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‘Best of Best’ ballot, event initiative yields best results for Register

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Here’s the bottom line on the top line results for a “best of” initiative by the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star in 2017: $230,000.

“If you do it right, if you follow the plan, you can get amazing results,” Lorie Gallagher, the Register Star’s sales manager, said.
So here, from the beginning, is how the GateHouse Media newspaper got to $230,000.

The Register Star had been doing a “best of” ballot promotion for about a decade that asked print and online readers to vote for the best restaurant, supermarket, movie theatre, etc. “In 2016 we decided to do it a little differently and incorporate an event,” said Denny Lecher, director of advertising for Register Star Media.

In 2016 the paper decided to implement a “Best of the Best” promotion and event campaign crafted by GateHouse Live, the company’s events unit. The promotion’s name was slightly changed to “What Rocks: The Best of the Rock River Valley.”
In addition to the usual ballot promotion—designed and run by Second Street, the St. Louis-based provider of private-label online promotion platforms—the paper added a “vote for me” round, which opened up an additional revenue source.

“After all the people had voted, we took the top three businesses (in each category), and asked them to come to the event,” Gallagher said. The paper sold packages around the event, and charged businesses for tickets to the event.

“It was a red carpet event,” she said. “You don’t know until it is announced who is the winner…We don’t even let (Register Star) reps know in advance.”

People from GateHouse Live “absolutely transformed” the venue, a restaurant with a banquet hall, for the event, which included a sit-down dinner. The attendance might seem all the more remarkable given its timing: It turned out to be the seventh game of the World Series with the Chicago Cubs trying to become champions after 108 years. A large-screen TV aired the game during the event.

“It turned out to be the biggest Cubs party in Rockford,” Lecher said.
The revenue results were remarkable as well: $100,000 between the ballot and event.

For 2017, the Register Star incorporated two more steps in the promotion: a “vote for me” nomination campaign with its own special section as well as a results special section before the event announcing winners.

The ballot was also expanded with a “Top Employers” contest with such categories as “Best Boss,” “Best Company Party” and “Most Innovative Workplace.” That ballot attracted manufacturers and other non-traditional businesses that wouldn’t be included on consumer-oriented ballots.

The paper arranged to hold the event at a local hotel—but quickly had to change plans.

“I went out with the reps and the first day we sold four different (promotion packages), Gallagher said. Within two days, reps had sold the capacity of the hotel.
In the end, the paper attracted some 850 to 900 people. “We really packed them in,” Lecher said. “We could not put another person in there.” In fact, the paper was forced to tell some businesses there was no room for them.

Promotion packages for the ballot and event campaign ranged from $3,500 to $584. The low-end pricing came on the advice of Rebecca Capparelli, the head of GateHouse Live and the company’s vice president of promotions.

“Rebecca suggested that price so that small shoe store can be in it, too, along with the $3,500 packages for hospitals and banks,” Gallagher said.

The revenue take for the 2017 ballot and event promotion came in at $230,000.
There are two keys to the success of the promotion, Gallagher said: the credibility of the paper in the market, and the integrity of the ballot.

“People know we don’t have anything to do with the results,” Gallagher said.

“Second Street does it all.”