In the last four years, Smithsonian editors have judged a total of 58,500 submissions for their annual photography contest, but the hard work has paid off. Smithsonianmag.com page views doubled in May 2007 when finalists’ entries were posted online. Also, about 700,000 to one million visitors passed through their dedicated exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute. Heather Starkweather, senior assistant editor at Smithsonian and manager of the contest, shares some tips with FOLIO: for pulling off a successful contest that actively engages readers, increases brand exposure, and attracts potential sponsors and advertisers.
1. Employ resources wisely. Starkweather carefully considers the regular editorial schedule in order to make best use of resources, staff and time. She says it’s important to use strong project management practices, developing process systems and thinking intentionally and strategically about each step and aspect-the rules, submission process, judging criteria, reader relations, and so on.
2. Communicate effectively with departments involved. It is crucial to set and maintain clear communication and shared expectations among the editorial, production, Web, marketing, sales and circulation departments.
3. Keep it "fresh" from year to year. If you plan to hold the same contest more than once, pay attention to lessons learned. Smithsonian accepted snail mail submissions during the first year, and editors were literally doing some heavy lifting. Now, they’ve simplified the logistics by accepting online-only submissions. Also, to address a concern about fairness, they created a separate category for altered photos to steer Photoshopped images away from general consideration. Publishers can spice up their own contests by adding new categories.
4. Leverage through multiple vehicles. Take stock of relationships and affiliations as well as elements of your business through which you can leverage the contest. Smithsonian displays the work of finalists in a six to eight page print layout and online in various forms, including through a "Photo of the Day" promotion. Smithsonian also has the advantage of involvement with and exposure through the Institute, creating a vital live component that any magazine can create, if to a lesser degree.