Online contests generate revenue and buzz

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At any given time, BH Media Group newspapers likely are running at least one contest online. With 71 newspapers in 10 states (and a TV station in Miami), that's a lot of contests.

Keeping the calendar straight and providing support to individual papers is the job of a team based at the corporate headquarters in Nebraska, also home to the Omaha World-Herald. The contests are part of an overall promotions strategy that won BH Media an award for Best Group-Wide Promotions Strategy from Second Street in 2014.

"It wasn't for a particular promotion so much as getting the group all kind of on the same page as far as what themes we were going to be running at different times during the year, and then executing each of those locally," said Jamie Kinnaird, sales training/development and national contests manager for BH Media.

Second Street is a St. Louis-based provider of online promotions platforms. It offers webinars, case studies and awards to showcase success stories and educate media companies.

The BH strategy encompasses special deals in addition to contests, Kinnaird said. "It's new and incremental revenue for us in a lot of cases." Overall, she said, "We've done very well."

Contests have three goals: generating revenue, collecting email addresses for local newspaper databases and fostering reader engagement. The contests are structured to be easily accessible and fun.

Individual papers are encouraged to run their own contests. The most popular group-wide contests have involved sports, holidays and large giveaways.

BH Media properties are located in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. In most of those places, sports contests sell. "Anything related to football is usually very successful," Kinnaird said. March Madness contests are also popular.

Readers are asked to enter a random draw, vote for something or, in the case of sports contests, pick a winner or answer a quiz. Contests are also structured around most holidays. Prizes include trips, cash and gift certificates. 

For example, the current Valentine's Day promotion is called Cutest Couples, in which couples submit their own photos and readers vote to determine the winner. (See next week's eBulletin for a report on how this contest worked for a North Carolina paper.)

Newspapers host the contests online, but use every option available to promote them, Kinnaird said. "We always run ads typically in print and online, and via our email newsletters and email blasts and mobile. We will put together programs that use all of our solutions."

A corporate-wide strategy benefits the entire group, she said.

"What we did was, we got all of our papers together on one calendar and said, 'Here are contests and deals that we're going to run together as a group at certain times during the year, and then you've got some flexibility to add to that on your own.'"

Although even Second Street suggested that the average of two group-wide contests per month was a bit too ambitious for the first year, most BH Media markets participated and results improved as the year progressed, Kinnaird said. Planning ahead at the corporate office helped sales planning at the local level.

"We help them with artwork and presentations and ideas for prospecting. They get a little bit more support from us on those, and then their sales professionals can get out ahead of the sales cycle a little bit earlier in the year."

Kinnaird advises other media groups to emphasize planning, think through each contest or deal, engage sales leaders at each property and keep expectations reasonable in the first year. BH Media kept in touch with sales directors through group emails and conference calls, and Second Street proved to be a good partner, she said.

Contests and special deals draw readers to newspaper websites and to social media. Newspapers should remember to keep them fun, Kinnaird said.

 "Anything we can do to drive reader engagement with our solutions is good."

For more information, contact Jamie Kinnaird at Jamie.Kinnaird@bhmginc.com.


Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.

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