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Contesting Is Contagious

Even in the 21st century, people love to win prizes of all kinds

Even when odds are very long, the chance to win a million dollars is exciting. This is the website of the Virginia Lottery. There’s one way to generate consistent fun in radio: Give away great prizes.

I was reminded of this indisputable fact last week as I watched my two kids tune in repeatedly to a radio station in their attempt to win one pair of concert tickets.

They followed directions precisely, turning on the station at 10 minutes past each hour and then waiting for their signal to call in and try to win. They even asked my wife several times to listen for them when they weren’t available.

Did they win? Nope. Did they hold that against the station? Nope. In fact, they were excited about the mere possibility that they could win. That was enough to get them interested. I also noticed that on several occasions they left the station on after the winner was announced.

The only part they found frustrating was having to make an actual phone call. “You mean I can’t text the station?” Not cool, apparently. But more about that after we discuss prizing.

After collective contesting with bigger-than-life prizes became the norm, smaller contesting was diminished and, in some places, eliminated. While I have nothing against the collective contest approach, it should be part of the plan, not the end game. Collective prizing certainly can generate interest and lots of participation, but it isn’t local. Local prizing speaks to what’s currently happening in your city and even permits you to give away exciting or necessary local services, as well.

You will never go wrong with the staples of contesting: tickets to concerts, events, theatre performances, and sports. If you want to come off as family-friendly, be sure and make ’em at least four-packs — and it wouldn’t hurt for you to include $25 for babysitting.

The not-so-obvious prizes I’ve seen first-hand that listeners get excited about are movie tickets and … lottery tickets!

While movie tickets may seem ordinary to you, for a lot of working families, movies are a real treat. Even if the movie is no good, your station still gets credit because the winners are happy that they didn’t have to pay for the tickets!

As for lottery tickets, I figured that they were a total waste of time. For a long time I was skeptical that they had any value at all, considering how little they cost and how few winners hit anything. Then I was strong-armed into giving away a bunch of them in order to obtain a rather sizeable lottery buy from an agency.

What started as reluctance ended in exuberance; I interacted with people who were very excited about the remote possibility of winning a large sum of cash. Why are they so willing to participate? It cost them absolutely nothing! Plus, the winner and a few friends got to hear their names announced on the radio. Fame and potential fortune beat any dull day.

In between the smaller prizes and collective contesting, I urge you to reconsider car giveaways. This is still a terrific way to get a car dealer involved with your station and to generate excitement for their dealership and wide selection.

Giving away a limited run of keys — on the air and through dealership events — is a tried-and-true method that can build excitement for an entire month.

And if you do it right by offering a cash alternative in your contest rules, the dealership can even save money. The way this works is that the winner is presented with a car, or behind door number two they can take a cash option, usually about half the value of the car. The reason winners often opt for the cash is that this enables them to pay the taxes on the prize without dipping into their savings account. Win, win and win.

Finally, about those phone calls my kids had to make: I am not against using the phone as one entry point, but it’s important to increase your potential contest universe by also encouraging entries via text message. Then you can randomly select a winner from all entries received by phone and text. The added advantage to text entry is that you can respond to all participants with the message of your choice. Rather than interacting with dozens of people by phone, you’ll touch hundreds or thousands through text message.

Who says you can’t schedule fun?

The author is president of Lapidus Media. Contact him at[email protected].