2020 ‘Best Of’ Drives Massive 350% YOY Revenue Increase

by Jennifer Johnson Shenandoah Valley News

Case Study Highlights

  • 350% increase in revenue YOY
  • $41,000+ revenue from campaign
  • First digital-only ballot
  • Opened up new business opportunities
  • 25,000+ nominations and 104,000+ votes

The Idea

At The Shenandoah Valley News out of Shenandoah, IA, we had big plans for our annual Readers’ Choice. Along with our “sister” papers, the Best of Southwest Iowa had become a staple in our community.

Last year we generated a little over $9,000 in sponsorship revenue which pleased us with our small market. But after seeing the success of similar papers, we saw an opportunity to up our game and take our ballot digital! Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we remained hopeful that if we set clear goals, we would be able to make this our biggest year yet.

The Execution

We wanted our revenue goal to be ambitious, but also realistic. After some research looking at similar campaigns in similar markets, we set a goal of $31,000 in advertiser revenue. We planned that $15,000 of this would be purely digital revenue.

Ballot Drives BIG Results YOY in 2020

If we were going to achieve this 240% revenue increase, we knew we needed to make some changes to how we ran our Readers’ Choice program.

We focused on providing big-city results at small-town cost. We set everything at a price point which could work for smaller businesses and created multiple opportunities for local businesses to advertise with us throughout the campaign.

On the ballot itself, we sold group ads, category ads, and enhanced listings. Each of these options provided a great opportunity for local businesses to generate additional exposure throughout the campaign. Our sales team found great success taking a tablet to in-person meetings with businesses to show them exactly what each ad type looked like on the actual ballot.

Shenandoah Valley News leverages ballot ad spots

Next, we sold ads in the special 32-page full-color Readers’ Choice section in our newspapers. This special section shared the outcomes of each category along with thank-you messages and special offers from winners.

Multiple print ad opportunities drive big numbers

To help our sales team achieve our ambitious revenue goal, we created more manageable monthly goals to keep us on track. Plus, we incentivized the team with prizes when those goals were achieved.

It was important our team understands the value of the Best Of, so they can clearly show potential sponsors how our ballot could keep (and even increase!) their revenue during these challenging times.

To help businesses succeed, we first created a free downloadable media kit for all nominated businesses. This kit included “Vote for Us” graphics, as well as information for adding an enhanced listing to their entry. This media kit was placed behind a form so we could easily collect valuable information about potential sponsors.

Turn your ballot advertisers into ballot promoters

With each user only allowed to make one nomination, businesses put a lot of effort into enlisting their fans and followers to participate (some even including incentives). This campaigning not only helped businesses find their place on the ballot, but it was a tremendous help for getting the word out about the Best of Southwest Iowa.

Businesses take pride in winning in the ballot

Additionally, we incentivized reader participation with sweepstakes of our own. We gave away $50 Chamber Bucks to three random users in both the nomination round and also in the voting round.

Beyond the marketing of the participating local businesses, we put forth a strong promotional campaign. We included dedicated emails to our readers during the nomination phase, voting phase, and announcing the winners. We also had a strong social media presence as well as plenty of print ads within our publications.

The Results

Despite the pandemic, our Best Of delivered the best results to date for both our advertisers and our papers. We collected over 25,000 nominations and more than 104,000 votes!

Each month our sales teams exceeded our goals! Our team signed on 10 businesses that had never advertised with our papers previously, and during the voting phase, almost every business increased their spend from last year.

Our digital revenue from just the nomination and voting periods totaled over $33,200! This blew our initial goal of $15,000 in digital revenue out of the water. The special print sections in our newspapers brought in an additional $18,840 in sponsor revenue. This brings our total Best Of campaign revenue to over $52,041!

Best Of ballots drive massive database growth

Additionally, these campaigns significantly impacted our email databases. We included opt-ins for both the Clarinda Herald-Journal and The Valley News newsletters on the ballot registration form. This resulted in 400 new email opt-ins for each list, which will be incredibly valuable as we move forward with our newsletter strategy.

In addition to all those fantastic results, the ballot received traction in a third major town in our area. With our data showing customers in their area are engaging with the Readers’ Choice, this opens up tons of new potential advertising opportunities.

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