Wednesday 28 September 2011

When the automated entry services strike!

If you read Compers News, you will see that Pam Crampton, Steve Middleton and I write the "Ask the Experts" column, inspired by the question-and-answer sessions we have taken part in at Derby comping days, and in May we wrote about automated entry services.

These are not new to the comping scene - they have been around for years. But in the past, they entered postal competitions on behalf of their subscribers, reducing the cost of sending the entries by printing out all the names and addresses onto paper or postcards, packing them in boxes and delivering them by courier. In the last few years, most promoters, encouraged to do so by the Institute of Promotional Marketing, have introduced a rule that says something along the lines  of "All entries must be hand written and in individually stamped envelopes". Nowadays it  would cost the entry service just as much as any other comper to send each entry, so they can't offer the "bargain" prices for postal entries to their subscribers, so they have turned their attention to the Internet where entries are effectively free.

I don't need to tell you what they are, how they operate or which sites they target - you can read full details about them in the campaign being spearheaded by Loquax and supported by Accolade publishing on the Loquax Blog and  Superlucky Di's blog

So what I WILL do is tell you what it is like to be on the receiving end of one of these services.

Every month, I run a competition on the Grape Vine website. The prize is just a small one - a six month subscription to the magazine for compers that I produce, The Competition Grape Vine.
The aims of the competition are
  • to reward existing readers
  • to introduce the magazine to new readers
  • to encourage people to request a sample copy of the magazine in the hope they will like it enough to subscribe
  • to be a little bit of fun for all compers
  • to thank my comping friends for their friendship and support 
Every month I get between 350 and 500 entries, many from regular entrants who try their luck every month. So I was horrified to wake up one morning and find that I had had around 17,000 entries - how was I going to check them all to see if they were correct? How would I be able to see if any contained sample requests? Entries were still flooding in faster than I could  believe possible.

As I started to look at them, though, I realised that although the name of every entrant was different, they appeared to have come from only half a dozen domains. For instance, an entry from John Smith might have come from  or or or and so on. And when I opened these messages, I found that none of them - apart from the very first one I'd received that night - had the extra line in the message that indicates it has been sent using the form on my website. In other words,  none of those 17,000 people - only by this time it was 20,000 and  still increasing - had visited the site. None had had the opportunity to look around, think "That looks interesting, I'll send for a sample and I might subscribe." None had read about the other comping sites I recommend, or maybe told their friends about the site they had just discovered. In other words, there was nothing in it for me!

Since none of the entries had used the form on the site, none of them was valid, so I spent a little time working out all the domains that had been used, blocked all mail from each of them and then set about deleting all the bogus entries. To this day, I hope that no genuine entrants  sent in entries during the time the automated ones were coming in, as I might have deleted those by accident too.

So what was the effect on me? Well, it took me several hours to sort out the mess - time that, as a one woman business, I could ill afford to waste. I lost several nights' sleep, getting up several times each night to check that it hadn't happened again, and I had to spend more time working out a way of stopping it from happening again. Captcha codes can deter the mass entry services, but they can't prevent them -  Captcha-cracking software is on sale for as little as $20  -  so I introduced a task that depends on the entrant's  name. Now an automated service would have to divide up their subscribers alphabetically if they were to target me - that takes too long so they move on to other sites.

Speaking as a comper myself, I've been comping on the Internet for many years now and spend a lot of money online - and (apart from Amazon, which is something of an addiction for me) every penny of that is spent at sites I first visited in order to enter a competition. That is what websites want, that is why they run competitions, and if the people entering the competitions never visit their sites, that is exactly what they won't get. And if the competitions don't bring them customers, they will soon save themselves time and money by stopping running them. We compers don't want that! So please, please, will you all get involved in the campaign to stop automated entry services. There are suggestion about action you can take on both the blogs I have mentioned above.


Sunday 25 September 2011

Get Fitter with Twitter!

I know that many of you have been enjoying my daily diet tips on Twitter. Some of these have been inspired by jokey emails that occasionally do the rounds, some by my heroine Miss Piggy , but most of them are all my own work. I've lost around 2 stone in the last 4 months, mostly be doing exactly the oppsite of what my tips say!

So here, for a bit of fun to cheer up any fed-up dieter, is a summary of my Twitter diet tips.

Packaged food has the calorie count on the pack. Therefore un-packaged food must have no calories

If you are right handed, anything eaten with the left hand contains no calories. And vice versa

Cows eat grass. Grass is a vegetable. So a steak topped with blue cheese is two of your five a day

Dark and white chocolate cancel each other out.

There are two things you should never eat before breakfast - lunch and dinner

Foods the same colour have the same number of calories, eg. mushrooms and Milky Bar, cottage cheese and cream.

Broken biscuits have no calories because they have all spilled out from the broken edges

Pimm’s with lots of fruit in it counts as one of your five a day and is therefore not fattening.

Anything bought and eaten in aid of charity, for instance at a cake stall or charity coffee morning, has zero calories.

Anything eaten or drunk for medicinal purposes (eg chocolate, wine, ice cream) has no calories.

Store chocolate in a high cupboard. Gravity pulls the calories out and makes them fall on the floor.

Butter isn’t fattening if you spread  it on wholemeal bread.

Follow the golfing diet. Live on greens

Stay in shape. Round is a shape.

A calorie is a unit of heat. Therefore frozen foods like ice cream have no calories.

The calories on another person’s plate belong to them- so if you steal the food, they still get the calories.

Piercing food lets the calories out. So anything on a stick – cocktail sausages, kebabs, satay, Magnum -  is calorie free.

Stop using that shampoo that says it gives you extra body, that’s the last thing you want!

Pasta  and antipasti cancel each other out.

You are what you eat. Think twice about fruit and nuts.

The four essential food groups are ice cream, chocolate, wine and coffee.

Wine is made from grapes. Grapes are fruit. So wine counts as one of your 5 a day.

Drinking a diet drink with your food cancels out the calories in the food. Salads have the same function.

Frying food in vegetable oil makes it soak up the oil, which being made from veg counts as an extra veg

Walking to the fridge counts as exercise. Do it often. And repeat.

Holes allow calories to escape, rendering holey food like  crumpets, Swiss cheese and Aero calorie free.

Compers – food you win is free, therefore it must be calorie free too.

A take away MUST take weight away. The name says it all.

Food eaten while hung over is restorative and therefore calorie free

If you eat standing up, the calories seep out through the soles of your feet.

Salad cancels out all other calories on the plate.

Eat chocolate before a meal. It blunts your appetite so you eat less.

Friday 23 September 2011

Great Twitter hashtags to look out for on Fridays

As most compers who use Twitter know, Fridays are usually a comping frenzy, with dozens of sites running Friday-only competitions. Many of us know about looking out for the hashtag #FreebieFriday but there are lots  of other tags that are used regularly by sites that run Friday competitions.

Here are some to look out for - if you use the Twitter web page, you can use the "search" box to find all the tweets that include them, but many other Twitter clients such as Tweet Deck and Hoot Suite will let you have a column open for each one, so you can scroll across your screen and keep up to date with everything as  it appears.

Some of these are used every week,some only occasionally, but it's worth having at least a quick look at them every week. Don't forget that many of the Friday comps only run during the day on Friday, with many of them closing in time for the promoters to draw and notify the winners before they finish work for the day, so you need to be quick off the mark.


... and at the end of the day, you'll sigh "#TGIfriday" !

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Hurry! You could win a Peter Kay book.

The Tesco book blog are running another competition - 3 copies of Peter Kay's new book, 'The Book That's More Than Just a Book Book', to give away, which will come with official Peter Kay tea towels. To enter the competition you just have to tell them your favourite joke - by tweet (mention @TescoBooks) or as a comment on their post (NOT this post - follow the link below!) - and they'll pick the three that made them laugh the most.

There's an extract from the book on the blog post so you can see how funny the book is.

The competition ends Friday 23rd September.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

When a prize works out perfectly!

A few weeks ago, Polartec ran a competiton on their Facebook page. There was a quiz with several questions to answer,  and the first prize was a weekend in Chamonix to see the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, a gruelling race run over the August bank holiday weekend, where thousands of runners run over a 166km course of mountain trails, with just 46 hours in which to complete the race. There were also 500 runners up prizes of sweatshirts.

When I looked at the page a few days after the competition closed, I saw lots of "Thank you for my sweatshirt" messages and felt a little disappointed, so imagine my surprise when a couple of days later I got an email to say I had won first prize!

The prize included flights to Geneva, transfers to Chamonix, a stay in a hotel and visits to several of the stopping points along the race as well as a cocktail party, meals and lots of extras.

Now. much as I love attending prize events, as  many of you know my daughter  Fiona is a very keen runner - she ran the Paris marathon this year. Here is a photo of her in a night race earlier this week (she is the one in green...... she is always  the one in green)

And Fiona and her husband live in a village called Ferney Voltaire, just outside Geneva. I knew that she would  get far more out of watching the race than I would, and also felt that she needed a treat - due to a dose of pneumonia, she'd not been able to run for several weeks. An event like this would help to get her back into the mood - and the mountain air would be good for her lungs too.

So I asked the promoter if it would  be at all possible for me and my husband to take the flights to Geneva, then stay in Fiona's flat andcat-sit while she and her husband had the remainder of the prize. They couldn't have been more helpful or obliging and we were soon heading off to Geneva.

Fiona and Juan had a wonderful time in Chamonix and Fiona's enthusiasm was really fired by the race - she's even talking about doing it herself one day. It was made extra interesting for her by the fact that one of  her old school friends was taking part in the race, and she met representatives from some of her favourite brands of running gear. They were extremely well looked after, stayed in a beautiful hotel, were plied with food and drink all weekend, given geneerous goody bags and were even given spending money, although as  everything was provided they treated themselves to some new trail shoes with it.

Meanwhile Mark and I relaxed in Ferney, shopped on the local market and made sure there was a huge meal ready for them when they got home, starving from all that mountain  air.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Two photos could win you £1,000

This is one of the more unusual photography competitions! The Memorial Awareness Board are running a competition called "Dead Art? Then and Now" which is open to people of all levels of photographic skill and experience. The task is to submit two photos....... of stone memorials. Yes, photos of graves, tombs and headstones! One should be from the past and one from the current day, to illustrate the "Then and Now" theme.

You can find  full details of the competition here and the closing date is 30 Sep.

A walk round a cemetery or churchyard will produce some very beautiful and moving subjects for your entry. My own favourite memorials are the simple paving stones in the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden in Grasmere, where there are stones laid in memory of my father, Edward France, and my friend Adrian Gothard.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

A £5,000 prize for one lucky budding writer!

Do you know a final year undergraduate? Are you, perhaps, one yourself? With the cost of studying spiralling at the moment, would £5,000 help out a bit? I'm sure it would - and that is the prize on offer in the new competition from The London Library and The Times.

First prize is £5,000 cash, your work published and subscriptions to The Times and London Library
Three runners up prizes are £1,000 cash and  the same subscriptions.
Plus winners and runners up get an internship at The Times - that could be the start of a great career.
The brief is to write no more than 800 words on "The future of Britain lies with the right-hand side of the brain".
You can find more details here -

Full details are on the website - entries need to be in by January 12th

Monday 5 September 2011

Lots of lovely prizes to be won with Renault

I drive a Renault Clio. My last car was a Clio too - in all, I've been driving Clios for around 14 years and unless I win a car before I'm next due to change, my next car will probably be a Clio too. It's unusual to find  a small car that is comfortable for a tall person to drive, it has an amazingly large luggage capacity for its size - handy for lugging home all the bags of competition packs, in-store magazines and entry forms I collect - and it is very economical on fuel - again, very useful when I have to make a lot of trips to look for competitions.

If you take a test drive of a Clio at a participating Renault Dealer before 19 Sep and pick up a scratchcard, you can check online at to see if you have won one of 2,000 prizes  - 88 pairs of standard concert tickets and 8 pairs of best seats in the house concert tickets to the Rihanna Loud Tour 2011 at one of 10 UK venues. 1,704 items of Rihanna merchandise, 200 'Loud' CD's. If you win tickets and live more than 80 miles from the nearest venue, you will also get £100 towards travel.

Everyone who takes part in the instant win will also be entered into a draw to win one of four pairs of "Meet and Greet" tickets to see Rihanna in concert or 12 pairs of tickets to her concert in Dublin with transport and a night's  accommodation. Any unclaimed instant prizes will also be included in this draw.

If you don't want to take a test drive, you can enter a separate draw at where there are 10 pairs of tickets to Rihanna's concert at the O2 on 22Dec, including £100 towards transport if you live more than 80 miles  away. This draw closes 30 Nov.

Friday 2 September 2011

Win a cooking class - in Hong Kong

I really don't know why I'm sharing this with you as I would love so much to win it myself! As many of you already know, I lived in Hong Kong for around 7 years in the 1970s and 1980s. That is where I developed my love of not only Chinese food, but also Indonesian, Malaysian and Nepalese. I arrived there never having even seen a wok in real life, and by the time I left, was teaching evening classes in Chinese cookery to forces wives. I would love to go back and see how much Hong Kong has changed since we left 25 years ago, and to brush up on my skills and maybe learn some new ones.

So this combines my loves of travel, cooking and competitions - all we need to do is work in some papercrafting and my life is complete. How about some Chinese themed cards that I made?

Right, now all my boxes are ticked, what about the competition?

Cathay Pacific is running the competition through an app on their Facebook page 

Here  is what they say about it:

Offering a real taste of the Orient, visitors to Cathay Pacific’s competition app on its Facebook page will be in with a chance of flying off with one economy return flight from the UK to a different destination in Asia each week over an eight week period, starting from 1 September.  Exotic destinations include Vietnam, Sichuan, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Korea.
All entrants from the previous eight weeks will then be automatically entered into a grand prize draw to win the star prize - a return pair of business flights to Hong Kong, with a three-night stay and a cooking master class for two at The Peninsula Hotel.

Accessible via Cathay Pacific’s UK Facebook page, people visiting the app will not only be able to join Cathay Pacific on board by winning flights to Hong Kong and beyond, but they will also be able to download and try featured recipes, learn new cooking skills and savour the delights that the Orient has to share.
To enter, visitors simply have to submit a culinary tip in response to a question posted on the app each week for a chance to win a flight to a different destination.  Visitors can then view and share other people’s cooking tips which are also uploaded.

Cathay Pacific operates four daily flights from London Heathrow to HongDragonair.
The first week's competition is now open, with a prize of flights to Hanoi. I've recently enjoyed watching Luke Nguyen's programme on the Good Food Channel about Vietnamese food, and would love to sample it "in situ" so I'll definitely be entering this week! The other destinations are 

week 1 (1/Sep) Hanoi, Vietnam
week 2 (8/Sep): Chengdu, China
week 3 (15/Sep): Hong Kong
week 4 (22/Sep): Tokyo, Japan
week 5 (29/Sep): Cebu, The Philippines
week 6 (6/Oct): Phuket, Thailand
week 7 (13/Oct): Taipei, Taiwan
week 8 (20/Oct): Seoul, Korea
week 9 (27/Oct): Grand Prize Draw

This banquet was cooked for us by my Chinese amah and her friend to welcome my parents when they visited Hong Kong - you too could learn to cook like this!

Thursday 1 September 2011

Whiskas Winners

Thank you to all of you who entered the Whiskas competition. There were one or two of you who tweeted but didn't leave a comment with your Twitter name - I'm afraid you didn't go into the hat as the instructions said that you had to leave a comment as well as tweeting as  tweets alone can so easily fail to show up in Twitter search!

The winners were  drawn with the help of and are:

First two prizes

Thirteeen runners up

You should all have received a Direct Message on Twitter asking for your address. Well done everyone and thank you for entering.