In my 30 plus years with Modern Salon Media I have had the pleasure to judge hundreds (if not thousands) of hair and beauty competitions. These have included any and everything from NAHA to Empire's Nail Competition to Miss Teen New Jersey. I have traveled the world judging international events including Wella's Trend Vision and Goldwell's Color Zoom throughout Europe as well as a Zotos competition in Japan several years ago.

Although it sounds so "cliche", it is truly an honor to participate in every event. I take my judging responsibility quite seriously. While looking at an entry I think of  the competitor (or team) and treasure the efforts put in to the finish.

Just recently I was invited to judge the new Living Proof competition, kicking off today. Living Proof's Vice President of Broadcast and Communications Amy Rudgard asked me if I had any tips for those entering.  I DO!  Over the years I have learned that there are keys to winning (or at least doing well) in any competition. Here are my top eight suggestions to presenting a good entry.

1. Follow the rules! There are usually so many winning finishes in every competition that the judges frequently have to look for reasons to eliminate an entry. NOT following the rules is usually first and foremost way to LOSE a competition.

2. The model is the most important element of any photo. Don't select a model based on her HAIR...base it on her FACE. If you are entering a headshot in a print competition, it doesn't matter if the model does not have typical model stats. Book her based on her features and length of neck...the longer the better!. It's a different story in live competitions...go with a classic model height and shape.

3. For a print competition, photography is key. Even if your model (and her hair) is gorgeous, if not photographed well, it will not resonate with the judges. Simple rule: a dark haired model should be photographed on a lighter background, while a blonde or lighter haired model should be photographed on a darker background.

4. Know HOW you will be judged. I judged one competition that had a photo element, followed by a live element. There was one very interesting entry. The photo was fantastic and earned the highest points from all of the judges. However, the entry seriously disappointed in the live part of the competition...but because it had earned so many points in the first section, it still placed (it came in third). If possible, ask to see the judging sheet beforehand.

5. Learn what the judges are seeking. On a recent judging panel I was told there were two judges looking just for technical expertise and...cleanliness! The cleanliness aspect surprised me. While I personally love a colorist that kind of "slops" around and leaves the floor looking like a Jackson Pollock painting, most companies want to make sure their artists and their working spaces are neat and clean. ("The winner will be representing us worldwide," said one of the technical judges, "I want to make sure he or she will represent us well.") One of the best finishes in that competition didn't even place because the colorist had a messy station.

6. The little "extras" can make or break an entry. This means make up, fashion, nails...everything. In one competition, I was asked to select the finish that I would most want to run on the cover of Modern Salon Magazine. My favorite photo (great model, great hair, well photographed). had the model's hands in the photo. Her polish was chipped and a couple cuticles were chewed up. Obviously this photo did not win. In a live competition last year all the judges were distracted by one model because she could not walk in heels. It made it difficult to even LOOK at her, impacting the points. That entry...which was GREAT....sadly did not win.

7. Get your entry in ON TIME and follow up to make sure it was received. This could be accomplished as simply as sending as registered mail or with receipt requested.

8. If possible, know who will be judging your work. Consumer editors will look for something more commercial, while trade editors will look for an entry that is stronger and more inspirational. Fortunately, most competitions are judged by an assortment of industry professionals, so you can just do what you do best!

If you do win, make sure to be humble, grateful and gracious. Everyone will be watching...including the judges for the next competition.

If you DON'T win, make sure you have created work that makes you proud. Be a good sport and take the high road. The bottom line, just the exercise of entering is important. You will be surprised how you improve with each entry. Creativity is ongoing. Learn from each other and allow yourself to be inspired...even from fellow competitors!

For more on the Living Proof competition (with a GREAT prize), go to: LIVING PROOF

Included here is an interview with John Donato who I chatted with while he was in the middle of judging the most recent North American Trend Vision Awards (NATVA) for Wella. He offers some great advice and insight. It;s just over three minutes, but worth the view for anyone entering a competition.

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