Contest Rules

Click here for a general overview of the contest, including instructions for entering.

Read the following rules carefully before submitting contest entries. Contest managers may disqualify entries that are incomplete or inconsistent with the contest rules.

If you have questions on how to prepare an entry, contact


The Northern Lights Awards competition is open to communicators in the public sector (including federal, state, regional and local government agencies; nonprofit agencies with a government-related mission, and school districts) and to producers in the private sector who have completed work on behalf of public-sector communications operations.

For this year's contest, projects completed or published between January 1, 2023 and February 29, 2024 are eligible. The same project may not be submitted in more than one contest year. For example, a project completed in January 2023 may be submitted in the 2023 contest, or the 2024 contest, but not in both. 

You do not need to be an MAGC member to enter the contest.

Submitting an Entry

All entrants are required to complete the online entry form. Entry materials are submitted electronically. This means you'll need to upload electronic files and/or submit URLs that lead to your entries.

Choose the category or categories for your entries carefully. Each entry will be judged in the category in which it was submitted, even if the judges don't consider the entry to be a good fit for that category. Refer to the contest categories list for this year's categories.

If you select "invoice me" as your payment option, MAGC must receive your payment by Friday, April 22. Unpaid entries run the risk of disqualification. You may request an extension to the payment deadline by contacting before the deadline date.

  • Tip: You can "submit" your entries weeks ahead of the deadline in order to receive an invoice early in the process. You'll be able to continue modifying and editing your entries up to the contest deadline.
  • Have questions about the invoicing process? Need assistance? Contact

Category Population Tiers

In 2024, we’re introducing three population tiers for each category, plus the option of “professional vendor.” In an effort to be fully transparent, we’re providing this spreadsheet showing how we settled on these population tiers. In short, we took all of last year’s entries, and found they fit into three logical categories. The NL Committee intends to review the entries year after year, and tweak these breakdowns if needed so they improve fair competition. 

  • Small Entity: 59,999 and smaller
  • Medium Entity: 60,000 – 999,999
  • Larger Entity: 1,000,000 and larger
  • Professional Vendors

Determination of Awards 

Each judge gives each entry a set of scores that add up to a total score of 0 - 100. The total scores from all judges are averaged to produce an entry's final score.

Northern Lights, Silver and Bronze awards
The final scores of all entries in a category are ranked using standard competition ranking (see below) to determine which entries receive awards. The Northern Lights Award is our first-place award. Silver and Bronze are second and third.

Best of Show award
Nominations for Best of Show are made by the contest's judges. Each judge may nominate one entry for Best of Show. Judges are not required to nominate any entry for Best of Show. A nomination for Best of Show will only be considered if the entry receives a Northern Lights Award.

The MAGC board or its designees select a single Best of Show winner from the nominated entries. No person with a conflict of interest (see below) may participate in the Best of Show selection process.

Communicator of the Year and Lifetime Achievement awards
Awardees are chosen by the MAGC board or its designees. These awards are not necessarily awarded each year. See Special Achievement Awards for more information about these awards. 

Minimum score to receive an award
An entry that scores below 70% of the highest-scoring entry in the category is not eligible for any award, regardless of ranking. For example, if the top-scoring entry in a category receives a score of 95.4, then all entries in that category with a a score below 66.78 are ineligible for any award. (95.4 * 0.7 = 66.78)

In the unlikely event that no entry receives a score of 70 points or higher in a particular category, MAGC reserves the right not to confer any awards in that category. In such a situation, a decision about how to proceed will be made by the Northern Lights Committee and/or the MAGC board. 

Categories recieving numerous entries
If a category recieves a large number of entries, MAGC reserves the right to split the category into two smaller categories based on similar population, content type, budget, or some other logical way to divide the entries. 

Standard Competition Ranking

Standard competition ranking is used to determine which awards are granted in each category. This ranking system may be familiar to you due to its use in many competitions including the Olympics.

Under this system, the award for each entry is determined by the number of entries scoring higher than it. This means that first place is granted to an entry if no other entry has scored higher than it; second place is awarded to an entry if one entry has scored higher than it; and third place is awarded to an entry if two entries have scored higher than it.

Here are some examples to show how standard competition ranking handles tie scores.

There is a tie for high score. 

  • 1-1-3. Two first-place awards are granted.
    The third-ranking entry receives a third-place award because there are two entries (the two tying for first place) that scored higher.

There is a single high score and a tie for second-highest score.

  • 1-2-2. A first-place award is granted, and two second-place awards are granted.
    The fourth-ranking entry does not receive a third-place award because there are three entries (one first-place and two second-place entries) that scored higher.

There is a tie score for third place.

  • 1-2-3-3. One first-place award, one second-place award, and two third-place awards are granted. 
    Each entry involved in the tie receives a third-place award because there are two entries that scored higher.

To everyone's surprise, two entries tie for highest score, and three entries tie for the next-highest score. 

  • 1-1-3-3-3. Two first-place awards are granted.
    Each entry involved in the second tie receives a third-place award because there are two entries that scored higher.

To everyone's utter amazement, six entries tie for highest score. 

  • 1-1-1-1-1-1.  Six first-place awards are granted.
    No other ranked awards are granted. 

Use and Publication of Entries

MAGC reserves the right to use and/or refer to the content of Northern Lights Awards contest submissions in its communications and publications on all media platforms in all publication realms. Examples of areas in which MAGC may use contest entries are:

  • As examples of entries in a particular category.
  • On the MAGC website as examples of outstanding work by its members.
  • At workshops, seminars, the MAGC Fall Conference, etc.  
  • On display at the Northern Lights Awards contest ceremony, to show examples of award winners.
  • In future promotions of MAGC and the Northern Lights Awards contest.
  • In other areas of publication at the discretion of the MAGC board, its committees and its volunteers.

Anonymity of Judges

MAGC may choose to acknowledge and thank the judges as a group, but does not disclose the names of the specific judges assigned to a particular entry or category. 

Conflicts of Interest

Judges must recuse themselves (refuse to accept the judging assignment) if asked to judge a category in which they have a conflict of interest. An example of a conflict of interest would be when a judge is asked to score an entry that is from an organization employing the judge or an organization contracting services from the judge.

Conflicts of interest have become much less common since MAGC has started swapping judging duties with peer groups from other states. 

Faulty URLs in Entries

It is the responsibility of the entrant to ensure that all URLs submitted as part of the entry are working and active from the date of entry submission through the end of June.

An entry with a link URL that does not provide proper access to the expected asset during the judging process may be considered impossible to judge and, as a result, may be taken out of consideration for an award.

Trophy Corrections

MAGC will provide a corrected trophy at no cost to a contestant if the trophy contains an error introduced by MAGC during the trophy ordering process.

MAGC will provide a corrected trophy, paid for in full by the contestant, if the trophy contains an error based on information the contestant provided on their entry form.

No-Refund Policy

Entry fees are non-refundable. MAGC reserves the right to refuse a refund in the case of:

  • An incomplete entry.
  • An entry with one or more components submitted after the entry deadline.
  • An entry that contains faulty or incorrect information (example: a faulty URL, false documentation, etc.).
  • An entry that has been rejected for failing to follow the contest rules, in the judgment of the contest organizers.
  • Any other reason, condition or situation which MAGC, at its sole discretion, deems to be a sufficient cause for refusing a refund.

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