Cutest Baby Contest Alone Generates Two Million Page Views
The Star Tribune of Minneapolis / St. Paul has been through tremendous transition in the last few years. In October 2008, in the midst of a company restructure, this largest daily in Minnesota launched its first UPICKEM contest. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2009 as an independent newspaper.
With a change in leadership in the midst of an economic crisis, and a growing abandonment of print classifieds by advertisers, the Star Tribune needed a way to replace those lost classified ad dollars.
Contests were seen as a solution to lost advertising revenue, through engagement of online consumer contestants and voters and sale of advertiser sponsorships to the contests.
Everyone on the Star Tribune advertising sales staff is given an annual contest calendar, and is on the lookout throughout the year for sponsors. Contest sponsorships are sold a la carte, rather than packaged with other advertising products.
As an additional source of contest revenue the Star Tribune is searching for local businesses that would welcome the newspaper’s help creating and managing their own UPICKEM contests.
In the first 12 months, the newspaper and its site [startribune.com] launched one video and 10 photo-submission contests. Those UPICKEM challenges generated $350,000 in sponsor revenue, nine million page views, and 1.26 million consumer votes.
So far in 2010, the Star Tribune has held eight contests – one a month – each generating $10,000 to $45,000 in sponsor revenue.
“We have two big blockbuster contests coming up shortly, for Halloween and the Holidays,” said Star Tribune Digital Media Product Manager Ann Kendall. “The Halloween Costume Contest was very big last year.”
While she acknowledged that men seldom participate in most photo submissions contests, all bets on that are off when the award is a high-value sports prize.
“The Twins build a new stadium this year, and we had a photo contest for tickets,” she said. “We had 10,000 participants, a large portion of which were male.”
What works best to draw big participant numbers, and thus heavy advertiser interest for the Star Trib, are cute dog and cute baby photo contests.
“Our Cutest Baby Contest generated over two million page views,” said Kendall. “It was a long-running public effort, with photos submitted for five or six weeks, and then the voting. For contests that previously delivered a million page views we can ask $30,000 from our sponsors the next time. Our ad reps sell off page views to some extent.”
Kendall ran into one administrative obstacle to large contests, and shared her resolution.
“Our first contest was ‘Cutest Canine’ and we got 6,000 submissions,” she said. “Trying to manage 6,000 photos and still present a fair contest became extremely difficult. We came up with round voting, with a cap on the number of photo entries.”
Now the Star Tribune features 200 photos a day for the bigger meets, sending them out as a preview to opted-in visitors. The e-mail includes the message “Here are the rounds that will be coming up for voting.”
Of course, the Star Tribune’s contest success was a collaborative effort with Second Street.
“Second Street has been great to work with,” said Kendall. “They always provide a prompt response to both customer service and tech support questions. I’ve worked with Jack [Rosenzweig, Second Street Director of Support] for three years now and he’s helped me navigate troubled waters more than once.”
Why It Worked:
- Advanced planning encourages all advertising reps to be on the lookout for the perfect sponsor.
- Heavy promotion that included social elements, such as Twitter.
- Close tracking of each contest’s page views and other metrics, and quick elimination of those contests that don’t work.
- A good balance of user votes and judging panel to determine contest winners.
- Avoidance of contests whose niches are too small to bring in strong traffic.
- A standard, recognizable contest template.
- Smart scheduling, with never more than two contests a month.
- Round voting and a cap on the number of entries, to better manage the more popular contests.
- A la carte ad sales: No “If you run X number of ads in our paper or online, you can sponsor contest Y.”