COVID WIN: $195,000 for Small-Market Newspaper

by Samantha Cunningham The Pilot

Case Study Highlights

  • $195,000 advertiser revenue during COVID
  • Best of the Pines generated $144,000 in revenue
  • Pivoted and saved sponsored campaign with Chick-fil-A
  • Delivered 400 hot leads for realtor with sweepstakes
  • Launched birthday club and tripled email audience

Our newspaper, The Pilot, is a 10,000 circ, 2 days a week newspaper out of Southern Pines, North Carolina. This year is our 100th anniversary and the restrictions that came with the COVID pandemic resulted in a year unlike any other.

We originally intended to only utilize the Second Street platform for our Best Of the Pines campaign. But after reading through the Lab, watching webinars, and attending the Summit, we realized all the potential in front of us with promotions and started creating a plan to do more with the platform.

Here’s the success we’ve had with promotions – all during COVID-19:

Best of the Pines Ballot

Each year we run our Best Of the Pines ballot to ask our readers to vote for their favorite local businesses. With the COVID pandemic impacting nearly everything in our community, we were hesitant to run the campaign this year. It felt strange to ask these small community businesses to advertise with us when they literally didn’t know if they would still be in operation in a month.

In spite of our doubts and concerns, we set a goal of $130,000 in advertiser revenue and focused on industries like roofers, exterminators, and plumbers – industries that weren’t seeing a dip with the pandemic.

For our winners’ phase, we originally only planned to sell our print magazine featuring the winners. At the last minute, we discovered this list of creative ways to drive revenue during the winners’ phase and decided to give it a try. Though it was last minute, we had a good amount of businesses take advantage.

Best Of the Pines Ballot
We also ran a social-distanced event to celebrate the end of the Best Of campaign. In 30-minute scheduled intervals, our winners signed up to get their photos taken at our photo wall, pick up a gift bag full of items from sponsors, and enter various sweepstakes.

This year’s revenue for our Best of the Pines campaign increased 38% from the previous year (yes – even during COVID!) The campaign brought in over 120,000 nominations, more than 236,000 votes, and $144,000 in revenue. This was so successful we are doing a spinoff “People of the Pines” campaign in January!

Best of the Pines Event collage

Monthly Photo Contests

For the last year we’ve worked with a local Chick-fil-A to run a Student Athlete of the Month photo contest. This was a great campaign to engage local students. But as COVID limited school sports, our deal was in jeopardy, and we had to adapt.

The Second Street Summit inspired us to run a monthly photo contest, using different themes each month to keep the contest from getting stale. We decided to pivot and pitch this idea to CFA and they signed back on for another year. It’s a great recurring contest and drives an even larger audience than the previous promotion.

Three photo contests sponsored by Chik-fil-A

Home Free for a Year Sweepstakes

We capitalized on the huge opportunity of the Second Street National Sweepstakes to drive leads for a local realtor. This real estate agent had never spent with us before and sponsored the campaign for $3,000. For our Home Free for a Year contest, Second Street offered a prize of $15,000 which was a fantastic way to attract the targeted audience our sponsor wanted.

With an email opt-in on the entry form, the campaign added nearly 400 new leads for the sponsor’s database. We utilized a lead-generation question and activated the Notify and Share feature to provide our sponsor immediate information on qualified leads. The advertiser was so pleased with the results they’ve signed on to sponsor again next year!

Home Free for a Year sweepstakes entry page

How Much Do You Know About Bourbon? Quiz

We originally secured Eloise Trading Company for our College Hoops campaign, but, as COVID limited sports so dramatically, we had to find a way to save that $2,100 in revenue. Instead we ran this ‘How Much Do You Know About Bourbon?’ trivia quiz testing users’ bourbon knowledge. Every user that took the quiz was automatically entered into our sweepstakes for a $100 gift card from the sponsor.

Not only was this a great way to save advertiser revenue, but it generated incredibly valuable results for this local business during COVID. On the entry form we utilized lead-generation questions to collect consumer information for the business. That included an email opt-in, Facebook Like Button, and an extra entry for agreeing. We also included an extra chance opportunity for agreeing to contact from the sponsor for a personalized interior design consultation. This allowed us to provide a great list of qualified leads for the sponsor.

How Much Do You Know About Bourbon? Quiz

What Should You Get Your Mom for Mother’s Day? Quiz

We utilized this ‘What Should You Get Your Mom For Mother’s Day?’ turnkey quiz to create a fantastic opportunity to drive exposure for our advertisers during COVID. We secured five industry-exclusive sponsors for the campaign and crafted each of the quiz results to tie in with one of the advertisers.

On top of their sponsorship investment, the sponsoring businesses provided a special coupon/offer to include with the thank-you email. This was not only a great incentive for users to participate, but also a great way to drive sales. We secured $1,500 from this campaign ($300 per advertiser) and generated fantastic leads for local businesses during an especially hard time.

The Pilot Mother's Day Quiz

Birthday Club

This year we launched our birthday club campaign which has tripled our email audience! We currently have three local sponsors (smoothie shop, pizza restaurant, gifts and decor store) which each provide a special coupon in the email.

We plan to revamp and expand our sponsorship packages for this campaign based on the success we had this year to make it bigger and better next year!

The Pilot Birthday Club

As local businesses continue to feel the effects of the pandemic, targeted exposure and qualified leads are incredibly important. We’re thrilled to have a this unique tool to provide highly valuable results for our advertisers.

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