Readers love to enter contests and sweepstakes. The key to getting them to participate is to make it easy, or fun, or — even better — both.

Contests can run for just a few days or last for months. But according to an infographic from Kontest, the best duration for your campaign is 25 days or 60 days.

Kontest also recommends using several channels to boost a promotions performance. This is great news for most publishers, as we can promote through print, on our desktop and mobile sites, through our social media pages, and using e-mail blasts.  

There can be a number of reasons why a publisher might run a contest:

  • To increase opt-in email database.

  • To build social media following, i.e. increase Facebook fan page likes.

  • To obtain answers to survey questions.

  • To retain current readers/subscribers.

  • To acquire new readers/subscribers.

We do contests frequently at The News Tribune and The Olympian. Here are a few that have worked well for us, and each has been run with a different goal in mind.

Facebook Seahawks tickets giveaway: When the Seahawks, our local American professional football team, was in the playoffs earlier this year, we were able to secure four lower-level tickets and a parking pass for the January 19, 2014, National Football Conference (NFC) Championship game at Century Link Field.

We decided to run a contest to build our e-mail database, with the goal in mind of targeting these users with Seahawks-related content in the future.

We used Wufoo to run this campaign, and asked readers to pick their favourite Seahawks player and provide their e-mail address and ZIP code. The contest garnered 2,687 entries and was promoted through social media.

About half of the e-mail addresses were brand new to our database, and we also built digital engagement by sending entrants to our Seahawks Insider page after they entered.

Mariners VIP ticket giveaway: We have season tickets to the Seattle Mariners professional baseball team that we use for a variety of purposes. We devote about 20 sets of four tickets each to build engagement throughout the season. We use many of the sets to build our Facebook page fan likes and promote these through e-mail blasts to our opt-in lists.

One of the best uses we have for these tickets is to offer them up to subscribers as a thank you for their loyalty. We promote this as a VIP Subscriber Giveaway and, again, promote strictly through e-mail blasts to our subscribers (we have e-mail addresses for about 60% of our subscribers).

We did this for the first time last summer, and it was such a great success that we are continuing it this year, as well.

Beyond these being a giveaway, we have paired them with short surveys to give us some feedback about our products. We use the UPICKEM product from Second Street to build these contests, which allows us to build a campaign and launch it in less than 30 minutes.

Grown-up colouring contest: We did this for the first time recently and, from the response we received, we will most likely look at doing it again.

We have a marketing partnership with the Tacoma Rainiers, the AAA minor league baseball team for the Seattle Mariners. Out of this, we have use of a suite for home games, and we take one of these dates during the season to send readers to a game.

In past years, we have picked eight winners from a simple entry contest, and they can each bring one person with them. This can be a bit awkward, however, as we end up with a lot of people in the suite who don’t know each other. It wasn’t really the best use of our time there.

So this year, we came up with the idea of the “Grown Up Colouring Contest,” in which one winner would win a suite for 16 people, as well as a US$500 food credit.

We had an in-house designer come up with a drawing for our readers to colour, and we promoted this to our readers both in print and through email blasts. They were asked to go to our Web site and download the colouring page, and then either mail it in or drop it off at our office once it was complete.

We had more than 100 entries in a variety of different media, from markers to coloured pencil to watercolour. We even saw a little bit of glitter thrown in for good measure! The contest was fun, and we had a tough time picking a winner. When we did pick one, here is what she had to say:

“Such a generous prize and I had a lot of fun colouring the picture; I felt like a kid again. In fact, growing up I think I entered every grocery store colouring contest that I could. My mom told me tonight that I even won a few, but obviously this is a whole different ball game — pun intended.

“Today happened to be the anniversary of my dad’s passing. He played minor league ball and always loved the Rainiers, and I believe he even played at Cheney [Stadium]. I think he would have gotten a kick out of this . . . Thanks again, I'm very happy and can’t wait for the game. Go Rainiers!”

This really had a huge impact on us as a publisher, and reminded us of the sense of community that we can still bring to our readers.

Pet Pix contest: This contest (no sports this time!) does more than just promote engagement; it brings in funds for our Newspapers in Education programme, as well.

Readers enter pictures of their pets on our page for a US$15 entry fee, and then we publish them in a special section. After the section runs, voting opens, allowing readers and their friends to vote for their pets for a cost of US$.25 per vote.

The first place winner receives US$500, with second and third place receiving US$300 and US$200, respectively.

The contest has a exclusive sponsor, as well, and brings in between US$10,000 and US$15,000 each year for the programme. It is a fun thing for our pet-loving readers to show off their furry friends, and also reinforces with readers what we are doing to provide complimentary newspaper materials to schools in the community.

As we have shown above, contests can have a great impact for a publisher, promote both digital and print engagement, and even be a revenue source for those that are sponsored.

If you are not doing contests now, you should definitely consider implementing them today. They don’t have to be complex, or even cost anything, but can reap great dividends with the information they will provide.