IABC’s Gold Quill Awards recognize and award excellence in strategic communication and honor the dedication, innovation and passion of communicators on a global scale. To learn more about what it takes to earn a Gold Quill Award, especially a “Best of the Best” designation, we connected with Laurie Stewart, director of communications, administration and operations at Ryerson University.
Stewart, whose passion for communication was fostered in high school, studied semiotics and communication theory at the University of Toronto and completed her master’s degree at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. She has since climbed the career ladder in internal, administrative and operations-related communications.
Along with her team, she received a Best of the Best Gold Quill Award in 2019 for their project, “Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Getting Cyber Savvy.” This campaign has a unique story, as the team submitted it for IABC awards two years in a row, refining the submission each time before it received the Best of the Best designation.
Here, Stewart shares insight about the submission process, how Gold Quill feedback helps communicators improve their project, the impacts of the award on a communicator’s career and advice for those entering the 2021 Gold Quill Awards.
How did you get involved with IABC?
I was looking for professional development opportunities to expand my knowledge of best practices and innovations in the communication field. After some searching, I found IABC and started attending the IABC World Conference. I’ve attended five now and had the pleasure of sharing the opportunity with my direct report so she can expand in her career growth. It’s felt like passing the baton to share the opportunity of such rich and varied learning experiences.
You received a Best of the Best Gold Quill Award in 2019 for “Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Getting Cyber Savvy.” Why did you submit this work for a Gold Quill Award?
Although I am the IABC member who submitted the work, it was my team who earned the Best of the Best Award.
We’ve submitted this annual campaign for IABC awards for a few years in a row. In our first year, we received an award of merit, and we received an award of distinction the following year. We were thrilled with this accomplishment and later heard that we were selected as the Best of the Best! This was an incredible surprise, given the Best of the Best is not a designation you can apply for, but is awarded by IABC only when they find a submission deserving of this accolade.
We’re very proud of this campaign and the continued improvements we’ve made year after year. The campaign's goal is to simplify cybersecurity concepts, risks and actions that the community can take. This includes adopting two-factor authentication, recognizing phishing emails and understanding the importance of information security. The assets include video, web content, HTML emails, social media, in-person engagement (pre-COVID) and intranet pop-up quizzes for the entire month of October. The entire campaign is developed in-house between our team and the IT department, which means that the only cost to create the campaign is the value of the prize incentives. Being in a public institution, budgets are tightly constrained, so we had to be innovative in our approach and have all hands on deck to make it come to life.
It’s been a great example of the ways in which a communications team can partner and collaborate with subject matter experts (in this case our IT department) to deliver a top-tier campaign that resonates with the audience and creates behavior change, which is critical in terms of cybersecurity at a large organization.
What did you learn about your work during the Gold Quill submission process? What feedback did you receive, and did it help you think differently about your program?
You feel a bit like you’re back in high school playing with margins and font size to fit every last thing you want in the application and not surpass the page limit! It’s challenging to determine the most critical information for IABC reviewers.
The feedback from our first year’s application helped us hone in on how we measured the campaign. This resulted in better tracking through the duration of the campaign and ensuring we had the ability to gather these analytics. It also gave us a better sense of what the reviewers were looking for.
Furthermore, the feedback helped us create new team processes to document progress as we went along, creating a project debrief that we added to in real time. This documentation was really helpful for us to hold a wrap-up meeting at the end of the project to assess successes and areas for improvement. It also meant that a good portion of our award submission was being prepared at the same time the project was being executed.
Gold Quill: Your Secret Professional Development Tool
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.
Has your Gold Quill Award impacted your career?
Aside from the obvious bragging rights, it’s impacted employee engagement for team members who worked on the project. It’s validating to see yourself as an award-winning professional in your field. It’s a source of pride for the team when we’re introduced to new leaders and we’re able to include this accolade when we tell them about ourselves and our work.
In terms of our partnerships with our client departments, it’s been helpful in showing value and ensuring the communications team has a seat at the planning table. To a certain degree, the award provides some external legitimacy to the work we’re doing, which was helpful to report back to the IT project team.
The award also brought our campaign to the attention of other organizations who have asked for rights to use our assets and make them their own.
Can you tell us about an upcoming project that you’re excited about?
At the moment, we’re celebrating the end of this year’s cybersecurity campaign which was adapted to all online engagement in light of COVID-19. We’ll begin planning as early as January for next October’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month!
What would you tell another communicator who is considering entering the 2021 Gold Quill Awards?
I have to be honest — the award submission is time consuming, but the recognition is worthwhile. It’s valuable to receive peer review from others in the communication field who are removed from your work.
Do you have a case study that’s of Gold Quill caliber? Entries for the 2021 awards are now open. Submit your work by 8 January 2021 to take advantage of the early bird discounted rate. The final deadline is 1 February 2021.
Laurie Stewart is the director of communications, administration and operations at Ryerson University.