Irish Times repositions old-school photo competition to increase revenue, engagement

By Paul Geraghty

For the last two years, The Irish Times has partnered with Picturk to deliver the media company’s “Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards” — a pay-to-enter photography competition that targets the “pro-sumer” (a cross between a “professional” and a “consumer”) photographic enthusiast.

Consider a few statistics from this high-spending segment within your readership: 

  • There are 150 million keen amateur photographers around the world.

  • This community of practice spends in excess of US$150 billion dollars annually in pursuit of its hobby — and this group is growing by 11% each year.

  • “Pro-sumer” photographers read quality newspapers.

  • Of quality newspaper readers, 59% own a DSLR camera – that’s a big camera to you and me – and 29% of this group has entered a photography competition.

The competition targets this sub-segment within the Irish Times readership to drive engagement and earn direct revenues.

Competition and context have eroded the appeal of the old-school photography competition. Newspapers once did a really good job running photography competitions. Fast-forward to today and four things have happened:

  1. The number of competitions has increased.

  2. The photography segment has exploded in size.

  3. Users are split between candid, smart-phone photographers and big camera users.

  4. Most importantly, Facebook has entered the fray. Facebook does a great job delivering the old-school newspaper competition experience.

The Irish Times pro-sumer photographer competition proves you can reposition the old-school photo competition as a high-engagement, high-value experience to re-engage your audience and earn new direct revenues. Consider these results:

  • 1,200 people paid to enter the competition.

  • 8,000 photographs where uploaded.

  • 50,000 unique visitors visited the micro-site.

The competition generated high-quality, cash-positive content for The Irish Times to use in all its channels: three editorials, an online exhibition, an iBook (which was No. 1 in the iBook chart the weekend it was released). In the first year, a physical book was produced and The Irish Times hosted an awards event in its offices.

Why did 1,200 photographers engage? For many reasons, we believe: 

Recognition: 20% of photographers who entered the competition made it to the short list – their work was showcased online in an iBook and fully credited. There were awards in each of the seven categories – each category winner’s work was printed in the weekend edition of our print edition. There were first-, second-, and third-place awards, plus three honourable mentions in each category. The top three in each category were invited to an awards presentation held in the Irish Times offices.

Financial incentives, although they were comparatively small: US$1,250 each for the top photographer and top photograph.

Gamefication mechanics drove re-engagement: Of photographers who entered the 2012 Awards, 40% re-entered in 2013. We offered photographers tiers of achievement, a series of levels to best and to strive for.

The judging panel: Nine people whose opinions mattered to the audience judged the competition. We put together the best curators, photographers, and members of the amateur community.

The entrance fee: We charged an entrance fee to encourage people to curate their own work. When you pay an entrance fee, you think about your work. The entrance fee also helped re-position the photo competition as a photography award.

A robust and scalable technology platform that worked across desktop, tablet, and phone delivered by Picturk.

The experience appeals to four personas:

  • To the achiever, it offers a reason to curate their work.

  • To the explorer, it offers an opportunity to find out what the bigwigs – people who matter – think of their work.

  • For the socialiser, it puts their work in perspective with that of their peers.

  • To the killer, it offers the chance to win and be recognised as a winner.

The sponsorship sales cycle is much longer than traditional advertising sales cycles. Our experience shows you should start selling six months in advance to maximise sponsorship revenues.

A photography-awards competition such as this leverages newspapers’ print heritage to create value. Photographers respect quality newspapers’ curatorial voice.

Running The Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards is a unique endeavour within newspaper publishing. The newspaper is both the rights holder and main media sponsor. This gives the event unparalleled reach and makes the event a less risky sponsorship opportunity.

About Paul Geraghty

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