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RADIO STATION “PRIZE PIGS”: CURSE…OR GOLD MINE?

radio contests graphicA Loyal Reader writes:

“PRIZE PIGS! Every radio station has ’em. But what’s the best way to handle ’em?

“We’ve got a solid core and I’m keen to put some rules in place, but I’m wary of souring someone’s winning experience with a bunch of rules banning them from the airwaves for however long. I’m looking for more subtle answers.”

First, I applaud your concern for protecting your listener’s winning experience.

Second, stop thinking of them as “prize pigs” (as do most radio people) and start thinking of them as “highly responsive listeners.” Radio is the only industry I know that routinely denigrates its best customers.

For example: I fly a lot. I’ve flown 1.5 million miles on United Airlines. To United, I’m a “1K” flyer; that’s their designation for a passenger who flies at least 100,000 miles per year with them. And they give me special perks that aren’t available to less frequent flyers, including:

* I earn double mileage on all flights. I’ve got more than a million air miles “in the bank.” I dip into them to fly my mother First Class when she visits from Connecticut. A few years ago I cashed in 400,000 miles to take my family First Class to Sweden.

* There’s a special 1K reservation number.

* Special 1K lines at most United ticket counters. I’m embarrassed to admit to a certain smug satisfaction when I bypass a line of 200 United passengers and enter a line of two or three 1K flyers.

* Special 1K TSA security lines at some airports.

* Early boarding of flights.

* I can upgrade (using miles I’ve accrued, certificates I can buy for a nominal amount, or certificates United routinely sends me every time I log another 10,000 flight miles) from any published fare.

That means flying First Class in the U.S. for a few hundred dollars…or Business Class to Europe, roundtrip, for as little as $800. (Or First Class internationally for the price of a Business Class ticket.)

* Special treatment when flights are cancelled or delayed. For example, I’ve found myself on a flight that arrived too late for me to make the connecting flight I had been booked on…and when I checked in at the airport I learned they already had booked me on the next flight out.

* They’re more willing to bend the rules for me when necessary — waiving penalty charges, freeing up a seat for me when the computer says it’s not yet available, etc. (Those lovely new charges for checking baggage? Not for us proud, exhausted 1K flyers.)

But if radio people ran United Airlines, instead of “1K flyer” I’d probably be called a “flight pig.”

Third: Understand that you should have only two concerns regarding “prize pigs”:

1.  That they don’t deprive other listeners of a fair chance of winning.

2. That they don’t damage your station’s image by winning so often that other  listeners feel they are at a disadvantage.

I think the typical rule of thumb of “no more than once every 30 days” prevents both of those problems from occurring.

Your situation may vary, of course. If you’ve got a small market, night-time music show in which you give away small (probably meaningless) “sales promotion” prizes each evening, your phone traffic might be light enough to justify a mere one-week embargo on repeat winners.

On the other hand, the station in my market (Los Angeles) that limits its winners to “no more than once in 90 days” is just plain foolish. They want people to listen every day but prohibit them from winning even small prizes four times per year?

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  • Paul Easton November 24, 2009, 1:11 am

    “On the other hand, the station in my market (Los Angeles) that limits its winners to “no more than once in 90 days” is just plain foolish. They want people to listen every day but prohibit them from winning even small prizes four times per year?”

    I can understand prohibiting people from winning a ‘major’ prize – e.g. holiday, car, ‘big money’ – within 3-6 months, but I’ve worked with someone who believed that nobody should be allowed to win more than one prize – ever! If you won a T-shirt five years ago you’re prohibited from winning a pair of concert tickets today. That’s even sillier – and quite unenforceable.

  • John Pellegrini November 24, 2009, 6:18 am

    Hi Dan,

    Prize pigs or frequent listeners are a dilema. And while I understand your comparison with frequent flyers the exception is that airline customers are actually spending money to get that status. You’re not entering contests for free to get your preferential treatment from United. We can hope that the radio prize pigs are spending money with station advertisers… but most quite frankly don’t. They just show up and fill out as many entry forms for the prizes as they can and grab all the free stuff that the station and the advertiser have to offer and then leave. We can hope that the prize pigs fill out Arbitron diaries or PPM, but we don’t know for certain. I’ve always argued that most station prize pigs are so greedy and determined to get something for nothing that they would likely never be interested in filling out a diary or using a PPM for the ridiculously poor compensation that Arbitron offers.

    One story about a prize pig I’ve related to you before still stands out, back in the 1990s a station I worked for had a prize pig who went so far as to have stamps made for himself and his family with his name, address and phone number and they would show up at all events and grab all the entry form pads and stamp all the pages on the pads. It got to the point where we deliberately kept extras hidden and after they left we threw out all but one of the guy’s entries and put out the new blank ones. I see no reason to reward that kind of person with anything.

  • Mike Bell November 24, 2009, 6:38 am

    All valid points. And still I think Dan has the right idea in that, especially now,we need to rethink how we treat our passionate fans. I get annoyed at the oblivious people that show up at a remote just because they were going to be at the event anyway and wander up to your tent and ask, “Whatcha got for free?” But again, here’s a chance to recruit a new listener. Staff should be diligent about what’s on display for free, or signage should be displayed limiting how many times you can enter to win a big prize.

    But in a day and age when we’re hemmorhaging listeners right and left to other media, can we afford to blow off our passionate customers?
    Sure our product is free, but people make a purchase of their time when the sample us.

  • John Pellegrini November 24, 2009, 9:52 am

    I guess I’m going by a different definition of “prize pig”. There’s a major difference between a “prize pig” and someone interested in contests and the radio station.

    The way it was explained to me way back, is that a prize pig is a person who has no station loyalty whatsoever. They spend their days going from one station event to another with no regard for which station is doing which event. All they’re interested in is getting free stuff. They show up at events, fill out as many entry forms as they can, eat all the free food being offered (going back for multiple helpings) take as much of the free samples and other free stuff being offered, complain bitterly if they already have some of the free stuff, and then drive off to the next radio or TV station event no matter where or which station is involved and do it all over again. They also show up at retail sales events without station appearances and do the same thing.

    A station listener who likes contests can always be persuaded to listen and usually likes meeting the talent and wants to know more about you and the entire staff. Prize pigs have no interest in you or anyone else or anything about the station or the event other than filling out entry forms and getting free stuff.

    You’ll never get the loyalty of a real prize pig because they are nothing but pigs.

  • Steve Johnson November 24, 2009, 10:18 am

    Good perspective Dan! A concept I’ve come across is that some radio people don’t seem understand that most of the audience will listen but not participate in the whole prize concept….so the most important aspect of giveaways is how it reflects on the branding of the station….not on a DJ’s idea to keep an avid listener from winning just because they are seen as ‘prize pigs’.

  • Andy Waits November 24, 2009, 10:19 am

    Since most listeners don’t play contests, the value isn’t in the prize but in the entertainment value of the giveaway. Make contests interesting, and casual listeners will be entertained… regardless of who wins.

  • Tom Clay November 24, 2009, 10:33 am

    I agree with Steve and Andy on this. I have always believed that since the majority never play, its the way the contest makes your station sound..and the avid player knows how to make the promo sound great and hence your station sounds great as well

  • Michael Bell November 24, 2009, 10:33 am

    Another thought that just crossed my mind: Do we want to continue to be a mostly “passive” medium or an interactive one. As we continue to expand the social media model to our programming, are we alienating the traditional passive (majority?) listeners. And are they passive merely because we’re not engaging enough?

  • Pat Courtenay March 7, 2011, 2:46 am

    The Frequent Flyer analogy is crap. A new winner will tell people about the cool thing that’s just happened to them: that spreads the word in a positive way. A frequent winner won’t bother, partly because they know nobody wants to keep hearing about it.

  • Ashley May 14, 2012, 12:01 pm

    Pat, I always tell people win I win prizes on the radio! 🙂 Maybe it’s because it’s normally something interesting like concert ticks or gift cards. In the last month and a half I have won 18 concert tickets to 4 different concerts, a $10 Pet Supplies gift card, and most recently today 2 tickets to a WWE wrestling event! 🙂 All on the same radio statio! I do listen to one other country station, but it’s a bigger station and a lot harder to get through to win.