Clever Contests That Will Tempt Reporters to Cal

Celebrating a business anniversary soon and hoping the media will jump on the story? Dream on. Nobody but you cares how long you’ve been in business. If you really want to catch the media’s attention, sponsor a clever contest that ties in with your anniversary.
A men’s clothing store, for example, can sponsor an ugly tie contest. Ask customers to bring in their most ghastly neckties. Display the entries in your store and ask people to cast a vote. Call the local newspaper and ask if they want to write a story about the winner, and photograph some of the other entries. The winner of the contest gets a $100 gift certificate and you get fantastic publicity without buying an ad.

When Donald Jones was looking for cheap publicity for his Atlanta, Ga. brunch delivery service called New York Brunch Basket, he suspected the best way might be to offer gift baskets as prizes during a local morning drive-time radio show.
"The first station I approached loved the idea," said Jones, who was involved in the clever "Brunch on the Boss" contest several years ago.

Jones offered the station gift baskets filled with croissants, muffins, jam, coffee and fresh-squeezed juice, along with a copy of that day's New York Times. The station asked listeners to write a letter extolling the boss's virtues. Each morning, a letter was read on the air. The winning boss received a brunch basket.contests

The contest started out weekly but became so popular that the station did it each weekday morning for an entire year. "The response was very good, and today I'm still getting calls from people who remember the contest," Jones said.

People love contests. So do the media. They’re fun. They provide an aura of suspense. And they’re one of the best ways to get publicity for your company without having to spend money on a paid ad. Choosing a clever contest that becomes an annual event can be part of your company’s branding campaign. Pillsbury, for example, gets tons of free publicity from its annual Bake-Off. Winners are profiled in their local newspapers and national magazines, along with the winning recipes.

One of the reasons that contests are so valuable as publicity tools is that you can create publicity before, during and after the contest. Beforehand, you can send a news release announcing the contest and perhaps even pitch a clever angle that warrants a feature story. During the contest, you can keep the media updated on entries. Then you can announce the winner with great fanfare. During the months after you announce the winner, take the most interesting story angles from the contest, particularly clever entries that didn’t win, and pitch those as ideas to the media. Then resurrect the contest the following year and do it all again.