You’ve Won! An Interview on Running Competitions

Competitions hold huge potential to engage an audience, and to do something fun and fresh with your brand. But many of us online marketers shy away from them, not knowing enough about how they work.

Well, Iain Haywood is here to give us the low-down. Founder of The Competition Agency, Iain has bags of experience in running competitions for brands around the world.

He’ll be talking in more detail about running competitions at SearchLove London, our two-day online marketing conference which is taking place in less than a week's time (October 27-28th).

If you haven’t already done so, book your spot here. 


Q) Why might a business consider running a competition?

The most readily visible examples of competitions are frequently the "like and share" and "re-tweet and follow" types, which are a bit like fast food in their convenience and their sometimes dubious value. With proper planning, competitions can cover a wide range of objectives, like:

  • Email opt-in
  • Address/telephone opt-in
  • Social media activity
  • SEO
  • PR coverage
  • User acquisition/retention/activity
  • Basket value increase

Competitions do work well in tandem with ad spends or traditional PR campaigns, but nonetheless require proper planning. They can also throw up some big vanity numbers, so it's important not to get too starstruck by those and appreciate that they come in an incentivised context.

Q) What attracted you to this area of work? Do you enter a lot of competitions yourself?

I'd been consulting within marketing for some time and would often fold competitions into B2C campaigns. After founding a community/social network catering specifically for competitions (which was bought out this year), it seemed like a good idea to crystallise this work into a more clearly defined agency format that dealt with promotional marketing specifically, rather than simply as an add-on to more generalised online marketing.

Typically, competitions or giveaways tend to be thought about or planned at a very superficial level; there's a lot of added value to be gained through understanding the mechanics and psychologies of this type of marketing better.

As to whether I like competitions; I certainly enjoy building and launching them, and as you would expect, we do have an awful lot of contact with very contented winners, which is always a pleasant experience. As far as entering them myself, that is more rare an occurrence – rather a busman's holiday, you could say.

Image credit: Dennis Skley, Flickr, modifications made

Q) What are the common mistakes people make when running competitions?

There are lots of things to pick at with this but a few major howlers would be:

  • Undefined or poorly defined objective of the competition (better yet: objectives plural)
  • Vulnerabilities in the competition mechanic that may expose weaknesses to cheating, fraud or automation
  • Poor compliance and lack of certainty regarding terms and conditions
  • Lack of transparency and communication with entrants

Q) How do you judge the success of competitions?

The success of competitions should be measured by the yield against their target objective(s). Any further than that it becomes difficult to generalise given how varied they can be. As mentioned, it's also easy to look at a large number and ignore where entrants may have come from and why they've come in the first place, so a realistic appreciation of the results is important.   

Similarly with campaigns we run, not only are the competitions extremely varied, so are our activities; sometimes we'll handle all aspects of a campaign, sometimes we'll be tasked with particular parts – e.g. prize fulfilment, contra deals, compliance, etc.  

One campaign that we handle the PR and marketing for every year, which is quite modestly sized but very very satisfying, is our work with the Nick Darke Award in partnership with the University of Falmouth; a prestigious screen, stage and radio writing award which significantly changes the lives of its winners. Getting coverage from big boys like Times Higher Education and the BBC and getting heavyweight screenwriters and the likes of Stephen Fry on board are always considered good "wins".

Q) Do you have much experience working with clients from different countries? 

Sure, we do work with international clients, often providing guidance on things like regional planning, domestic compliance and handling the logistics of prize fulfilment. It's absolutely the case that different countries have both different consumer attitudes and expectations towards competitions/gaming/gambling as well as, importantly, different compliance requirements.

Clients from overseas are always very pleasantly surprised that the UK has a very common sense, light touch attitude to rules and regs. The UK generally has a very developed taste for competitions, as well as a very mature online gaming and gambling market, much more so than many countries.

Q) For your SearchLove interview, you mention your fantasy of running a private space business. Would you like to go into space yourself? 

I'd very much like to end up doing something with space or energy in the future, though that rather feels like a pipe dream, and I do somewhat doubt that I've got the intellectual chops for it!  I'd love to do something to do with orbital manufacture, though it is a major, major leap!  

The UK has a really interesting space industry and dominates satellite and comms tech, and whilst it's very easy to (rightfully) look up to the likes of Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow in the US, we've got some amazing UK companies like Reaction Engines that could radically change the practical and economic realities of space travel. I'd like to be a part of that in some way – a challenge like space provides amazing clarity and focus – in that the "problem" you're solving is such a challenge in itself that many of the regular difficulties and problems that arise in normal business are reduced to mere trivialities.

Q) What ambitions do you have for your company in the next few years? Any big plans?

We dabbled in products quite a long time ago, and since that time, SaaS offerings in the competition/giveaway space have exploded. It's likely that we'll have a stab at some more tools to help promoters, and even more likely that we'll build another platform to do with competitions, though not in the same content-sharing/social network style as our previous.  On a more general front, I'd like to see us continue to expand internationally.

Thanks to Iain for sharing his know-how with us. If you’d like to hear more from him, along with a host of other experts in online marketing, get that SearchLove London ticket now.

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