Industry Views

The Power of Magical Contesting

By Walter Sabo
Consultant, Sabo Media
A.K.A. Walter Sterling
Radio Host, Sterling on Sunday

WABC - Bruce MorrowRadio is good at contests. TV and print suck at contests. However, when listeners are asked why they tune to radio, contests are at the bottom of the list.

Contests are at the bottom because the question is not worded correctly. Dozens of focus groups reveal that nobody admits to entering radio contests. Wrong question. We changed the question: “Most people enter radio station contests, which ones have you entered?

Nine out of 10 hands shot up – all groups all demos. Every time.  That’s not the news. The news is that all participants STILL HAD THE PRIZE.  Yes, they kept it as a valued treasure.

The contesters remembered the station, the time they won and the DJ, even if they won 20 years ago. Why? Because it was their brush with show business magic. Radio makes magic. The more magic radio makes, the greater its engagement with listeners.

There is no magic awarding “$1,000 in our national contest.” Imagine following the $1,000 station promo with a news story about $2 billion Powerball drawings. Radio cannot compete for prize money, but radio can compete with magic. Yes, the research will show that most people want to win cash, but radio can’t give away enough cash to be memorable or emotional. Radio can make magic with creativity for very little money.

At the end of this column I’ll share with you the most magical contest ever produced by a radio station. To make magic first dive into the list of needs in a person’s mind. In 1974! I launched the first PAY YOUR RENT OR MORTGAGE contest. It was on WOR-FM in New York City.  Every winner came to the station to pick up their check and made the same statement, “I bet no one else had a bigger rent.” The rent or mortgage payment looms so large in our collective brain that it is overwhelming. What else looms large in your listener’s brain -solve the need, award the prize. Turn the $1,000 cash from corporate into something cool and top of mind.

For true engagement, award a specific element from your station or show. For example, Robert Clotworthy is the VO announcer on History Channel’s Ancient Aliens and The Curse of Oak Island. You know the voice. Clotworthy is a frequent guest on my show, “Sterling on Sunday.”  As a prize, we offer Robert to voice your voice mail greeting: “IS PETER A REMNANT FROM OUR DISTANT PAST? ANCIENT ALIEN THEORISTS SAY…LEAVE A MESSAGE.”

Every winner will be asked by their friends “How did you get that???”

Three keys to a successful contest: The prize, the prize, the prize. Very important: The magic of the right prize benefits the overall appeal of the station to every listener, not just contest players. That urgent suggestion is rooted in this astonishing fact first revealed by early PPM data: Contest players are primarily contest players. The PPM measures actual people and actual behaviors. Most contest players float to ANY station offering contest prizes. When the contest is over, the players migrate to the next station offering a contest prize.

This is the most magical contest ever produced, please listen to the whole, humbling aircheck.

 Walter Sabo, consultant, can be contacted at Sabo Media: Direct phone: 646-678-1110.  Check out