3 Reasons Your Contests Aren’t Working

by Liz Huff Second Street

The Prize

When it comes to contest prizes, remember the formula R+V=P (Relevance + Value = Participation). The more relevant and valuable the prize is, the more participation your contest will see.


Let’s take a closer look:


To encourage entries and to help your advertiser reach the right audience, align the prize with both the contest theme and the target audience. One great idea, especially if you are administering a contest for an advertiser, would be to give away their product or service to ensure that the people entering could become a potential customer.

You also have to consider what audience you want to activate. A Mother’s Day contest sponsored by a spa, giving away a fabulous spa package, is perfect for attracting moms and aligns the contest theme, whereas a restaurant gift card giveaway sponsored by a local golf course might not deliver the audience you or your advertiser was ultimately looking for.


You want exposure for your contest. Your advertiser wants exposure from the contest. And the more valuable your prize, the more people you will inspire to act, and the more exposure you and your sponsor will get. Some great go-to, evergreen prize ideas are things like cash, gift cards and grocery cards.

Plus, value doesn’t always need to be monetary! Something like a backstage meet & greet with a popular celebrity or a unique VIP experience at an event has incredible perceived value and is therefore a very compelling prize.


If people are interested in the prize and find it valuable enough to make it worth giving up their personal information, they will enter the contest.

A good test to make sure a prize is relevant and valuable enough to drive participation is to always ask yourself, “Would I take the time to enter this contest for a chance to win this prize?” If the answer is no, it’s probably not worth running the contest.

The Barrier to Entry

While some contest types – like sweepstakes – have a naturally lower barrier to entry than more targeted contest types – like photo and video submission contests, there are plenty of ways you can streamline the entry process for any contest you run. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Choose the right contest type. Different contest types drive different results, so you want to be sure to pick the right type for the goals you are looking to achieve.
  • Keep your entry form simple. You should only ever ask for information that you really need and are planning to use. Every time you create a contest, you should go through the entry process yourself and see how easy – or not – it is to enter. As you do, look for places you can pare down the form to make it less intimidating and time-consuming. (Do you really need their full home address or will just a zip code do?) For more tips on building a winning registration page, check out this article.

The Promotion

If you want results, you have GOT to let people know about your contest using every possible avenue to promote. Just because you built it doesn’t mean people know to come and enter.

Contest promotion should always take place on multiple platforms and utilize all the assets that you have available to you as a media company – not just your core media, but also email, digital, social, and mobile. Digital assets – and email in particular – are incredibly effective at driving digital conversions. (Learn more about the impact of email on promotions.)

If you don’t already have a promotions database, now is the time to start building one.

Here’s a breakdown of what every contest promotional package should include:

  • Ads in your core media
  • Online ads
  • Email (oftentimes the single-most effective asset!)
  • Mobile ads
  • Social posts

Plus, to ensure that your advertiser finds value in the promotion, you should always include these elements as well:

Stay focused on the 3 factors above, and watch your contests start driving results for you and your advertisers.