Thursday 12 April 2012

Subject Matters - entering email competitions

Recently I have been in the position of collecting entries for a couple of competitions that were being run by email and I noticed an awful lot of people making mistakes which would have meant that,  if the competition had been being run by a big business, their entries wouldn't have made it into the draw.

So here are a few tips to help make sure YOU are in with a chance when you enter by email.

First of all, make sure you use the right email address. This might sound obvious, but apparently it isn't obvious to everybody! A computer isn't like a postman, who might look at your letter and say "This is addressed to Mrs Smith and number 35 but I know she lives at 34 so I'll take it there instead." A computer tries to do exactly what you've asked it to, and if it can't do it, it gives up.

Next, and this one is very VERY important - if there is a subject given for the email, USE IT. And use it EXACTLY. If it is all in capitals, use all capitals. If it is all in lower case, use lower case. Don't add or remove anything. Why? Because when your email reaches them, there will be a filter set up to collect all the entries to that competition into a folder, ready for the draw or judging. This filter may well be case sensitive, and  will certainly include any punctuation marks they have used, so don't risk missing out by being too lazy to use the Shift key or trying to cleverly correct their grammar by adding or removing an apostrophe. Some businesses get hundreds or even thousands of emails a day, so if your competition entry isn't picked up by the filter, it will almost certainly be deleted.

One possible exception is if the suggested subject includes a spelling mistake. Then you need to try to second guess whether the writer simply made a typo, and will have used the correct spelling for the filter, or whether they genuinely thought that was the correct spelling, in which case they will be looking for the same on in the filter. If  more than one entry is allowed, I usually send in one with each spelling. Otherwise, if the correct letter is next to the given one on the keyboard, I assume it is a typo and use the correct one, but if it is a commonly mis-spelled word I stick to the original version even though it is wrong.

But what if there is no subject suggested? Have a close look at the email address - they may have a different email address for each competition, which is another way of filtering entries. So for instance the weekly competition in the Radio Times has a number in the email address to show it is a particular week's competition.  A magazine giving away a blender, a scarf and a voucher might use the email addresses blender@..... , scarf@..... and voucher@....... In this case, you don't need a subject at all - the email address itself is sorting the entries. 

If  the email address is just something generic like competitions@......  look to see if there are other entry routes, for instance a postal one. If there is, and the address has a line in it specifying the competition, use that as your subject. If email is the only entry route AND it is the only competition that company has running at the time, you can safely enter without a subject, or just add  something like "Competition entry". But if they are running several competitions you will need to make something up. Usually just putting the prize as your subject will be perfect.

Now on to the body of your email.  It is important to bear in mind the fact that your email will almost certainly only be opened if it is a potential winner. You may be used to postal competitions, where a bright coloured envelope  or a pretty postcard might attract the eye of the judges, but a computer won't be drawn to  such things. In fact if you use a decorated or animated email, your entry might never even reach them - as an anti spam and anti virus measure, many companies have systems in place that delete incoming emails that include any pictures and especially animations. So always use plain text  and because not all emails are opened, don't include any other correspondence with your entry. But DO include all the information asked for - double check to see whether they want your address, your phone number, a statement to say you are aged over 18 or a note to say how often you read their magazine - give them exactly what they ask for, no more and no less.

Because so many places only open potentially winning emails don't ask for a read receipt. You'll just be worried that your entry hasn't arrived, when in fact it is sitting in a folder waiting to be either read or deleted. Or conversely you might get your receipt and feel excited, thinking that if it has been opened you must have won, when actually they are just capturing your details so they can send you a newsletter.

If you are asked to complete a tiebreaker or answer a question, don't try to be too clever. Just because technology is being used to collect the entries, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is being used to judge  them. In a recent tiebreaker competition run by the London Competitors Club, one entrant included a cartoon in their entry, which had been copied from a website. When the entries were printed out for judging,  only the link to the website showed up. And when the judges were sitting in a draughty hall in Pimlico, miles from their computers, the probably-very-clever tiebreaker fell completely flat!

Bloggs email separately from the same account, but the computer will simply see two emails from the same address, and if it is programmed to only accept one entry per email address it will delete the second. it's no use using different names in the body of the email - by the time you get to the body, it's too late!


  1. Very helpful post, as usual. I've just one question: if there is no subject given, should it be left blank? Sometimes the email address is competition-specific, but I do sometimes add my own subject if there is none given, for instance - "Win a Camera Competition". Would I be better off leaving the subject completely blank...?


  2. I've had a couple of similar questions by email so I'll edit an answer into the blog post - give me a few minutes....

  3. Thank you!


  4. Man Thanks all very helpful


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.