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Replying to Applicants
By Karen Pimtzner -- January 31, 2001
The reviews are complete and the awards prepared.  All that remains is to send the reply letters.  How well we communicate with the "good" and the "not-so-good" applicants is what will set us apart as the "good" or the "not-so-good" award programs.  It's as simple as choosing the perfect words.

Why We Contact Only The Award Winners!

Karen Pimtzner

I guess what they say is true.  It is always easier to convey good news than bad news.  Our society has conditioned itself to believe that acceptance is good, rejection is bad.  As award-givers, we are no different.  We want to be the good guys.   We want to reward webmasters for being good.  After all, it's our job to dispense to the few, the proud, the worthy ... the Web Award!   So, to make sure that we are constantly the purveyors of goodwill, we post on our award sites:  "Only Award Winners Will Be Notified".

There's Nothing Like The Feeling Of Winning

Anyone fortunate enough to have won an award, male or female, young or old, will tell you that there is no other feeling like it.  Whether it's your first award or your one thousand and first, the feeling is still the same.  Winning an award - any award - is a good feeling.  No.  It's better than that.  It's like your birthday and Christmas all rolled into one.  It's a natural high.  It validates that you've made a valuable contribution to something.  You've scaled Mt. Everest and reached the peak!  And, that makes you feel good!  And, it's a fact that award-givers love to be the bearers of that good news and presenters of that sought-after prize.  It not only makes the recipient feel good, but it makes us, as award-givers, feel good, as well. We've done something nice for someone and that's good!  So now, we try to put those good feelings into words.

The Award Winner's Letter (The Good)

Imparting good news can be accomplished in many different. creative ways and in as many different styles as there are people.  In my experience as an award winner, I've received a wide variety of award letters.  Here are just a few examples:

  • All That Glitters:  This letter is a dazzler to be sure.  The higher level the award, the more spectacular the presentation (some even employing .exe files) with graphics that rival, and could easily be mistaken for, the award itself.  Bold and glorious proclamations centered on brightly colored backgrounds in fancy fonts, they all convey the same message:  "You've won this award because you're good!"

  • Short and Sweet:  As if the presenter were being charged by the character, this letter states the obvious without wasting words.  Subject:  "You've Won!"  Body: "Congratulations!"    Get it done in as few words as possible.  Some of the more thought-provoking letters mention the level of award you've won and where you can go to pick it up.  Still others, given by the over-ambitious award-givers might even have the award attached.  But, you still get the gist of the message here and that is: "You're good!" (12 characters)  "Good job!" (9 characters)  "OK!" (3 characters)

  • The Teacher:  Not wanting you to become too full of yourself or mistake this single act as a life-altering achievement, these letters present the prize with a report card - an itemized list of what was good about your web site, along with a list of those areas where improvement is still needed.  Simply put:  "You're good, but you ain't all that good!" 

  • Temporary Injunction:  Quite official looking documents, not unlike legal briefs (and sometimes as difficult to decipher), these letters set forth, in no uncertain terms, additional conditions that must be met prior to the prize actually being placed in your hand (or on your web site).  These award-givers are still testing your abilities to read and comprehend in order to complete the "process" of getting listed on the rolls of the good.  Be sure to read the small print: "Your taking possession of this award is temporary and may be revoked at any time, for any reason, at the whim of the presenter."

  • Now You See It, Now You Don't:  No instant gratification here.  This letter has got to be, by far, the most intriguing (albeit frustrating) of all.  There's a trick to obtaining this award and you just better hope that you can figure it out before it's too late.  The body of the letter contains a secret URL that takes you to a secret award page.  Once you reach this page, you are asked for an even more secret password that will unlock the vault.  There, inside, if you are quick enough to see it and clever enough to grab it ... is the award.  Of course, the award will only be there for a limited amount of time and then mysteriously vanish into thin air (so you better bring along your secret decoder ring and a stopwatch!)  But, even without the slight of hand you know:  "You done good!"

Okay, I may have exaggerated (a bit).  But, all of these letters do have one thing in common.  They are intended to be a pat on the back for a job well done and, for all their faults, make the recipient feel good!  And, because they feel good, the award giver feels good,  So, everybody wins ... right?

The Non-Winner's Letter (The Not-So-Good)

There's an old saying that for every winner, there has to be a loser (or two or ten).  So, what do we do?  As award givers, we conduct preliminary site evaluations to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Armed with  carefully crafted criteria, we go, we look, and we eliminate all the sites that do not qualify for any number of legitimate reasons.  We toss these submissions aside.  They are not good, so we don't need to waste our time with them.  

What about the sites that we don't eliminate this way?  These webmasters have carefully read our criteria and filled out our applications.  But, upon careful review of their sites, they just didn't quite meet our high standards for an award?  Oh, that's right ... "Only Award Winners Will be Notified."   Well, maybe not.

Somewhere along the line, a new breed of award-giver emerged.  They are visionaries, brutally honest and a bit cocky.  They know that to improve the quality of the web sites being submitted for awards, specific problems have to be identified and solutions found or these problems will continue to manifest themselves over and over again.   So, the letter to non-winners of awards was born.

A method was sought to convey this message in a positive way.  But, it was a challenge, to be sure.  We agonized over these letters, changing and refining the wording over and over again; and still we couldn't make them sound positive.  "Your dog died, but on the bright site ...."  We spent countless hours writing and re-writing and came up with the following cream of the crop:

I Feel Your Pain:  In these letters, the award-giver attempts to step into the shoes of the non-winner and share their disappointment.  They may begin with phrases like:  "I'm terribly sorry ..." or "I hate to have to inform you ..."   They try to convince the recipient that the award-giver would like nothing more than to be on the receiving end with them rather than distanced from the whole situation, which in reality, they are. 

Kind of reminds me of the punishment we received as kids.  As the hand was coming down on your backside, you heard those comforting words:  "This hurts me, more than it will hurt you."  Who were they trying to kid?  I was the one who couldn't sit down for a week.  The message comes through loud and clear:  "You're not-so-good!"

Hope Springs Eternal:  Some award-givers feel the need to leave the recipient with a crumb .. a small ray of hope that they can cling to in their hour of desperation:  "I have to tell you that you're not-so-good.  But, with improvements and given sufficient time to cool down and stop hating me, you can re-apply in 60 days."  Even though they tell you that you're not-so-good, you're almost tempted to sit down and write them a note and thank them for their kindness.

Get In, Get Out:  This letter expresses, in no uncertain terms:  "You're not-so-good.  Later!"  Its message is clear, to the point, and delivered with lightening speed.  The award-giver says his/her piece and hits the ground running before the recipient can catch his breath (or the license plate number of the bus that hit him.)

I'm Here For You:  In and of itself, this letter, though cleverly deceptive, is one of my all-time favorites.  The main message:  "Although you're not-so-good, if you need help with your web site, just let me know."  WOW!  An award-giver actually reaching out his/her hand to pick me up off the floor (after knocking me down) and offering to help me improve so that I wouldn't be not-so-good ever again.  

Like the kind invitations offered by virtual strangers you meet on summer vacations -- who say:  "If you're ever out west, look me up." -- this invitation is shallow.  The award-givers really don't expect you to drop them a note.  This becomes painfully evident when the reply you send to their auto responder comes back.

The Mercy Killing:  In this letter, the award-giver dissects your web site, page by page, word by word, trying to impress upon you once and for all the plain and simple truth:  "You're not-so-good and you're never going to be any good, no matter how hard you try."  At this point, the award-giver gently pulls the plug and puts you out of your misery.

These slightly exaggerated samples of letters may be downright laughable to you, but they are out there.  I know.  I received each and every one of them or ones very similar.  But, in their own way, the writers of these letters tried.  They tried very hard to make a bad situation good or a good situation better.  

Each Letter Tells a Story ... About You!

If we, as award-givers, expect professionalism from our award applicants, we must show them professionalism in return.  We can take four months to thoroughly review their web site and then blow it all on one bad award letter written in haste. 

How many times have you posted those great, personal comments that an award-giver made about your site ... only to see those same exact comments on another web site or two or twenty?   Do you remember how that made you feel?  Cheated?  You bet.  Or, as a non-winner,  receiving a form letter on which the award-giver forgot to change the previous addressee's name or web site name to yours?  Did you feel like a non-entity?  Sure you did!  These are simple, easily made mistakes.   But, the damage they can cause is irreparable.  And all because we don't take the time to do it right.

On the other hand ... do you remember the kind words and thoughtful comments, specific to your web site,  that an award-giver took the time to write?   Remember being so thrilled that you were tempted to post the comments instead of the award?

Or, the award-giver who may not have given you an award  but offered you suggestions for improvements, links to forums and articles, along with their email address, should you need further assistance or have specific questions?  Did you get the feeling someone actually cared whether you achieved success as a webmaster?  You bet you did!

The words that we write are as important, if not more important, than the award we present.  They are an extension of the award-giver, his/her award program, and the entire awards community.  They can encourage or discourage.  They can build up or tear down.  They can leave a positive or a negative impression on those who receive them.  They can make an award program thrive and grow or quickly fade away.

We may never find the perfect words, but it takes only a few extra moments to try to find the right words.

Copyright © 2000
All Rights Reserved
Karen Pimtzner

About the Author
Karen Pimtzner is a digital artist and webmistress who resides in Lakehurst, NJ.  She has been designing web sites  since 1998 and her mosaic art gallery, Petal Perfect, has been in existence and featuring her award-winning artworks since August of 1999.  She has won over 60 awards for her web site.  Karen designed her first awards program in mid-1998, which later evolved into the now retired iNet Award Program.

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