‘Best of’ Ballot a $630K Win for Paper

by Leah Merigian Chattanooga Times Free Press

2017 Second Street Award – Best Citywide Ballot

Case Study Highlights

  • $630,000+ revenue for paper
  • 1,500+ person winners’ event
  • 21,000+ unique users
  • 79,000+ votes

The Idea

At the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Chattanooga, TN, we were ready to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our Best of the Best citywide ballot. We’ve grown a lot over the past ten years, including new ways to optimize our digital ballot to drive more engagement and revenue.

Our ballot is our single biggest initiative and revenue driver of the entire year. While it’s easy to get stuck doing the same successful things over and over, we’ve realized if we want to grow our revenue even more, we’ve got to change some of our tactics and do things a little bit differently. The newspaper industry is changing, and we’ve got to jump on board if we want to see the benefits.

Chattanooga Best of the Best Logo

The Execution

Over the years, our Best of the Best ballot has grown by leaps and bounds, and now it features hundreds of entrants. To make the user experience the best for our audience, we setup our ballot into groups of categories.

We ended up with thirteen groups including Beauty & Health, Dining, and Vehicles. Each group was then broken down further into dozens of categories. For instance, our Dining category alone had nearly 40 subcategories including BBQ, Food Trucks, Ice Cream, and Thai Restaurant.

Chattanooga Best of the Best Ballot

We kicked off our ballot in May with a voting period lasting for almost two months into July. Over the last ten years, we’ve practically made our ballot a household name in Chattanooga, and our readers and local businesses look forward to it starting.

But we don’t take this community excitement for granted. We put forth a strong marketing campaign to ensure we maximize the engagement with our ballot. First we start by kicking it all off with a hype video. We leverage our core product through print ads, we have a strong social media campaign, and we put together website banner ads, takeovers, and rail ads.

In addition to all this, we are sure to launch our ballot voting process with a dedicated email to our entire database. The great thing about a citywide ballot is that every single person in your database will be able to find a category they’re passionate about. With email being our biggest driver of traffic to our ballot, this is a can’t-miss step of our marketing process.

Each year, we expect the participation and engagement with our ballot to grow. So beyond our marketing strategies, we also incorporated a sweepstakes. For every vote cast by users, they’d be entered in for a chance to win $1,000. Not only did this drive in new users to our ballot, but this also encouraged users to vote day after day and in multiple categories.

Chattanooga Best of the Best Facebook Page

After voting wraps up in July, our team at the paper then has about a month to go through all the votes to confirm the winners. Since moving away from paper ballots and collecting all the votes digitally, this process now takes drastically less time before – And the big benefit of that? More time for our sales team to start making revenue.

Our winners and finalists are announced in a special tabloid and online winners’ directory on our website. Having these winners’ products is crucial for sustaining excitement (and revenue) through all 12 months.

Chattanooga Best of the Best tabloid

Over the years, we’ve learned that being able to leverage an exclusive ad opportunity is a big selling point for our sales team. Because of this, we limit the ad spots to the category winners and the two top finalists only.

Since not every advertiser has the means to pay the same amount, we have a variety of advertising packages we can sell to our winners and finalists. Depending on the amount they want to spend, advertisers can choose a variety of elements such as ads in the printed tabloid, website ads within our online directory, or even a custom thank you email to our Best of the Best database.

Chattanooga Best of the Best Print Ad

Chattanogga Best of the Best Advertiser Email

While many companies may think at this point they’re done with their ballot, we take it up a level by hosting a huge, formal event the last Thursday of September honoring the winners and finalists. This invite-only event welcomes in over 1,500+ attendees and sells out each year. We time it out so that our tabloid and online winners directory aren’t released until the next day – this means we get to capitalize on the excitement and surprise of announcing our winners live.

But this event isn’t just for fun, this has become one of our biggest revenue generators of our Best of the Best ballot. Not only do attendees pay for tickets, but many clients will purchase entire tables to bring their staff to celebrate the year’s accomplishments and see if they win.

Being this was the tenth anniversary year, we had inspiration to add an additional element to our winners’ event. Available only to clients who had won their category every single year, we offered to create a special video honoring them for an additional revenue opportunity.

Inspired by the Second Street Summit, these testimonial videos aren’t just an amazing tool for the advertiser to use throughout the year, but they’re an outstanding tool for us as well. Hearing our local businesses talk about the pride they take in winning the Chattanooga Times Free Press’ Best of the Best is amazing.

The Results

This results we had this year were phenomenal. After all was said and done, our ballot drove in over $630,000 in revenue from advertisements and sponsorships – our most revenue ever to date. Plus, more than 21,000 people participated in the ballot and cast over 71,000 votes.

But one of the best things about the ballot is that it isn’t just a big deal for our team at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Every year, we have businesses reach out thanking us for what we do. A local home buyer sent us this: “To be able to display a Best of the Best logo in our office, model homes and in our advertising gives our prospective home buyers the assurance they are putting their trust in a builder who the public has found worthy of recognition.”

Even though this was our tenth anniversary year, we’ve already set ourselves up for bigger and better next year. After hearing other ballot best practices, we’re expanding our ballot into three phases, selling category ads, and offering enhanced listings to bring in even more revenue. We’ve already put together our interactive Go-to-Market Strategy, and our sales team is up and running! This year’s goal is $1,000,000, and we’re confident our team can make it happen.

Chattanooga Best of the Best Announcement

Learn more about the Second Street Summit.