Avoid These Five Mistakes In Contesting


(By Jeff McHugh) Do you ever watch Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, or Family Feud? According to Nielsen, these game shows average about 8 million viewers a week, but none of those viewers are watching because they have a chance to win something.

Do you ever watch sports on television like baseball, football, or soccer? This year’s NCAA Tournament is averaging around 9 million viewers per game, but none are watching because they have a chance to win something.

Radio is the only entertainment medium that uses real prizes and giveaways to lure an audience, and it is still mostly ineffective.

When have you ever listened to Spotify, downloaded a podcast, streamed a movie, read a book, or gone to a stand-up comedy show because you had a chance to win a prize? I am going on a limb and answering for you: never.

Contests can be fun for listeners to play along with; they can add interactivity between hosts and listeners and, if done well, can increase time spent listening. They can also be a waste of time.

Here are the five mistakes we most often help client stations correct and improve when it comes to contesting.

Giveaways instead of games

Giveaways instead of games. Anything that is random text or random caller is a giveaway. A game is a contest where the audience can play along. “Text this keyword for a chance to win” is fun for a tiny microcosm of your audience, but an interactive game like Secret Sound or Battle of the Burbs engages most listeners. A game is content. A giveaway is an interruption in content.

Prioritizing giveaways over content

  • Replacing a content segment with a random entry giveaway.
  • Promoting giveaways more frequently than content.
  • Teasing giveaways instead of content. (Always promote upcoming content along with giveaways.)
  • Requiring talent to hype giveaways at the start of every talk segment at the expense of content.

Emphasis on prize

Lead with how fun the game is first, and mention the prize second. The most successful games do not require a substantial prize to work. In fact, most prizes do not generally prove effective at driving listening in either the US or Canadian PPM analysis, focus groups, or perceptual studies. But audiences will stick to a fun, interactive game. Another tip: Mention prizes under $5k in value once, at the game conclusion, as the contestant wins.

The exception to that rule: Go big on experiences money cannot buy, like the last two tickets to the sold-out Taylor Swift show or backstage passes to meet Drake.

Too much airtime

A fun game to play along with is worth 3-5 minutes of airtime from start to finish. A less entertaining giveaway, including sponsor mention, can be done in 15-20 seconds. Reiterating the keyword multiple times does not induce more participation and just delays your show’s return to entertainment.

Too difficult or too easy

Studies show that listeners do not enjoy trivia games where they know all the answers and dislike having no idea. Find that sweet spot where listeners have some idea, and they will drive TSL through the roof, sticking around to hear if their answer is right or not.

An underutilized radio contesting strategy is driving digital traffic. Some stations move contests from on-air to the website and promote them through recorded promos. This frees the on-air talent to focus on entertaining stories and stickier content. Listeners can participate more easily, results are measurable through online metrics, and most clients love it.

Jeff McHugh is known for developing remarkable talent for both morning and afternoon drive. He brings an uncommon mix of positivity, creativity, and strategy to the shows that he coaches. He is a member of the team at the Randy Lane Company. Reach Jeff at [email protected] and read his Radio Ink archives here.


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