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July 16, 2002

Communicator awards, and other coincidences
Posted by Teresa at 04:00 PM *

Those who managed to hack their way through my Fourth of July rant may recall my puzzlement that on the front page of the profoundly uncommunicative Op Sail 2000 website were the words, “Winner of the 2000 Communicator Award of Distinction.”

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I noticed that the Cris Robins Agency—Cris Robins is a soi-disant literary agent whose name came up in the comments following my Want to see a scam in progress? post—is likewise a recipient of the 2000 Communicator Award of Distinction. In fact, Cris Robins has four of the things.

(On the same page, she also says that she was considered for the Pulitzer Prize in 1996. This is fetchingly modest compared to her usual claim to have been “nominated for the Pulitzer Prize”. You know that trick, right? Anyone can be nominated for a Pulitzer. You just pay the submission fee and send in the nominated material—or save your money and just say you sent in your submission, since the Pulitzer organization doesn’t release lists of nominees. So many people make misleading claims about being “Pulitzer nominees” that it’s the first entry in the Pulitzer FAQ, under the tactful heading, “What does it mean to be a Pulitzer Prize Nominated Finalist?”.) (But I digress.)

After that, I just had to go look at the Communicator Awards website, to see what kind of an operation would give the same award to a grandee-sponsored outfit like OpSail and a small-time grifter.

Turned out to be very interesting. I hit paydirt on Communicator Awards’ Print Media page. They’re using frames, so you’ll have to click on the links in the column on the left-hand side of the page. Most of this will be under the “Print Information” link.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is one of those awards you give yourself, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. The Communicator Awards are much classier than that. Why, if you’re one of the Excellence, Distinction, or Honorable Mention winners, you’ll be given a foiled certificate at no additional cost! (The entry fee is $37.50 per single entry, $50 per campaign.) But that’s not all:

Excellence and Distinction winners are elgible for The Communicator Awards’ prestigious crystal jade glass award. Each Communicator Award is individually hand crafted from crystal jade glass with exquisitely beveled edges and deep carving on the backside. Since The Communicator Awards makes it competition accessible to more people by keeping its entry fees low, Excellence and Distinction winners will be charged $130 to cover the cost if they wish to commemorate the achievement with an etched crystal award. Additional certificates and awards are available.
Click on the link that says “Entries”. There are 160 different awards divided into 17 different categories. Finishing off the list of established awards in each category is a write-in line saying “Other”. The page says:
You may enter one project under multiple categories. Additional entry fees will apply.
If you do not find a suitable category, select “other” under one of the headings, create your own category, and write it on the entry form.
Is it just me, or does that sound more like a catalogue than a contest?

The link that says “2002 Winners” gets you a list of the guys who won the Crystal Award of Excellence. There are 298 winners, but some of them won multiple awards, so the total is at least 350. What’s weird about the list is that they just tell you who won. They don’t tell you which category they won in.

(I was briefly distracted by Waskul World Wide Communications of Glendale, CA, which won six of them. It seems a shame that Waskul World Wide is no longer with us. All that remains are the awards they received: the Golden Advocate, the Bronze Anvil, the PRo Award, the Gold Quill, the Videographer Award, the 19th Annual Healthcare Advertising Award. … On the other hand, Waskul World Wide appears to have administered the PRism Awards for the Public Relations Society of America. Igor’s head go round and round. I suspect there’s a story in here somewhere, but I have books to edit.)

Let’s go back to that fruitful “Print Information” link. I’m about to be cynical, even though I know there’s a chance that the minute I post this, a dozen people will pop up to tell me that the Communicator Awards are good and true and above all honest. How happy I shall be! In the meantime, I’ll take my chances with cynicism:

The Communicator Awards is an international awards competition founded by communication professionals to recognize excellence in the communication field.
Whoever they are. The site doesn’t list the founders, administrators, judges, or auditors. Everything’s run out of a mailbox address in Arlington, Texas, which is a smallish place halfway between Dallas and Forth Worth. Remember that.
The Communicator Awards gives winners and their clients the recognition that the work they are producing is outstanding and highly regarded by their peers. The Communicator Awards provides an equal chance of winning to all entrants, regardless of size and budget. Since there are no lengthy essays to accompany the entry, all work will be judged solely on its own quality, creativity, and resourcefulness.
Just what we all want to hear about our work. The bit about “quality, creativity, and resourcefulness” is especially slick. Most of us have a vague sense that we’re not the best writers/photographers/graphic designers/other in the Known Universe, but we’ll give ourselves full points for creativity and resourcefulness, and of course it’s axiomatic that we all think we’re good communicators.

Since there’s no documentation accompanying the submissions, I do have to wonder how they can judge resourcefulness. Producing slick artifacts in depravedly grubby conditions is practically the definition of the communications industry. I have, in an emergency, melted colored-pencil leads in a mug of microwave-heated water to retouch a mechanical, then painted over the retouched bits with colorless fingernail polish—but the point was that when I was finished, you couldn’t tell from looking at it what I’d done.

Each entry will be carefully scrutinized and graded by award-winning professionals who have been chosen based on their extensive experience and proven creativity in the communications field.
Remember this part too: Award-winning professionals with extensive experience.

I will also point out that in most judged competitions, we know who the judges are. I can’t help thinking that with 160 awards a year, I ought to know one or two of the judges. I also have to wonder how Communicator Awards finds extensively experienced judges when they’ve got seventeen write-in categories and you’re allowed to submit in multiple categories.

Entries will be judged against a high standard of excellence rather than against each other.
That means you can sell more than one award in the same category. It also means people won’t be as upset if they find out someone got the same award for doing a paint-by-numbers kit that they got for painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Maybe that’s why they don’t break out the award categories for the 2002 winners: It makes it much harder to figure out which recipients have gotten exactly the same award, and compare the quality of the work for which they won.

The Crystal Award of Excellence is given to those entries whose ability to communicate puts them among the best in the field. The Award of Distinction is presented for projects that exceed industry standards in quality and excellence.
The communications industry isn’t big on objective standards, and everybody thinks they exceed them. By way of illustration, recall that the slush pile is part of the communications industry. If you cite “industry standards”, you can give an award to practically anyone.

The next bit is where the foiled certificate at no extra cost and the prestigious crystal jade glass award came in.

We know there were at least 350 applicants for 2002. Let’s say only 50 of those paid the $50 entry fee for a campaign, and the others paid the $37.50 single-entry fee. That’s $13,750 in entry fees right there. But a Google search turned up websites that said they’d gotten Honorable Mentions, so there must be more. (There darned well ought to be more; it’s not much of a contest if there isn’t.)

Charging $130 per trophy is high but not extortionate. You can check that out yourself here or here, or at any other outfit that manufactures corporate motivational awards. I’m sure Communications Awards is getting a wholesale rate on all those glass tombstones, but I don’t think the heart of the scam is selling the trophies. I think it’s collecting the entry fees.

The Communicator Awards recognizes that entrants want to know the results of the competition as soon as possible and will make every effort to notify ALL entrants by mail, usually within 45 days from the deadline. Crystal Award of Excellence winners will also be posted on this site and will be printed in next year’s Call for Entries.

Included with the notification is information that winners can use in their marketing materials and web sites, and in preparing releases for their local news media, clients and prospects.

No awards ceremonies, no ads in trade magazines, no nothing. Just a notification, a listing on the website, and an award that comes in the mail, plus information on how to trumpet it yourself. This is strictly a DIY honor.
The Communicator Awards panel of judges will give each entry a grade. Those receiving 70 to 79 points will be Honorable Mention winners. Entries with 80-89 points will win the Award of Distinction. Those projects awarded 90 points and above will win the Crystal Award of Excellence. All Excellence, Distinction and Honorable Mention winners will receive a foiled certificate at no cost.
Arrival of the fittest. Most scientific.
The competition is open to all companies, organizations, or individuals involved in producing any kind of communication materials for external or internal audiences. To be eligible for a Communicator Award, an entry must have been produced after January 1, 2000.

Entering The Communicator Awards is easy. There are no multiple copies, special binders or matting requirements for print materials. If your entry is too large to send, an 8x10 photo will suffice. All foreign language entries must be accompanied by english translation.

Audio entries can be on cassette, CD, c” reel, DAT or CD-Rom (windows). Please submit slide shows and film on video. Video entries should be NTSC and can be on VHS, SVHS, Beta, Beta SP, DVD or CD (Windows). Multi-media entries should be in windows format. Submit web site entries on CD (Windows), diskette or provide URL Address. Entries can be on single tapes or combined on one tape (or CD).

My cynicism consists of suspecting that the primary qualification is that the piece be accompanied by a check.
A piece may be entered in more than one category at an additional cost. However, it is not necessary to send multiple copies of the same piece.
Hold it right there. Arlington, Texas. Smallish place. Unlikely to have all those award-winning professionals with pertinent experience you’d need to judge all those award categories. The judges would have to be spread out, wouldn’t they? Even if you limited yourself to judges from Dallas-Ft. Worth, they’d still be spread out.

Next point: There’s nothing very difficult about sending multiple copies of the same piece of work if you’re entering it in multiple categories. This is the communications industry. No matter what we make, we make multiple copies of it. The only reason to tell people not to send multiple copies is if you genuinely don’t need them.

In fact, it would make sense to send multiple copies if you were submitting in multiple categories, because there’s no guarantee that those categories will all be judged by the same judge—and as noted above, those judges are unlikely to live down the block from each other. You’d definitely need more than one copy.

Unless, of course, one or two people in Arlington are doing all the judging. That’s the only way I can make this make sense. If so, I doubt they’re any kind of experts. They just take your money and certify that you’ve won an award.

Maybe it makes you happy, if you don’t know any better. If you do know better, maybe it makes your clients happy. Whichever way you look at it, it beats the heck out of claiming your were nominated for a Pulitzer.

Or, as Swift put it:

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ‘em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Comments on Communicator awards, and other coincidences:
#1 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 06:53 PM:

If entries are "judged against a high standard of excellence rather than against each other," then it is not, by definition, a competition. They're just plain blatantly lying, and anyone who gets one of these is either a pure scam artist hirself, or can't fucking read.

Either way, must to avoid.

#2 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 07:31 PM:

If you want to see Cris claiming that she has a "Pulitzer nomination," you can look at

That's an outstandingly ugly page, too.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 08:20 PM:

Chris, even though they're not a competition, I can imagine that if they were being judged by experts, and judged against a sufficiently rigorous standard of excellence, the awards might mean something. But these aren't, and they don't.

Jim, thanks for the link. I've incorporated it into my post.

#4 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2002, 10:18 PM:

Ter, of course, of course. My point was that they contradict themselves right on the page there...claiming that it's a competition, but oops, not competitive.

I agree completely that a real juried rating system might be worth something.

#5 ::: Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2002, 12:00 AM:

Okay, maybe I shouldn't be admitting this sort of thing to the whole planet, but I believe I was the winner of one of the Communicator Awards a few years ago in the '90s.

It may not have been the same outfit, since I entered a statewide, not national competition. But it was called the Communicator Awards, and I won something. I went to a banquet in Bloomington Illinois, where I ate rubber chicken (my expense) and a local TV anchorman handed out the awards. I received a plaque, not one of the clear plastic jobs shown on the website.

I was working at a public radio station in Peoria at the time, and entered in the journalism category. But I don't believe there were many entries in that field. The competition was mostly aimed at small-scale, often in-house public relations work ---- something that wasn't clear when I entered, but was very obvious at the banquet.

As for the competition-but-not-competitive bit, I believe I won a 2nd place award in my category. But I don't remember the judges awarding a First Place award. Perhaps that's an example of what they meant.

I didn't participate in the Communicator in subsequent years, saving my efforts for Genuine Broadcast Journalism awards run by the Associated Press (state) and Public Radio News Directors Inc. (national). All my awards so far have been second place --- no clear plastic yet. But I do think they outweigh the Communicator Awards.

#6 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2002, 03:04 PM:

Jim, I think if the Communicator Awards of Arlington, Texas gave you a banquet, it would amount to having your picture taken in front of a painted backdrop of a hotel room, sitting at a plate from the front window of a Japanese restaurant: plastic model food, not rubber chicken.

Congratulations on your achievements, really. Even coming in second in a real competition is the opposite of shabby.

#7 ::: anonymous ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2002, 07:27 PM:

I signed my name as "anonymous" not to hide my identity, but my embarrassment. I have been a client of the Cris Robins Agency for four that time, I have written 6 novels, and twelve original screenplays. I finally woke up here in the last few months when I told Cris I had a new screenplay I wanted to send her...the best, I believe, I've written. She said not to send it because she was still going through the six scripts I had sent her, the same ones I had sent her in the month of September, 2001. (What kind of agent tells you not to send them your new material?) Anyway, to continue, I was sent an email a week ago telling me my contract was about to expire and if I wished I may re-sign with her agency. (What agent gives you the ball and tells you it's your call on whether to re-sign or not?) In other words, she was leaving it up to me. Strange? I'd say so. Look, I'm just a working class guy who likes to write...junky's a hobby...I have a real job...but four years ago I thought, what the hell, maybe I should see if anyone else would like to read my junk. Cris did...but since then I believe, in four years time, I've received three phone calls from her...panicked through her announcements she was sending my scripts to various film companies: Miramax, HBO, etc....getting mine and my family's hopes up only to be shot down. A little piece of advice? If you write screenplays...or novels for that matter, and don't have an agent...just try to do it yourself. If you are a script writer, [The rest of this recommendation has been deleted for my own complex yet dull professional reasons. It's not that I have specific objections. I just don't think it's proper to have the recommendation on my site--especially when it's by an anonymous poster. If you want to find out what it originally said, write to and ask. -tnh] That's what I did...sold my blood at the blood bank here in town and exchanged my blood money for a money order. If I'm going to continue as a failure, I'd just as soon fail on my own. Thanks for letting me tell my tale.

#8 ::: P.W. Fenton ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2003, 09:01 AM:

I just received one of these brochures this morning and decided to look into it. Someone named "Mark Allen" is listed as the Administrative contact for this business. He is also listed as the owner of, an Internet Service Provider located at the very same Arlington, Texas address. I suspect there are many more business operating out of that same office. This is just one of many predators that prey on the hopes and dreams of aspiring "artists".

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