The Goal of Contesting

 In Blog

It is almost a cliché, that radio stations do contests and give away stuff. Unless you work for an NPR affiliate or the CBC, you were probably indoctrinated into the philosophy of contesting on your first day at your first radio job.

Have you ever wondered why those contests are happening? If there are contests running on your show or station, what effect are they creating for you? Have you measured if these giveaways produce results? Most station managers do not take the time for that analysis.

In radio, contesting is often assumed as a crucial element of a station’s marketing mix. But it is interesting to compare radio with other media and entertainment in that regard:

  • Have you ever tuned in to “Ellen” (or any other show) on TV to win a contest?
  • Name the last movie you watched to make yourself eligible for a prize.
  • Have you ever listened to Pandora a few minutes longer for a chance to win?
  • What books are downloaded on your Kindle now that were tied to a contest?
  • Which music artists have you seen in concert because they were doing a giveaway?
  • List all the podcasts that you subscribe to for an opportunity to win something.

Contests are a tool. But like any screwdriver, wrench or hammer, it is wise to ask if contesting is the right tool for what you are trying to accomplish.

Here’s a brief review of what contesting is good for, and not so good for:

Inducing more tune-ins or longer listening. There are only two instances when a game can result in a change in consumer listening behavior:

  1. The prize is something money cannot buy, like backstage passes to meet Taylor Swift or the last two tickets to the sold-out One Direction show in your town.
  2. The prize is big cash, usually over $5k at a time. However, if a lottery is available in your market, even big cash is not as effective.

Concert tickets, vacations, cars, passes to the weekend car show, or any other prizes do not generally prove effective at driving listening in either US or Canadian PPM analysis, focus groups or in perceptual studies.

Just ask listeners what they think. I am a trained focus group moderator, and here is how the conversation has gone in multiple focus groups in several markets:

Me: “Do you ever play radio contests?”
Respondent: “Oh yeah, I love to try to win stuff.” “Sure! Contests are fun.”
Me: “Tell me about the last time that you changed your schedule or altered what you were going to be doing so you could be near the radio to win a contest.
Respondents: (silence)
Me: “OK, tell me about the last time that you hung around a few extra minutes and listened to the radio longer so you could win a contest.”
Respondents: (silence)

Entertainment value. People will stick around to hear a fun interactive game that they can play along with and get caught up in the drama of the action.

Examples that we’ve seen win are serial trivia games like “Northside versus Southside” where contestants from two parts of town compete for neighborhood bragging rights – especially if you keep a running score and encourage smack talk.

Games like 60-second challenges where a contestant gets one minute to answer 10 questions, and tag-team games where two strangers can work together to win together, screw the other person out of the prize, or both go home empty handed.

It’s about the fun, not about the prize. K-Love, the national US contemporary Christian station with something like 17 million listeners runs fun interactive contests on the Craig Amy and Kanklefritz show.

What do they give away? A CD. They usually don’t even mention the artist.

Driving Content. Shows that reward callers who contribute to a topic conversation get more callers and better content. Instead of giving away those concert tickets to caller 9, some shows will start a topic and mention almost as an afterthought, “and the caller with the best story on this topic today wins tickets to Darius Rucker.”

Branding. If you are in a format battle, any affiliation with the hot core artist concert coming to town certainly strengthens your brand image, and well-produced imaging that highlights your backstage pass and ticket contests is a great investment in airtime.

Driving digital traffic and interaction. We’ve seen a shift in recent years where listeners prefer to enter contests online, through texting or through social media. It is more convenient than calling, doesn’t burn mobile minutes, and feels more tangible for the listener. (Who uses the phone to call anymore?)

Some stations have moved 100% of their contesting off-air, driving consumers to their digital channels through recorded promos. It is cleaner, easier for the listener and the results are measurable through online metrics.

The other benefit of moving contests off-air and promoting them through recorded imaging is that it frees the on-air talent to use 100% of their airtime bringing entertaining stories and stickier content that does drive TSL and tune-ins.

We encourage you to be involved in considering the contesting that takes place on your show and station, measure their effectiveness and make the games fun for the 99% of your listeners who don’t ever call in, no matter what.


Photo Credit: s.yume/Flickr

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