critical feedback

Look the part

First impressions matter! The copy and imagery you use to attract potential candidates should reflect the quality of what you are offering.

Choose a couple of high-quality images to represent your programme. If you’ve run your programme before, choose a good-quality picture of the event or the winner’s work. If you haven’t, the web is full of incredible imagery, but be sure to seek permission and double-check usage rights before using any of them.

Your imagery cannot look stitched together in a rush in “Microsoft Paint”. Stay clear from plastering text all over it. Most online imagery captures people’s attention so that they read the text accompanying it. Images are often resized, cropped and edited to fit different online formats. Adding text leads to ugly crops and time-consuming editing to satisfy the needs of differing platforms.

Be consistent

Every candidate who submits to your programme will take a journey. 

An ad on Twitter might inspire someone to check your website before looking through your Linkedin profile and finally submitting on Zealous.

Each step in that journey builds credibility in your offering. Be sure the imagery and style are consistent across all your marketing channels. Use the same title for your programme, similar imagery and a unified tone of voice. 

If you are inactive on your social media feeds, remove links to them on your website (better still, delete them so they are not searchable). You want candidates to know you are active. An inactive feed will gnaw away at your credibility.

Highlight a fair process

For candidates to submit, they must know that everyone has an equal chance of winning. Your process must be fair, impartial and highlight the criteria you will use for picking winners. Think of sharing the following:

  • Who can submit (if this is for students only, be sure to say it)
  • Who will be selecting the winners
  • What are the scoring criteria
  • Announcement dates for the results
  • How candidates will receive the results

Be actively transparent

Try and answer candidates’ questions before they ask. Be upfront and honest about the rules, criteria for selection, and the process for awarding prizes.

Give as much detail as possible about the prizes. If a perk is that you are publishing work in a magazine, be sure to share readership numbers and the profile of those who read it. Twenty high-value art collectors / CEOs might be of more value to a candidate than 100,000 students (or vice-versa).

Make sure any costs for participating are transparent BEFORE candidates apply. “Congratulations, you’ve won, that will be £1,200 please…” will get you into trouble if the candidates don’t know there was a charge for being selected.

Nothing damages your brand more than a candidate flagging you as a scam across social media. Includes any fees for submitting and any costs to candidates should they be selected in your guidelines.

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Don’t make it hard for candidates to contact you! Make your contact details obvious. You won’t be able to answer all of your potential candidates’ questions in your guidelines. Let candidates know where to send any queries. You could advise them to contact you on social media, but that’s very public. Providing potential candidates with a dedicated email address is often the best, most trusted option (no one trusts filling out a “contact us” form on a website).

Be sure to check for emails often and respond to any questions promptly. Doing so shows you care about your audience and can be trusted.

Getting feedback is valuable to improve your competition. Integrate answers to popular questions into your communications as you run your programme (e.g. is the same question asked often? Add it to your guidelines). Keep ideas on how to improve any future awards.

Seek Partnerships

A couple of high-level judges, a good sponsor, or some great brands partnering with you will all elevate the value of your brand. When you partner with someone, you automatically align with the value of their brand. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but if someone who is trusted trust you, then that trust daisy chains to you.

Be sure any partners you choose are relevant to your programme. If you are organising an award for rock star accountants in New Jersey, you will want recognisable figures within that space.

It’s also worth noting partnerships can have pitfalls. If anyone you are associated with loses favour, that could impact how people view you. Do your due diligence to reduce any risks early.

We have a guide on how attract great judges here.

Fulfil promises

This point can appear obvious. If you promise someone a prize, be sure they get exactly what you promised them!

But promises are not just about the big things. Moving announcement dates, changing the process, and replacing judges all take their toll on how candidates view you.

Try your very best to stick to your plan and hold your promises. Should your circumstances change, communicate them quickly and explain “why” these changes were necessary. People will often forgive you if they understand your position. However, they won’t be so forgiving if they feel you are hiding something from them.


Trust is hard to gain and easily lost.

Keep their trust by presenting your award to potential candidates in a consistent manner across all your channels and submission journey. Be transparent about your needs, what you require from candidates and how you will select winners. Be up-front about all mandatory costs for taking part in your programme.

Most importantly, make it easy to contact you. Giving candidates the option to discuss any issues will always be the most effective way to resolve misunderstandings.

About the Author


Guy Armitage founded Zealous to simplify access to opportunities in the creative sector. He was voted Guardian’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has discussed the world-changing potential of creativity at TED and in Forbes; and is a proud trustee of Firstsite (Colchester) and Arebyte (London). Prior to Zealous, Guy kept the London Stock Exchange open during the 7/7 bombings and founded a creative startup in Cairo. Contact Guy