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Touchdown: How a college football photo contest paid off for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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At the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sales Director Jolene Sherman and sales rep Michael Slawin were looking for a new business sale with Mizzou Athletics. The University of Missouri in Columbia is just a couple short hours away from their target demographic in St. Louis.

Mizzou Athletics had worked with the paper in the past, but Sherman and Slawin knew knew they needed a new, unique idea to rejuvenate their partnership. The advertiser was looking for an opportunity to grow their fan base and sell tickets. The timing couldn't be better: Following the departure of St. Louis' pro football team, local fans were left without a home team.

Along with the traditional ad buy, the paper pitched the idea of the "Mizzou FANtastic Fan Photo Contest." While they knew the contest had the potential to be a huge hit with Mizzou's target fan base, the Post-Dispatch hoped it would also drive revenue, collect email addresses for their new Mizzou sports newsletter, and increase reader interaction and page views for the paper's website.

Mizzou Athletics immediately embraced the idea of a photo contest.

While the photo contest was a major part of the deal, it was paired with a special section to run in the Sunday paper the week prior to the school's first football game. The Mizzou Tigers Special Section included:

Back page full color ad featuring Mizzou Tigers schedule and single ticket/package prices

In-house ad featuring the details of the Mizzou Tigers contest

250,000 impressions on STLtoday.com with a run-of-site ad

100,000 impressions on STLtoday.com's special Mizzou Sports site

Email to the P-D's opt-in database of approximately 300,000 recipients featuring messaging from Mizzou Tigers and "look for special Mizzou Tigers Section" in the Sunday paper

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also wanted to optimize the fan photo contest to provide as much value as possible to Mizzou. As part of the photo contest sponsorship, they included the following:

  • Logo/Link on contest entry page
  • Email opt-in on contest registration page
  • Optional Facebook Like Box and Twitter Follow link on contest registration page
  • Title/Logo on ROS digital ads promoting contest
  • 2 email blasts including logo and link and big ad to Post-Dispatch marketing database
  • 1 email blast including logo and link and big ad to our contesting database 
  • Logo on ROP in-Paper page Ads promoting contest (2-3 per week, including Sunday and color, as space allows)
  • Tagged STLPD Facebook Page post(s) promoting the contest
  • Tagged GO! Entertainment Facebook Page post(s) 
  • Tagged @STLtoday Tweet(s) 
  • Tagged @Weatherbird Tweet(s)

A valuable prize is key to ensuring lots of entries and engagement in any contest. Mizzou Athletics provided a grand prize that would definitely draw in fans:

  • Four VIP tickets including an exclusive pre-game experience
  • A night's hotel stay
  • $200 gift card to the Mizzou Tiger Team Store
  • Winning photo featured on our website and on the Mizzou video board

The paper leveraged social media to encourage increased engagement and promoted directly to all of its social media pages. While their own posts received a lot of engagement, there was even more engagement by the community sharing the contest to their own Facebook Pages. Entrants were often posting to request votes, and the Mizzou Alumni Association even posted to its Facebook Page.

The contest was a resounding success. After a two-week submission period and one-week voting period, the contest collected 146 photo entries and brought in more than 1,300 votes. Plus, at the conclusion of the contest, the paper did a full-page spread publishing the winner and the two runners-up.

This campaign-including the revenue from photo contest and ad space from additional advertisers in the special section-lead to $18,000 in total revenue for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper reports it's thrilled with the results, and can't wait to run their next photo contest.
Matt Coen is president and co-founder of Second Street, a Saint Louis-based provider of private-label online promotions platforms for media companies.


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