The Hamilton Spectator published a special cookie book in December 2015. These weren’t just any recipes — they were lovingly crafted holiday favourites from Spectator readers and local celebrities.

The inspiration for the book came from The Dallas Morning News, which has run a cookie contest for 20 years. We wanted to tweak the idea from a straightforward contest concept to a keepsake book that we dreamed would one day become tattered and stained with use.

The Hamilton Spectator version had three goals:

  1. Provide community engagement with Hamilton Spectator readers.

  2. Raise funds for the Hamilton Spectator Summer Camp Fund.

  3. Create a new revenue product for our advertising department.

The concept was elegantly simple. Readers would submit their holiday cookie recipes for the chance to win cash prizes. The entry fees would go towards the charity. A recipe book would then be created to share the winning recipes with Spectator readers, and generate advertising dollars through ads in the booklet.

Our initial goal was 15 entries to the contest, with a 32-page commitment for the booklet. Another anecdotal goal was to create a keepsake that Spectator readers would pull out year after year as they began their holiday baking.

The Hamilton Spectator Cookie Book provides great holiday recipes, advertising revenue, and charitable contributions for a kids' summer camp.
The Hamilton Spectator Cookie Book provides great holiday recipes, advertising revenue, and charitable contributions for a kids' summer camp.

Our request for submissions from readers and local luminaries resulted in not only great recipes but the sharing of experiences. Baking, family, memories, and love were all there in between the ingredients and the instructions.

An in-house designer came up with the overall visual identity, which then informed all of the materials used in support of the Cookie Book. Ads for the Hamilton Spectator, header for the Web site, sales sheets, and logo for social media all had the same charming visual and helped brand the initiative.

Fifteen promotional ads were run in-newspaper and three ads appeared in The New York Times supplement, along with social media support through Twitter (with 393 impressions). Recipe entries numbered 18, surpassing our goal of 15.

Revenue from advertising was US$12,500, and the contest generated US$1,000 for the Hamilton Summer Camp Fund through entry fees and sponsorships. This fund has sponsored more than 100,000 kids since it started in 1898. 

The Cookie Book was distributed in-newspaper to the entire subscription editions (approximately 75,000) on December 12. It was also made available through the newspaper Web site.

Looking ahead to the 2016 holiday season, some of the processes will be modified to be more streamlined. For example, we had a baking day where we executed each finalist recipe prior to taste testing by judges. While good in theory, this proved to be extremely arduous. This year, we will seek an alternate approach.

We’ve received gratifying feedback, such as this comment: “I am sure everyone who receives a Cookie Book and actually makes some of the recipes will consider they are the true winners of this contest.”