Contest Management: How To Tell Your Contest's Best Story

Posted by Rob Campbell on July 4th, 2015

Many companies use web contests to launch new products, and spread the word about existing goods and services. This can be very effective marketing when its done right, but a great many companies employ terrible contest management practices, and miss golden opportunities to capitalize on the buzz their competition actually creates. Many contemporary advertising agencies and marketing companies also don’t realize how powerful web contests can be, and they don’t understand its unique potential to build valuable SEO incoming links for example, how to use the match to make stories that resonate human truths and perpetuate brand values in consumers’ minds forevermore.

John Truby, screenwriting coach

John Truby, screenwriting coach

This is the first post in a four part series covering The Art of Contest Storytelling. This is not a technical article and does not cover the exigencies of running Instagram contests or managing Facebook or Twitter initiatives, but rather focuses on engineering the stories at play in peoples’ minds before during and after the contests ends.

What is a story? The best definition of a story that I’ve ever heard came from a Hollywood screenwriting coach named John Truby who said that “a story is somebody does something to somebody else, and we get to find out why’.  I really like that statement because it makes us think about other people and the human condition, i.e why people do the crazy things they do.

Good stories help us better understand the crazy things we all do, and so they help us better understand ourselves.

What is a ‘contest story’?

Yang, Rubbermaid all access

Rubbermaid Easy Access Contest

The most basic contest story from the entrant’s perspective is, ‘Somebody is going to win this competition, and it could be me, but no matter what happens, I will find out who won, and why.’

Regardless of creative embellishments, I believe that the simple notion that ‘somebody is going to win, and it could be me‘ is the basic story premise and personal fantasy prevalent in the minds of all participants at the point of entry.

Business storytelling using contests is more exciting than other types of consumer news reporting because readers can become participants and thereby become invested in the story. They’re encouraged to enter the match and become stakeholders. Ideally, each individual believes he or she could become the hero of the story, and win fame and fortune.

Why else do people enter contests?

pez dispensers steve reynolds

PEZ Collector

People also enter web contest when they have something to share, and want to be included in the story; most folks are storytellers themselves and want to communicate their amusing anecdotes and thoughts to a ready made audience.  Above all, they each want a chance to be recognized as the one having the best idea.  Each entrant wants to be the best; each contestant’s need for recognition, for the honour of top rank, a supreme acclamation in any community, is often as strong, or stronger than their desire to win a physical prize.

The quintessential web contest story is ‘who won? and why?  So the contest producer must endeavour to report who did win, and why after the match ends.

What is Contest Management?

Contest producers perform contest management when they design, launch, promote, resolve and immortalize the online competition. They manage the challenge through its five stages – planning, launch, promotion and resolution and aftermath. They execute content marketing initiatives and do valuable SEO link building while forging new publishing relationships at every stage in the life of a contest. More details about the Role of the Contest Producer in upcoming posts in this series.

The contest producer must decide the perspective from which they might tell the grand story of the competition. Knowledgeable producers know they can choose from any one of seven different perspectives to tell the story – the who, what, where, when, why and how of the competition. The ‘how’ is inevitably ‘how the winner won?’ and is perhaps the most vital element of the story. Consider the answer to that question from these different seven perspectives and choose the best one.

  1. Winner’s perspective
  2. Runner-Ups’ Perspective,
  3. Loser’s Perspective,
  4. Judges’ Perspective,
  5. Administrators’ Perspective,
  6. Sponsors Perspective
  7. Spectator Press Perspective

Dr Natalie Archer - Birds of TorontoThe most commonly encountered contest story is written from 5) Admin Perspective, followed by number 1) Winners own story, followed by number 7) Spectator Press which is usually the most uniformed angle, and therefore characterized by wild speculations about judging and prizing and even the validity of the match. The best contest stories are from the Judge’s perspective especially when they make it clear what impressed them and what turned them off.

Earning media is hard to do without a good story. Earning media is really difficult without an attraction or some cause, or a good compelling story to tell. Friends telling friends a good story is the ideal development. True viral transmissions are not coerced with pin codes and prizes; viral media is not something you can buy. You have to earn it.

Contests that require friends to get friends to vote in order to qualify to win prizes is one way to engineer BUZZ, but this tactic has become less and less effective over time. Better advice is to hire celebrity judges, conceive amazing prize ideas, and best yet, present participants with a path to fame. Engineering contests to collect any form of User Generated Content (UGC) and then vote to create ranking index is very difficult, but very rewarding – this is the best format for making UGC contests.

Birds of Toronto Bluejay

Collecting and optimizing good original content that becomes more valuable over time because you have gathered it all together is smart marketing. Making Media Monuments is a Slideshare I made on the 2014 Birds of Toronto content marketing / contest initiative.

By giving the gallery or index page a searchable name, with each entry as its own sub URL found under descriptive headers, you can make ‘long tail’ marketing pieces which cost nothing to maintain as they serve to help humanity and bring the sponsor company honour and respectful traffic – this is a very rewarding contest marketing strategy.

When consumers make sudden decisions to become contestants (and enter all their personal information into a dozen fields) they do it best when they can start the process with one bold dramatic action.  They must upload a picture, or craft a text response, and this is the equivalent of ‘jumping in’ the pool!  And by jumping in the pool they become part of the story, at which point its much more likely they will buy and promote the brand in real life.

Why is contest storytelling so powerful?

From the sponsor business’s perspective:  storytelling streamlines knowledge gathering, and is the best way to ‘teach’ people about new products and services.  Conceptualizing an interesting contest story is perhaps the number one way to communicate a value proposition in a way consumers will remember.

prize winner

If they register to enter the match, or even ponder entering the contest then the branding has worked.  Making strong emotional memories is key to Brand Awareness and Brand Loyalty.

Who reads contest stories about the winners and prizes? If you consider each reader as a potential consumer, and consider their perspective on a contest as you ask ‘what would make them most satisfied?’ you’ll soon realize they just want to be entertained. They want to read about a fun competition with an insightful narrative that explains who, what, where, when, and how, and why the winner won.  They will attribute all satisfaction they feel upon reading the story to the brand.  Readers want to consume interesting ideas that reflect the human condition, and telling contest stories using archetypical structures like David vs Goliath, or reluctant entry wins, or first time entrant wins, or ‘originality wins again’ is very satisfying to readers.  Contest storytelling is how you bring brands’ personality traits to life i.e. notions like the corporation helping the family, promoting innovation, supporting education and sponsoring works of art.