Some Observations About Running Essay Contests
This page last updated on 01/14/10
an essay contest is a lot of work.
- Most essay
contests fail due to poor planning and lack of adequate promotional funding.
- An Internet
web page, by itself, has never provided enough entries for an essay contest.
- The average
essay contest entry fee is $100 per entry.
- Essay contests
are illegal in a handful of states and restricted in others; however, in ALL
states it is illegal to incorporate any element of chance in an essay contest.
- When planning
an essay contest, you should always contact your state's attorney-general
and/or secretary of state for information on any possible restrictions or
- You should
always hire an attorney to handle the legal aspects, such as setting up a
trust account for the entry fees, reviewing your contest rules, and, hopefully,
helping with the real estate closing if your contest is successful.
- Whether you
run your essay contest for 6 months, 9 months or 1 year, 90-95% of all of
the contest entries that you'll eventually receive will arrive within the
last two weeks of the contest! Why? Human nature. Procrastination. Remember
how you used to put off writing that grade school book report until the last
minute? And even for folks that sit right down and put pen to paper, many
will want to tweak their entry over the coming months. And then there's the
entry fee: why tie up $100 or more earlier than necessary?Many folks will
hold their entry fee monies firmly in their possession until the last week
or two, just to see if the contest is cancelled early. So why hold a 9-month
contest? That time is for YOU, the contest organizer, to allow you sufficient
time to get the word out to ALL types of media!
- In most states,
if your contest prize is a house or piece of empty land, and you are not the
owner listed on the deed, you'd better have a license to sell real estate
in that state!
- Despite item
#8 above, you should plan to run your contest for at least 6 months, with
9 months being a much more workable time frame. And always leave yourself
the option for a 90-day extension in your contest rules, just in case you
find you need it.
- You do not
have to make the theme of your contest "Why I want to own ..." Creativity
is allowed in most states! And it will prevent you from having to wade through
a lot of 'hard luck' stories.
- Essays over
200 words in length take a long time to read, especially when you are staring
at a pile of over 1000!
- Asking contestants
to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope with their entry makes it easier
to return their entry fees should the contest fail to receive an adequate
number of entries.
- Free local
newspaper/radio/tv coverage of your essay contest will probably be easy to
- Free regional
newspaper/radio/tv coverage of your essay contest will be much harder to obtain.
- Free national
newspaper/radio/tv coverage of your essay contest will be almost
impossible to obtain without lots and lots of persistant effort, so plan to
pay for at least some of your national marketing.
- A lot of folks
who read about your essay contest will think it is a scam, so you need to
do everything you can to help build up your legitimacy. A well-designed web
page with appropriate links can help.
- No matter
how much information about your essay contest you put on your web page and
handout flyers, potential contestants will think of questions to ask. Plan
to provide an email address for folks to reach you with questions. A website
without a working email address for potential contestants to ask you questions
is not worth the electrons it's printed on!
- Every essay
contest needs a 'face', a person, usually an owner of the prize, that is willing
to be interviewed by the media, and whose picture should appear on the contest
web page. Potential contestants will be a lot less likely to think of your
contest as a scam if they can see your face.
- For almost
any essay contest, there are surely enough folks on this planet to make your
contest successful many, many times over. However, the hard part is finding
a way to let them all know about it.
#8 above will make you very anxious, and you will consider cancelling your
contest after only a month or two. Don't. Just keep promoting the heck out
of the contest using every conceivable method and have faith in your efforts.
have long lead times. A September issue is being finalized in June. Get your
press releases out to the magazines very early.
- Go out and
rent the film The Spitfire Grille from your local video store.
Watch it. Then say out loud to yourself, "It will not be that simple to make
my contest successful. I cannot make a single phone call to Jolene at the
local tourism office and expect the world to know about my essay contest. I will personally have to work very hard to market it." Repeat that mantra
on a daily basis during the run of your contest! Oh yes, don't forget to rewind
the video before returning it.
- List your
contest web page on all print advertising. Ask reporters to use it in every
article about your contest.
- Plan 2 or
3 "open house" events at the site of your contest prize house or business. Announce it to the press and any individuals that have inquired about your
contest. Announce it on your web site. Dress the place up, put out balloons
and flowers and make it look festive. Simple finger snacks and beverages would
make appropriate refreshments.
- Retirees make
fine essay contest judges, and they have the time, as well as life experience,
to do the job well.
- Plan to spend
$7000-$10,000 or more to market your essay contest.
- Anyone who
uses Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE, commonly referred to as "Spam email")
to promote an essay contest will almost always regret it.
- When having
flyers and press releases printed, always include one or two good color photographs
of your prize, as well as your website address. Then on your website, put
lots more photos, and a description that will make your prize seem like the
next best thing to sliced bread.
- When planning
the marketing of your contest, figure that 1000 individuals will need to actually
read about your contest before one individual will actually take the time
to write an essay and enter. You want 2000 entries? Then two million people
will need to hear about your contest. This is just a ballpark figure, and
the odds can be lowered with targeted advertising, but it can be useful in
planning your marketing strategy.
Tips on writing a HOT press release ... from the experts!
Copyright 2010 by Mark Samwick, Allentown, PA.
All rights reserved.
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