Best of Charleston Ballot Generates $170K

by Blair Barna Charleston City Paper

Case Study Highlights

  • Generates $170,000 in revenue, $30,000 directly from digital category ads
  • Over 900,000 votes (800% increase YOY) from 20,000 registered voters
  • 8,000 new emails added to database (100% increase YOY)

Background

Charleston City Paper, a part of Jones Street Publishers, is an alternative weekly newspaper located in Charleston, South Carolina

The Idea

Charleston City Paper has run the annual Best of Charleston ballot for 17 years, and in the past our ballots have received an average of 10,000 votes. In 2014, we decided to switch it up and embrace a new, more robust platform to encourage even more engagement.

The Execution

Best-of-Charleston-Ballot

In 2014, we added a nomination period to our annual Best of Charleston ballot. People could register for the ballot before voting began and fill in their nominations for 300 categories. We then took those results and created the official voting ballot by listing the previous year’s winner and the top 4 nominees in each category.
The nomination period added an extra 4 weeks to the ballot, and meant that by the time we got to the official voting period there was already a huge amount of buzz. Adding the nomination period really created a whole new level of excitement around the ballot.

Plus, the nomination period made the process of tabulating the ballot results much easier. In fact, it was so easy to administer the ballot – and we are receiving so many requests for additional categories – that we plan to run niche ballots year round!

In addition to banner and mobile ads, we sold category sponsorships for a flat fee during both the nomination and voting periods. Our category sponsorships sold out within one week!

We started promoting the ballot months in advance, and the promotional campaign included a mix of social media, print, and online elements. You can see some of the tweets from the hashtag we created for the ballot – #boc14 – and a few of our promotional Facebook posts below.

Best-of-Charleston-Hashtag-215x300

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We also created a social media toolkit for merchants, to encourage nominees to promote the ballot on their own pages.

Best-of-Charleston-Merchant-Marketing

Once the ballot was over, we published a special section announcing the winners:

Best-of-Charleston-Special-Section

We also capped off the ballot with a live event to celebrate. It was an private party for our sponsors, but even though it was invite-only, we still hosted a crowd of 1,500! While the current event, which is intended to be a thank you for our customers and a congratulations for our winners, generated about $15,000 in revenue, we could monetize much more if we turned it into a public event. Check out a few photos from the event below!

Best-of-Charleston-Event-Branding

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 4.51.45 PM

The Results

The 2014 Best of Charleston ballot generated $170,000 in revenue. Of this, $30,000 was from category ads on the digital ballot – and that’s not including any banner ads or mobile ads! We think that the revenue number will be even higher next year, when we plan to add subcategory ads as well.

The ballot also received 900,000 votes from 20,000 registered voters. In a tri-county area of 600,000 people, these are incredible results! Furthermore, each person who registered to vote voted in an average of 45 categories (of 300 total). In the past we had asked people to vote in at least 30 just to make sure the ballot was filled out, but when we dropped the requirement this year we saw a huge bump in participation.

Finally, in years past we have added between 3,000 and 5,000 new email addresses to our database. In 2014, we added 8,000 from opt-ins by new voters.

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