Why You Should Stop Call In to Win Contests Forever [video]

Why You Should Stop Call In to Win Contests Forever [video]

by Tracy Johnson

In this article, I outline how contests are effective in reaching high value respondents: Those who participate with ratings services! But not all contests work, and you should stop call in to win contests. Yesterday.

The question isn’t should you do contests, but how. For decades, radio stations have relied on “call in to win.” Programmers and air personalities love it because the phone lines light up, it’s fast and easy and we get a sound bite from a winner on the air. Plus it makes the DJ feel like someone’s out there and they like us!

But those contests stopped working long ago.

Why You Should Stop Call In To Win

Real listeners aren’t all that happy. In fact, over time, you’ve made a lot of them angry.

The first 8 callers are told, “You’re a loser.” Then we hang up on them. Rude.

The lucky caller #9 wins a prize they may not even want (they just heard “call now”). That’s one of the reasons so many prizes go unclaimed.

Once the winner is found, all the lines go on hold. No air personality in the world keeps answering the phones. That means everyone else gets a busy signal.

The result? Real listeners don’t think they have a chance to win, and in fact question if the giveaways are even “real.” They stopped playing years ago.

And You Have Added to The Problem

Air personalities and programmers have contributed to the issue. It’s frustrating when listeners think the contests are rigged. And when they call you out on it, you get defensive. Some even argue with the listener. Here’s an actual exchange between an air personality and listener via text:

Texter: “You guys rigged the giveaway! You only give the key to the hot girls.”

Personality: “The phone line is just flashing squares. Fair as it gets.”

Texter: “I have been to radio studios before. I know you have caller ID.”

Air Personality “Even if we had caller ID, I wouldn’t know if they are hot.”

How is this good customer service or public relations? If you were treated like this at a restaurant or retail store, what would you do? How would you feel? What would you think?

When you argue with listeners, guess who wins?

Over time, the positive benefits of call-in contests has eroded to the point that:

The only impact call-in contests have is on those listeners who happen to already be listening right now. You’re not generating any new quarter hours.

So if data proves that contests are effective but call-in contests don’t work, what’s the solution?

Alternatives to Call In To Win: Database!

Interactive digital promotions, such as user-generated contests and sweepstakes have exploded in popularity. Online studies show up to 47% of everyone has online in the past 30 days have participated in a sweepstakes or contest. It’s fast, easy and doesn’t ask for much commitment from the listener.

Best of all: when they participate online, they become an asset forever as they are added to your database. Each point of contact adds a direct one-to-one relationship with a listener. By collecting relevant profile data on each entrant, and asking questions in embedded surveys, you gather a wealth of knowledge about each individual.

In addition to gathering their demographic data, you can learn their entertainment habits, music preferences and how they get their information. Find out more about their lifestyle, behavior, perceptions and what they value. Then, use that information to lead them to your station over and over again.

Then, filter your data to deliver relevant, useful invitations to tune in at specific times. When the new Katy Perry song comes out, wouldn’t it be nice to send an alert to 10,000 listeners who entered to win tickets to her concert with specific times to hear it on your station in the next couple of days?

And if they are Katy Perry fans, that’s a good indication they might also be interested in similar artists. Your marketing and advertising is efficient and powerful.

Another benefit is being able to invite the database to participate in future promotions. You can drive reaction before a single promo is aired. With call-in to win contests, you start over every time.

Programmers might argue that building a database doesn’t deliver the ratings that write the bonus check. There are hundreds of ways to manage the data to lead the audience back to a tune in occasion, but the best solution is to break down the wall between on-air and on-line.

In spite of the compelling case for driving engagement online, there is a good argument for using promotion to drive active listening, and having that exciting winner on the air is valuable. You can have it both ways: drive listening and build your database.

Merge Online and On-Air

Several clients have had tremendous success asking listeners to enter an online contest, then listen to hear their name at a specific time on the air. One station offered a cash prize for calling when they hear their name at the top of every hour. The results:

  • Database increased by 300% (over 25,000 new unique entries)
  • AQH share increased by 26%
  • Cume grew by 15% (there was an incentive to share via social media)
  • 72% of names announced called in!

It was easy to play, provided winner audio on the air, set appointment tune in occasions, drove traffic online and built a database that continues to pay dividends. They now have over 20% of their cume in their database, and continue to drive response that impacts ratings.


If ratings are important to you, contests should be as well. However, radio stations must innovate and grow beyond tired call-in-to-win contests. They are no longer effective. Use contests to deliver results, not just satisfy your ego.

So in the face of reduced budgets and fewer resources, how can you take advantage? Since consumers are not only willing, but enthusiastic to enter (as long as it’s easy and on their terms), you can turn their interest into ratings gains.

If you want to do it for your station, cluster or company, contact me. I’ll show you how to generate unprecedented response from those most likely to drive your ratings… and I’ll also show you how to make new digital revenue with it.


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