Use contests to increase circulation

April 30, 2013

By Bob Bobber

Reader Contest for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day—If looking for a reader contest for those lazy days of May and June, why not capitalize on those Hallmark holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Here are some ideas that might help your single-copy sales and/or engage your existing readers, which is always a good thing.

The Best Mom/Dad—This is an essay contest that will bring in some great stories that will not only give you lots of good entries but some great stories for the editorial department. The down side of a contest like this is that to be fair you have to read the entries and that can be time consuming. I would suggest that you get a little committee to spread out the reading material. Generally, too, you can tell if a story has potential quickly so it’s not always necessary to read the whole story.

Draw your Mom/Dad—I would suggest that you have a couple categories for this type of contest. Maybe an under-12 category and over 12 level would be fair and get you more entries. The under 12 could be comical. You could expand it to have them draw Mom/Dad in their favorite hobby or pastime. This would be easier to judge because you can tell quickly if something has merit.

Parent Look-a-Like—Who do your parents look like? This could be interesting and maybe you even have your readers vote to judge your finalists. You should be careful about using celebrity photos. I am not an attorney but it could be a good idea to check with your attorney so that you don’t end up having to pay someone a promotional fee of some sort.

My Dad’s/Mom’s Best Advice or Saying—These could be interesting and bring in a lot of old school advice. Mom’s and Dad’s always seem to have those old sayings that have been passed down through the generations. Once again it will be good material for feature writers. I even thought about making a calendar with a different saying each month. You make the calendar a reader premium for easy-pay conversion or new subscribers.

I am sure you get the idea for these contests. There are a number of variations to this contest. How about Mother/Daughter look-a-like? You can gear them to children or young adults. Either is a good target market. I think it would be great if you somehow involve the readers in the selection process for the contests. You also can get some sponsors such as photography studios, children’s restaurants, maternity stores, sporting goods stores to provide your prizes

Single-Copy Make Over—I do some work for a couple of community newspapers in central Florida. Recently one of the newspapers decided that a few of its coin racks looked as though they were ready for the junk pile even though the internal mechanics worked fine, and their was no real body damage. They pulled in the racks and did some basic clean up and repair work. A simple cleaning and fresh coat of paint were administered. Painting was nothing fancy. A $5 can of Rustoleum™ after a bucket of soap and water.

Like I said, none of the racks needed any significant “body” work. A couple of the racks needed new windows, armor bolts, locks and some of the decals had seen better days. After the rack “makeover” the racks went back on the street. The results were incredible. All the racks immediately increased their previous sales levels. Some went up by as much as 100 percent. Six racks went through the makeover and the total cost was less than $300 based on labor at $10 per hour. With the high cost of new news racks or commercial refurbishing this was a bargain. By doing six at a time, it eliminated some of the down time necessary to pick up, prepare the racks and replace them.

I should also note that they took my advice for the moment and did not replace any unusable decals. They scraped off any nasty looking decals and painted over the area. I have always thought that decals for the most part (there are always exceptions) were a luxury on coin racks, particularly for small community newspapers that are looking to save a couple bucks.

If you have a face paper in the rack, it identifies the rack and everyone will know it is your rack. If you don’t have a face paper, your problem is your run list, not whether or not you have a decal because you couldn’t sell a paper anyway. The cost of decaling raises your refurbishing cost dramatically and does not really reflect in increased sales.

The bottom line is that if your newspaper has done a good job of branding—which most have—the community knows your newspaper. A bunch of fancy decals aren’t going to make a difference in rack sales. It’s what’s on the inside of the rack, not what’s on the outside that ultimately sells a paper. The general public is just interested in making sure the coin rack is not going to “steal” their money and a good, clean looking rack will accomplish that without $50 to $100 worth of decals.

The newspaper figures it would recoup its investment in a matter of a few months. It also gives the newspaper a better image around town and makes the newspaper a more attractive advertising buy. © Robert Bobber 2013


Bob Bobber is a newspaper consultant specializing in circulation sales, training and public speaking. You contact him at

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