7 Tips For Better Contests

7 Tips For Better Contests

by Tracy Johnson

Radio contests are terrific. It’s a match made in heaven. Radio has a large reach (Cume), the ability to motivate audiences (dynamic personalities) and a responsive audience. But many stations miss out on a golden opportunity. In fact, a growing percentage of listeners no longer trust radio contests, according to recent research. But all is not lost. We just need to improve what we’re already doing well and create better contests.

To start, check out the seminar on demand Secrets Revealed: How To Grow Ratings With Contests. I show how to make contest strategies work for radio in detail. It includes the math behind how and why radio contests can impact ratings.

Then, follow these 7 tips for better contests any station can start immediately:

How To Create Better Contests

Many stations take contests for granted. They execute each with the same creative approach (or lack of creative approach) as the last. In fact, contests often sound the same as 40 years ago! Call now and win a prize, then come to the station and pick it up.  It doesn’t work.

Note that this list is not about contest strategy. There’s a full guide on how to do that here. Rather, each of these tips can improve contesting tactics in a logical, actionable and positive way.

Stop Restricting Winners

The goal of a promotion is to activate meter carriers or diary respondents. And those are exactly the people most likely to play contests. But radio stations have an odd policy to allow an individual to win only once every 30 (and in some cases 60) days.

That’s inviting ratings respondents to win prizes on another station.

And they will go to other stations, because they’re attracted by incentives, offers and contests.

Why would a station encourage the most valuable listeners to tune in to another station? Because internally, prize pigs frequent winners are annoying. The promotions team, personalities and office staff get tired of the same folks winning. To spread the prizes among a larger pool of listeners, the 30 day rule is activated.

But there are better ways and other solutions that keep prize pigs heavy listeners on the station playing your contests.

Start by eliminating Call In to Win contests (see below). There are better options. But embrace the prize pig  frequent winner. They’re far more likely to be a ratings respondent.

Send or Deliver Prizes

In a world where I can order virtually anything in the world with two clicks on Amazon, and it shows up at my doorstep tomorrow, why would listeners drive across town during station business hours to pick up a pair of movie tickets?

Judging by the number of unclaimed prizes at radio stations, they don’t.

Research shows that only 1/3 of PPM respondents think it’s worthwhile to come to the radio station to get $100. Here’s what a Nuvoodoo Study found. Only 81% would come to a station to pick up a prize valued at $1,000! And you wonder why the pair of tickets to the movie premiere went unclaimed!

You might also like:  Secrets Revealed: Contests That Win Seminar on Demand

Send or deliver prizes.

Be sure to require a signature because some will claim they didn’t get it just to scam another prize. Yes, it costs a couple of dollars, and takes time to send an intern to the post office. But it’s worth it.

A prize arriving by mail is a guaranteed way to have a direct mail piece opened! That’s valuable! It’s another impression with a possible ratings respondent.

And you’ll stand out from other radio competitors because nobody does it this way.

Better yet, how about delivering a prize to the winner on the day they win it? Or perhaps the next day? Now that’s customer service. And it’s a chance to make an impression in person. Deliver the prize, and make it a celebration. Chances are, it will have an impact on the winner’s coworkers or friends.

Okay, so there’s absolutely no budget to mail prizes? Then at least extend business hours to make it easier to pick up prizes. When the winner arrives, make it an experience. Take a photo and post it on social media, showing off the winner and their prize! Offer a tour of the studio to meet air talent.

Stop Call In to Win

It doesn’t work. And hasn’t for decades. Seriously. Need proof? Here you go.

Yes, the phone rings, but it’s only those that happen to be listening now. Call in to win is not driving tune in occasions, nor is it extending tune in of existing listeners.

There are better ways to generate higher response and impact ratings.

If the contest requires an instant Pay Off, at least use Text To Win. It expands the player pool. But there are other, more creative methods to create more effective and better contests.

Plus, moving away from Call In to Win reduces chances of a prize pig frequent listener will win all the prizes.

Eliminate The Words “Chance to Win”

Listener reaction is greatly enhanced or suppressed by choice of language. Think about how listeners are invited to play.

Nobody wants a chance to win. They want to win.

Changing how the contest promos are phrased is important. Choice of words has a dramatic impact on how a message is received. Deliver the message with powerful action words and higher response will follow.

For example, saying, “Listen for a chance to win” is like saying, “Buy a lottery ticket.” It’s not proactive or positive. This is little more than clutter.

Simply adjusting the language to say, “Win tickets at (time)…” makes a huge difference in response. This small adjustment has a dramatic impact.

Make this a priority in each programming and promotion meeting. Then enforce it at every touch point, including promos, personality mentions and emails.

Build a Database

Stations that have a direct one-to-one relationship with listeners have a direct relationship with ratings respondents. Doesn’t it make sense to use that database to promote listening for incentives to participate?

Plus, the larger the database, the greater the equity for each new promotion.

A large, smart, active database can be the single most powerful weapon for ratings and revenue.

You might also like:  How to Use Text To Win as a Trigger For Contesting

Some stations don’t like databases filled with contest respondents. But these are the folks that participate and play. They love radio more than the average listener and, they say YES when ratings services call. They’re worth their weight in gold.

Rethink Small Prizes

Stations have moved away from small prizes in an effort to compete with Group Contests for big money giveaways. There’s nothing wrong with large prizes, and Group Contests are a valuable tool.

But there’s growing evidence that small prizes have as much or more value and generate greater response than most programmers assume!

In fact, many listeners respond with more enthusiasm for small, useful prizes than big offers because they perceive there is a better chance to win!

We’ve conducted a lot of research on this topic in many markets. Even a gift card for a cup of coffee at Starbucks or a free car wash delivers positive results if it’s done right.

You won’t want to build a major promo campaign around a $5 prize, but there’s value to be mined in creative ways.

Prizing strategy is important. Think it through and watch your results soar.

Start Now

Finally, the most important tip for better contests: Don’t wait until you can do all of these things at once. Start working on this list immediately, even if it’s just one thing at a time.

Start with small adjustments and build from there. But stick with it. Adjusting the strategy for a better contests policy will yield dividends.


There are many ways to impact listeners with better contests, but traditional methods must be updated. What is working for you? I’d love to have your tips to add to this list.


Secrets Revealed: Contests That Win Seminar on Demand

How to Build An Effective Contest Strategy

Call In to Win Contests Don’t Work!

Extracting Maximum Value From Group Contesting

How Choice Of Words Changes Results

Stretch Contest Budgets With Listener Experiences

It’s Time To Rethink Traditional Radio Contests

This Research on Contests Should Scare You To Death

8 Ways to Bulletproof Radio Contests

Validate Your Contests By Following This Model to Promote Your Winners

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