First-Ever Readers’ Choice Ballot Drove $14K for The Southern Illinoisan

by Lauren Siegert The Southern Illinoisan


The Southern Illinoisan, a part of Lee Enterprises, is a daily newspaper in Carbondale, Illinois. The team at the paper has been running online promotions since 2008, including contests, deals, and – as of 2013 – ballots.

The Idea

We were looking for a unique way to engage our readers both online and in print, so the sales and marketing teams came together to create The Southern Illinoisan’s first-ever Readers’ Choice Awards ballot.

The Execution

The Southern Illinoisan Readers’ Choice Awards ballot had a nomination round followed by a voting round. The nomination round lasted from December 15th through December 29th, and then the voting round followed shortly after, from January 5th-19th. Winners and the top two runners-up were announced in the Readers’ Choice special section that ran on Sunday, February 23rd.

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To encourage nominations, everyone who registered for the ballot and entered a business into at least 45 categories was automatically entered into a sweepstakes to win a $100 gift card.

Our entire sales staff was responsible for selling ads and sponsorships for the ballot. While we did not have any title sponsors, we did sell 27 category & subcategory sponsorships (like these two for the Food category and the Best Asian Restaurant subcategory).


We also sold around 36 enhanced listings at $75 each, like the one for Thai Taste pictured below (many to businesses that don’t advertise with us otherwise!).


Here’s a copy of one of our sales sheets:


And here is the flyer we used to help merchants visualize where their ads would appear on the ballot:


Finally, this is the sales sheet that our team used to sell ads for the winners special section that was published at the end of February:


The whole time the Readers’ Choice Awards ballot was live, we prominently featured it on our Contests & Promotions page and homepage, and throughout the nomination period we promoted it heavily in print, online, and on social media.

  • Email campaign to our Contests & Promotions list of 16,000+ subscribers
  • Reminder emails to people who registered during the nomination period encouraging them to come back and vote during the voting period
  • 300×250 ROS box ads on our website
  • Print ads in The Southern Illinoisan throughout the nomination and voting periods

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  • Social media posts to Facebook and Twitter (look at all that engagement!)



The nominated businesses also jumped on board, sharing our ballot on their Facebook pages and promoting it at their physical locations. To encourage this, we delivered table tents with the ballot URL and a QR code to a number of nominated businesses. The goal was to engage mobile users who were waiting on food or services at a merchant’s establishment to either nominate or vote for them.

The Results

The Readers’ Choice Awards (our first-ever ballot!) drove more than $14,000 in traditional and digital revenue! Here’s the breakdown:

Nomination Round Print Ad$1,087
Category Sponsorships$1,950
Upgraded Listings$1,800
Box Ads$1,625
Print Ballot$1,905
Winners Page$5,810

Furthermore, 2,237 of the 2,895 registered users opted-in for our Today’s Deal emails (that’s a 77% opt-in rate!).

While it was live, the ballot generated more than 22,000 pageviews and received 64,586 votes (13,555 of these were write-ins!). The promotion is continuing to drive traffic even now that it has ended, however – our results page received 53,000 views within 24 hours!

Finally, our advertisers were thrilled be a part of the promotion, and we’re seeing a ton of celebratory Facebook posts from the winning businesses as our sales team distributes the certificates:

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Why It Worked

  • To encourage reader participation, we gave away a $100 Visa gift card during both the nomination and voting rounds.
  • There was a lot of variety in what we sold to nominated merchants – print ads, online ads, upgraded listings, and category and subcategory sponsorships.
  • We promoted the ballot heavily in print, online, and on social media.
  • We encouraged customers to interact with the ballot on a mobile device by posting table tents and posters at nominated businesses.
  • We presented the top three vote-getters in each category with framed certificates. These certificates prominently display our newspaper’s name and our Readers’ Choice logo.

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