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How a Contest or Giveaway Can Attract Business Prospects Find out how to attract attention from customers and the media with a contest.

By Wendy Keller

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The following excerpt is from Wendy Keller's book Ultimate Guide to Platform Building. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes

There are two good reasons to consider giving things away via contests, raffles and giveaways. First, these attract a lot of attention for your business because people love the idea of getting something for nothing. Second, they create fanfare that you can use to get media.

Related: How to Land a Sponsorship Deal

The main reason businesses do "contests" (which is the word I'll use for the whole shebang in this article) is because it attracts a flood of new customers. The more people who know about your contest, the more people who know about your business. A percentage of those who find out about your business in this way will be interested in finding out more, even if they didn't win a prize.

The net effect of these kinds of big, splashy things is that it makes you more memorable, as someone who does interesting, refreshing things in your industry. The process itself is easily replicated and modified once learned, and it'll give you a quick marketing strategy you can keep in your back pocket when you need to refresh public awareness that you and your business exist.

Contest to-do list

Here's a checklist for putting a contest together easily. Make sure you give yourself plenty of promotion time -- at least two months -- since promotion is the true purpose here.

  • Choose what kind of a contest, raffle or giveaway you want to run.
  • Decide if you'll pursue sponsors to donate prizes, help spread the word or help in other ways.
  • Decide what you want to give away (more than one prize means more media and promotional opportunities).
  • Check to see if there are any legal issues where you live.
  • Decide how long you want to give people to "earn" it.
  • Decide how entrants could win.
  • Decide how you'll promote the heck out of it.
  • Decide how the prize(s) will be awarded (Hint: Fanfare is a great way to get even more attention from prospects, maybe media and current customers).
  • Get graphics designed.
  • Choose your launch date.
  • Promote!

Potential prize ideas

Here are some potential prize ideas:

  • Money
  • Gift cards for your product or service
  • A makeover (for them, their house or their car)
  • A car or other expensive object related to your business (For instance, a plumber might give away a new washer/dryer set)
  • A trip (Do you know someone who has or do you have a timeshare sitting unused somewhere interest­ing?)
  • Services (free dry cleaning for a year, a website CEO review)
  • A certificate or plaque
  • Scholarships
  • Tickets to something related (sports, opera, a flight, etc.)
  • A trophy (the bigger, the better)
  • Representation (legal, artistic, modeling, etc.). Warning: You'll have to choose a winner, even if none of the entries thrill you!
  • Objects (a television, a laptop, a suit, a quilt, etc.)
  • Information products (your book, CD, etc., although these usually pull far fewer prospects than all the other items listed above)

What other ideas can you come up with? If you offer one grand prize and a few smaller ones, you'll attract more people because more people will believe they have a chance of winning.

Related: How to Write a Great Pitch for the Media

Getting your prizes for free

You don't have to go out-of-pocket to acquire the prizes you'll be giving away (unless it's cash). You can:

  • Barter your services with someone who has something that would make a good prize.
  • Get a wholesale license to acquire goods cheaply.
  • Trade in your bonus points earned on a credit card to get a valuable object.
  • Trade in your frequent-flier miles to award airfare or a hotel stay.
  • Give away something you already have.
  • Negotiate with another non-competing vendor who wants the same customers.
  • Offer to include another business as part of the contest and split the costs.
  • Get someone to donate the prize to you so you can give it away.
  • Get sponsors.

Why would anyone want to sponsor or donate stuff to your contest? Because you have the energy and the smarts to even think of doing a contest! Your innovation alone will attract peers who want to get a piece of your enthusiasm for their own business marketing. If they're donating or sponsoring it, perhaps they'll also mail the announcement to their list, post signs in their store, hang a banner off their building with your contest website on it, all in return for you putting their logo somewhere on your promotional materials.

How will people win?

There are multiple ways you can choose. You can:

  • Sell tickets and host a public event where you or a well-known person in your town mingle with them and select a few winners.
  • Ask people to send in a video telling the world why they love your product or ser­vice, your book, your music, any­thing. (Make sure you have them sign a release upon submission that lets you use it any time and place you want.)
  • Ask them to write something for you -- an essay, a short story about how they used your product or a story about how their life changed when they used your services.
  • Ask them to create a collage and email a photo of it.
  • Ask them to submit something that's typical in your industry. For instance, my agency has asked for book proposals. A modeling agency I worked for as a teenager asked everyone to submit their head shots.
  • Ask them to send photos of themselves using your product in strange places, e.g., reading your book while rappelling off a cliff.

The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. You can be the judge all by yourself, or you can use the prestige of the judges (local or national celebrities) as an asset in your contest marketing materials. That's why the TV show America's Got Talent used celebrities, not music teachers or record label producers, even though ostensibly those people would have been better qualified judges.

How will you award the prize?

The attention from prospects and hopefully media that you'll get just for having the contest is one thing. The actual act of awarding the prizes is another opportunity in itself.

If you can afford it and the prize is big enough, the tried-and-true event is always best. Think "red carpet" and host an elegant sit-down dinner. Be sure to invite prize winners and a few of their family members, the mayor, anyone who really helped you promote the contest, all the journalists who covered it and anyone else it would be politically expedient to invite.

Related: The Trick to Getting Publicity for Your Business

You can also bring the winner into your office, get some balloons or flowers, hand them a certificate or a big cardboard check and take a lot of pictures that you plaster all over social media.

You can even just sit in your home office by yourself and email/call the winners to let them know they've won and announce it on your social media that you've given something to someone you've never seen. This last option is least fun but is also the least expensive.

Wendy Keller

CEO and Founder of Keller Media, Inc.

Wendy Keller is an award-winning former journalist, a respected literary agent, an author, speaker, acclaimed book marketing consultant, and branding expert. She is the author of Ultimate Guide to Platform Building (Entrepreneur Press®, 2016) and got her first job as a newspaper reporter as a 16-year-old college freshman. Since then, Wendy worked for PR Newswire; the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain; as managing editor of Dateline magazine; and as associate publisher of Los Angeles’ then-second-largest Spanish language weekly, La Gaceta. She works with authors, speakers and business experts to help them build and promote their brands. She founded Keller Media, Inc. in 1989.

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