How The Post and Courier generated $250,000 with its first ballot campaign


The Idea

The Post and Courier is a 65,000-circulation paper in Charleston, SC., that has been running promotions and interactive content for years. But the paper had never before tackled a major citywide ballot. The paper’s marketers had high hopes that the first-ever Charleston’s Choice ballot would generate big revenue and audience engagement. They developed a clear plan to maximize both outcomes.

The Execution

The Post and Courier wanted to ensure Charleston’s Choice would involve every business in their market. This way, every reader would find a category they were passionate about—and the paper would have an almost unlimited list of potential sponsorshis.

The paper divided their ballot into twelve groups, such as Arts & Entertainment, Food & Dining, Pets, and Professional Services. Within each group, users could pick their favorites from a variety of categories. The Local Shopping group, for instance, had more than 35 categories including Bicycle Shop, Formal Wear Store, Office Supply Store, and Wine Shop.

When it came to setting up the campaign, they divided it into three phases. Not only would this provide a long period of promotion and exposure for all their merchants, but it also maximized the paper’s opportunity for revenue.

Phases One and Two: Nomination & Voting

The Charleston’s Choice ballot started with a nomination phase and voting phase lasting about six weeks. During this time, they encouraged readers to nominate and vote for all their favorite local businesses and services.

There were a huge number of local businesses competing on the ballot, and The Post and Courier wanted to be able to leverage those merchants to help promote it. The team created a Promotional Toolkit containing a variety of downloadable pieces each business could customize and use, including social media images, printable posters, and short url links to take their followers directly to their category.

As businesses received nominations, the Post and Courier sales team was able to reach out to them for ballot sponsorship opportunities during the voting phase. Businesses could be featured at the top or as a siderail ad in their individual category on the ballot page. Sponsors also got print newspaper ads. Since many local businesses were getting nominated, the sponsorship revenue potential grew with each new nomination.

The team at The Post and Courier were stunned—pleasantly so—by the number of businesses requesting votes and nominations from their own followers on social media. It was exciting to see the entire community rally behind the Charleston’s Choice ballot, and a strong reinforcement of the power of the newspaper’s brand to see how important winning was to the local community businesses.

Phase Three: Celebration

The paper didn’t want the excitement of Charleston’s Choice to end with the announcement of the winners, so they prepared to launch two more initiatives: a major event and a print special section.

The community’s response to the event was outstanding, and winning businesses were thrilled to be able to attend.

Plus, The Post and Courier was also able to leverage the event as another opportunity for potential revenue by selling a variety of event sponsorships.

Not only were they able to present all the winners with an award recognizing their accomplishment, but the event was able to highlight many of the local businesses as well. From the catering and drinks to entertainment and decor, many of the winning businesses were on display during the event itself.

The highly anticipated print special section was also a big hit with the community. Many local businesses snapped photos of their names to post on social media, while even more had the special section framed to hang at their location.

The bottom line

When all was said and done, the results of the first-ever Charleston’s Choice ballot far surpassed expectations. Some 6,000 businesses were nominated and 200,000 votes were cast by 21,000 registered users. More than 450 community members attended the celebration event.

Beyond this massive engagement with its audience, the ballot campaign was a huge revenue win for The Post and Courier as well. With more than 220 advertisers during the three phases, the paper secured more than $250,000 revenue from digital ads, print ads, and event sponsorships.

Matt Coen is president and co-founder of Second Street, a Saint Louis-based provider of private-label online promotions platforms for media companies.