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radio promotions

During my entire career, I’ve railed against radio stations that require contest winners to come to the radio station (“during regular business hours”) to “pick up your prize.”

Here’s a Customer Service Cliche that your GM, CEO, Managing Director, etc., no doubt will pay lip service to:

“Exceed customer expectations.”

Hardly a new idea, but one that thriving businesses practice. The strategy is simple: Anticipate what your customer expects the transaction to be like…and then deliver an experience that exceeds their expectations.

But when radio stations make listeners “come pick up your nearly worthless prize,” they deliver an experience that is less than the listeners expected when they won the contest.

Bottom Line: If you make your listeners come to the station to pick up their dinner certificates or movie passes, you are branding yourself as a radio station that doesn’t treat its customers well.

And you are damaging the overall impact of your promotions.

You are taking one of the most exciting things to happen to that listener — winning a radio station contest— and turning into a chore:

“Let’s see, I have to do my laundry, wash my car, and…Oh, yeah, I have to drive over to the radio station during normal business hours, pay for a parking space, and go inside to pick up my stupid prize.”

We’re talking about the listener giving up an hour of his/her life and adding needless aggravation…for what?

Two “Happy Meals”?

A free tanning session certificate?

A coupon good for a six-pack of Coke (which, of course, must then be taken to a store to be exchanged for the advertised prize)?

I repeat: They think they’ve won something, but in reality to claim their prize they must give up an hour of their life (plus parking).

And giving up that hour was not part of the bargain they made when they entered your contest.


What is everyone’s non-renewable resource?




Which of the following problems do you have in your daily life?

A) Not enough time to do what you want/need to do.

B) Too much free time, and no idea how to fill it.

Well, if you choose A) — guess what? Your listeners do, too.

Before requiring winners to come pick up their prizes, ask yourself:

“Would they otherwise be happy to give up an hour of their life for this prize?”

Radio station managers who object to mailing such prizes invariably offer one of two reasons:

One is: “Yeah, but if we mail out those prizes, that postage will add up.”

The other is: “What if they say they never received the prize?”

The answer to “the postage adds up” is, “Yes, most things do.”

This is an important promotional expense. And if you are not prepared to make the experience you are offering your listener as positive and enjoyable as possible — if you are not prepared to do it in such a way that makes the listener want to keep listening to your station — then perhaps you shouldn’t be doing that promotion or contest in the first place.

And if you’re doing it because you “have to” — i.e., because it’s a Sales Promotion — then that cost should simply be built into the overall package price.

Companies all over America mail rebate checks to customers, and there are no statistics that indicate a delivery problem using First Class mail.

The odds of a business-sized envelope, mailed First Class within the same city, with the radio station’s return address on it somehow being lost are remote.

If a station is paranoid about winners reporting non-delivery of prizes, the station can:

1. Mail them certified, with return receipt requested.

2. Use an alternate delivery service (e.g., UPS) that requires receipt for delivery.

UPS will charge you just a few dollars to deliver a letter across town the very next day.

“Just a few dollars??” your manager screams.

Usually these are sales promotions. So when the client asks for the promotion, you simply multiply the cost per item delivery by the number of prizes to be awarded…and add that amount to the contract.

If Blockbuster is asking you to give away 100 video rental certificates, they will not raise a strong objection to including $400 more to the overall buy.

The only objection will come from the station’s account executive, who will be afraid to tell Blockbuster that the cost of delivering those “value added” prizes needs to borne by the client…not by the radio station and not by your listeners.


Here is a very simple idea that enables everyone to come out ahead:

Arrange a trade with a local courier service. All mid-to-large cities have such services, but few if any have a budget for radio advertising.

Do a little research and pick the best, most efficient, most professional, and friendliest service in town and present them with your proposition:

They will deliver to all of your local prize winners, treating each delivery just as they would any other order.

At the end of a typical broadcast day, someone from your promotion department will call the courier service to place the order for the following day’s pick-up… using the list of that day’s winners.

The next morning they pick up those prizes and by the end of the afternoon they deliver them.

You do not give up commercial inventory as part of this deal. In exchange, you give an on-air mention every time you award a prize:

“Congratulations, Janie! You’ve won dinner for two at Emilio’s Restaurant. ABC Courier Service will deliver your dinner certificate right to your door tomorrow….”

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  • Gary B April 7, 2010, 6:03 am

    What about the fact they have to fill out a W-9?

  • Scott M April 7, 2010, 6:58 am

    This is a battle every time for the Dinner certs etc..usually if our winner lives 20 minutes or more away from the station we the DJ’s will pay for postage and mail the prize….Anything valued more the Winner still needs to come to station to pick up…dont forget if you mail to include a personal note thanking them for listening!!

  • Tony Mariani April 7, 2010, 5:17 pm


    Great post.

    Gives the receptionist time to ANSWER the phone instead of letting it go to voice mail!

  • Earl Pilkington April 7, 2010, 7:52 pm

    Hmm – I may have to play devils advocate here – so don’t flame me too hard for this….
    I worked for a TV station at one time – and all prizes – ALL of them were courierd to the winners (this was for a state wide childrens TV show and cost of courier was built into the sell) – so, so far I agree with Dan.
    I have also worked in several radio stations – and, in one we would pay for postage of the prize if it’s value was under $50 – between $50 and $100 we would courier it – over $100 and you would have to come in and collect it. WHY?
    Because historically – prize pigs had abused the good will of the promotions department – “No I never recieved that in the mail” – or – “No, I didn’t recieve it – someone else must have signed for the courier – all my neighbours know I won – I told them so (or they heard me win it) so one of them must have stolen it”, etc.
    In another station – all prizes had to be picked up and up HAD to have photo id to collect becuase again – people would claim they were Mr Smith who won this mornings prize – and of course they weren’t.
    If you are in a good market – and prize pigs are few and far between – then yes – I agree whole heartedly with Dan.
    But most of us have – royal (not loyal) prize pigs – who are out to get any prize they can – by any means. So while it may not “exceed the customers expectations” it is a necessity – or at least a means to an end.
    In a previous post Dan suggested taking winners around the station – getting photos, etc with them and our promo department have taken that suggestion on board and are aiming to make every winner that comes in – feel special about winning – and build listenership that way.
    By mailing/couriering out something to a winner – I feel that it may also just be thrown out as junk mail – and we all get too much of that as it is.
    The courier sevice that delivers your prizes – if you went that route – essentially becomes the face of your station that your winners will remember – of most of the couriers I have dealt with over the past 30 years – I really wouldn’t want them fronting up to a winners house with their prize – the winner is just as likley not to open the door to them.
    Again – sorry for being devils advocate – and while I agree with some of what Dan is saying – I don’t agree with all of it.

  • SJ April 8, 2010, 3:36 am

    We’ve found that by prize winners coming in to the station to meet the staff, see the studio’s and actually be welcomed to the environment; a stronger bond results. As we are listener supported, the prize winner has a more close association with what they hear on the air and can be more a part of what is happening than just a passive listener.
    No one has complained even when we give them the option of having the prize mailed to them, especially when the prize value is high; which we try to make the winnings of any on-air campaign.
    If you give crap, it reflects on the station. If the value is high that reflection is also high.

  • Mike Bell April 8, 2010, 7:00 am

    Concert tickets can be picked up at will call at the venue. Bigger client provided prizes can be redeemed at the client’s place of business. Other prizes can be redeemed via email, or via downloadable certificates from your webpage/Facebook page. There are all sorts of workarounds that don’t require your fans to jump through hoops to obtain their prizes while still satisfying any legal obligations.

  • Jarrad April 17, 2010, 12:43 am

    I think I wrote this to Dan O Day a few years ago – and even got a mention in his radio newsletter.. and here we are talking about it all these years later. A radio station where I used to live used to send out the station vehicle to give you the prize, which was great as you didn’t need to take time out to collect it yourself.. and secondly, a few announcers would normally go with them so you’d meet them while your at it.. which gave it a nice personal touch. To bad the station has since gotten rid of all their promo vehicles and no longer do it.. 🙁

  • Tammy June 8, 2010, 11:20 am

    What if u win a prize package but they keep giving u a runaround and you never get it. I won a valantine get away to galinburg dinner ticket and suppose to get tickets to area attractions. but never got it . Went to the station several time and it was alway the ticket are probably in the p.o. box I will check later and get back with u. It has been 4 months now and no tickets.