Wednesday 10 July 2013

Your comping questions answered - by a promoter

 I'm delighted to be able to welcome back Sarah Burns from Spark & Fuse, a promotions company that handles many of the competitions we love to enter. Earlier this year, Sarah gave us a promoter's eye view of what it is like to run competitions, and now she is back to answer many of the questions that you were invited to send in for her. Sarah has worked hard to answer as many as possible - some were duplicated, so an answer may cover two or three questions, and a few were outside here area of expertise, or ones that she couldn't answer for legal or technical reasons, but she has answered ALL of the others and it all adds up to a great guide to how competitions are run - and whether you can improve your chances of winning.
Thank you very much Sarah: I'll hand over to you now......

I’ve worked in the promotional marketing industry for 20 years and have considerable expertise, but please be mindful that my responses, opinions and working practises do not represent those of every UK promoter, and that I do not know what goes on behind the scenes of all prize promotions past and present.
At Spark & Fuse all promotions on which we work meet the CAP code – that’s the UK Code of non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotional and Direct Marketing – which is endorsed and administered by the Advertising Standards Authority.

There are no secrets or mysteries to how we operate as an industry and if this blog does any one thing, I hope it encourage you to see that the goal of any reputable promoter is a positive experience for consumers and winners alike.

When you are filling in basic prize draws ie your name and email is it better to do this manually or use the auto fill?

It will make no difference to your chance of winning so go with whatever is your preference.  Be sure to provide any additional details requested, as depending on the terms and conditions, not providing certain information could result in your entry being disqualified. And always make sure the details you provide are actually right. You’d be surprised at how many people write incomplete email addresses, partial postal addresses, a phone number with missing digits. It won’t affect your chances of winning, but if you haven’t given us the correct details, we can’t contact you when you win.

Is there an optimum time to enter a competition, for example should I enter on the closing day or when the competition is announced?

For a competition that is judged properly or a prize draw that is conducted randomly, the time you enter is irrelevant and it won’t make any difference to whether you win or not. So enter whenever you like!

I'd love to know how you pick your winners - I would guess that a hat and lots of bits of paper isn't the way and that a database and a formula method would be more likely but then again, it could be someone scrolling down the list and someone else screaming "STOP"

Someone is probably screaming ‘stop’ right now at a computer and we’ve even heard of one company using darts as a means to select winners (not one of our clients, I might add). Neither are acceptable means of drawing a winner under the CAP code which states that ‘promoters must ensure that prizes are awarded in accordance with the laws of chance and, unless winners are selected by a computer process that produces verifiably random results, then the draw or judging should be by an independent person, or under the supervision of an independent person’. The hat technique would pass this test only if every single entry was printed and placed in it, and the draw was conducted or supervised by an independent person. We actually own a custom-built random generator which has been independently verified, and this is how we conduct the draws for our clients

You can read more about how draws should be carried out on our blog post ‘how to pick a winner’ 

I've often wondered whether it makes a difference to your chances of winning if you tick the box declining contact from contest promoters.

Well it shouldn’t, no. Unfortunately there are loads of cowboy promotions and I expect this isn’t always the case. Certainly for all the work we produce and for reputable promoters, you have the same chance of winning regardless of whether you choose to opt in or out.

When there are several ways of making entries (postal/web/text/phone) what is the process of choosing from which entry method the winning entry is picked?

I have always wondered how winners are chosen when there are multiple ways of entering. Postcard, phone, text and online. Does some poor person have to put all the names on one giant database or is a group picked first, for example text entries , then a winner picked from that group?

We amalgamate all the entries so the draw is conducted fairly and everybody has an equal chance of winning. It would be unfair and against the CAP code to pick from different entry methods alone.

I have an unusual first name and found out was missing out on wrongly typed emails so I started using a different first name in my email address. Does this effect my chances?

No it doesn't, but it may well make it easier for promoters to contact you if you are a winner by reducing the margin of error. The only issue you could experience is whereby promoters are targeting cheats and require winners to provide some sort of ID.

If a holiday or event is cancelled and the paying customers get a refund or compensation, is a customer who won their tickets entitled to a refund too? After all, although they may not have spent money on the tickets, they have still had other expenses, lost their holiday allowance from work and faced the same frustrations and disappointments as the paying customers.

If a prize is suddenly not available for whatsoever reason, a promoter should replace it with something of equal or greater value. For example, if you had recently won a holiday to Egypt, you should be offered another destination or the timeframe in which the prize can be taken should be extended until the political situation had stabilised. If an event is cancelled, the promoter should find you something else – and I would expect a reputable promoter to do this. The CAP code stipulates ‘phrases such as ‘subject to availability’ do not relieve promoters of their obligation to do everything reasonable to avoid disappointing participants.’ On occasion there are some prizes which simply cannot be replaced – for example a meet and greet with a celebrity – but the terms should inform you how a promoter plans to deal with such a scenario should it occur.

The issue of extra expenses is a different matter as often personal expenses are excluded in the terms and conditions. I have clients that would want to ensure a winner is treated fairly and if it was a prize we had set up, we’d most certainly ensure the winner didn’t lose out.

Am I at a disadvantage if I enter a competition via a competition site’s direct link i.e by clicking on e mail address or website from the Compers News site.

I would like to ask Sara whether competition promoters disqualify entries which have come directly from competition websites, such as Loquax, Prizefinder, or

 It would depend entirely on the terms and conditions of a particular promotion. Some promoters only open their prize promotions to customers on their database for example and will cross check winners against this. Promoters are generally keen to dissuade computer generated entries, bulk entries and third party entries. As ever, always check the terms and conditions before entering as it should be clear who can or can’t enter.

Do you think postcard entries are worth entering considering how much a stamp now costs? And do people win with postcard entries

We’ve seen a reduction in the number of promoters using postal methods as a route to entry in favour of digital methods. For some prize draws, it’s actually cheaper to enter via SMS than it is to buy a stamp. However, where there is a postal entry route, people still win if the draw is conducted fairly, it really shouldn’t matter by how your entry is submitted.

If you win a prize is it greedy to carry on entering competitions with the same promoter?

I have a sweet tooth and I am known for bringing sweets, cakes and biscuits regularly into the office to share among my colleagues. Invariably they only have one or two and I eat the rest. Does this make me greedy? I don’t think so. I just like sweet stuff more than they do.

On average, how many entries are submitted. I know this depends on the prize but are there fewer for a caption competition for example. Are there fewer for creative competitions? Do Facebook competitions get thousands or hundreds of entries?

What kind of entry method sparks the largest amount of entries, and what attracts the least?

Volume of entries is dependent on so many variables, that there is no stock answer to this. The prize itself will often determine general interest and barriers to entry are also an influencing factor, as well as where the promotion is seen by consumers and the actual target audience. Any prize promotion that’s listed on a comping website will generally have a greater number of entries than a prize promotion that isn’t – I can a review a prize promotion and know immediately if it has been listed. Creative competitions can generate a lower response than a straight prize draw although this isn’t to say that creative competitions are undersubscribed – they can still generate thousands of entries. I’ve worked on creative competitions which have received tens of thousands of entries.

Entries on social media sites will also be dependent the same factors. And if there are multiple methods of entry available for a promotion, such as SMS, post and online, then online will often generate the most responses as it’s easy and free. Email is also a favourite.

I tend to send emails with my name & address added as an automatic signature, so the actual body of the email has no text in if no other information is required. Is this acceptable please?

It’s acceptable if that’s all that is required to enter the prize draw, yes.

Is it better to write your postcards by hand or use an address label?

That depends. How good’s your handwriting? If it’s shocking perhaps it won’t get to the correct mailing address. Other than that, it doesn’t have any bearing on if you win or not.

Have you ever had anyone put the phone down on you, presuming you are selling something, and if so, do you keep trying to get in touch with the rightful owner of the prize?

Good question! We actually prefer not to call winners in the first instance because there’s a general sense that anyone who calls claiming you’re a prize winner must be some sort of fraudster. Although I do always say to people when they question if it’s real, ‘well you did enter the prize draw, didn’t you!’ Our preference is to write or email a winner in the first instance. There’s usually a time frame within the terms and conditions for a first contact period followed by another to chase up. We certainly take the time to exhaust all methods of contacting a winner within these deadlines before conducting a redraw. A bigger issue is when we only have email winners, they don’t respond despite endless emails and we don’t have any other contact details – we’re then left eventually having to draw another winner. It’s a real shame when this happens.

Do you have any advice on how the separate out less scrupulous promotions from the real deal? Often it’s pretty obvious but there are some, especially on social media, that it’s harder to tell whether they are genuine or just a scam. For example are there any governing bodies or legislation that set out minimum standards that might give a comper a clue?

There are tens of thousands of prize promotions each year mostly conducted by excellent promoters. Scams by their very nature are there to defraud you and can be hard to detect before you’ve been duped. In my view, if a prize promotion doesn’t have any terms and conditions and this includes anything you see on social media sites, I’d avoid it at all costs. It means the company involved has no understanding of how to run a prize promotion properly – they are either unaware of the CAP code, or they don’t think it applies to them or perhaps they simply don’t care. It might not intentionally start life as a scam, but equally if it clearly hasn’t been set up correctly in the first instance, you shouldn’t then be surprised if the winner appears to be someone in their office or if there is no winner at all. Needless to say, if someone contacts you to say you’ve won a prize that you didn’t actually enter, then you can’t be a winner. And neither should you have to pay to claim a prize. If you think a prize promotion is misleading, or dishonest then complain to the Advertising Standards Authority

In addition to the CAP code, promoters do need to comply with other relevant legislation that applies to UK promotional marketing. There’s the Gambling Act 2005 and the Betting, Gaming Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. PhonePayPlus (previously called ICSTIS) is an agency of Ofcom and regulates premium rate phone numbers and services in the UK.

Why do some prizes just arrive at your door without even a compliment slip to tell you where they come from? Surely the promoter wants you to have a feel-good effect towards their products!

I couldn’t agree more. When we send out prizes, they’re dispatched with letters, sometimes even hand written! Winners should be made to feel special.  Sometimes prizes are despatched directly from a PR agency or from the company warehouse, and they don’t always think to add a letter or a comp slip.

I would like to know if I entered a competition more than once by mistake online would I be disqualified or would one entry be taken into account?

This would depend on the wording in the terms and conditions. If it says multiple entries will be disqualified, then yes in theory all your entries would be disqualified. A promoter cannot know if someone has entered more than once by mistake or purposely.

One of the things which really annoys the people who do competitions as a hobby is the length people will go to to cheat - entering competitions for their dog, goldfish etc. to get extra entries. Do you try to identify and eliminate people who are trying to cheat?

We don’t like cheats either, and we include significant details in our terms and conditions in order to try to manage this problem. For some promotions, there are sophisticated systems set up to identify suspicious behaviour.  I can’t really go into detail but let’s just say neither dogs nor goldfish win our prize promotions if we can help it.

I would be particularly interested in your views on voting competitions. Do you think they are fair or not? Should the entries be judged on merit or popularity?

Rarely has a promotional idea caused as much controversy and drama as the voting competition. They can work but need to be exceptionally well thought out and executed. We’ve run a number across education channels which have been successful with entries clearly being judged on merit. Many voting competitions though are a PR disaster and we all know of cases for which the outcome has been far from victorious for the promoter. In my view, they are a risky choice.

My question is:  why does it take so long for some promoters to send out prizes? In a few cases months have passed before you get your prize, and that is often after several gentle reminders. I can't understand why the promoters don't have the prizes ready when they actually publish the competition.

I’m with you on this. It’s really disgraceful when winners are still waiting for their prizes months after a win and the CAP code does cover managing consumer expectations. It’s not always possible to have the prizes in place when a promotion goes live. Promoters often want to make their newest product available as prizes and sometimes there can be unexpected issues with the production or stock. If there is a legitimate delay then the promoter should at least keep you updated, without you having to chase for details.

 How do promoters decide which type of competition to run, ie tiebreaker, instant win, prize draw etc?

It depends on a promoter’s objectives - is the promotion to raise brand awareness, boost sales, launch a new product or create some PR for instance? For easy engagement then a straight prize draw is a no brainer but for some campaigns, promoters want consumers to interact in a more interesting way with their brand, and will create a promotion that stirs the imagination. Many agencies are generating exceptional and compelling competitions with user generated content as a means to enter – the results can then be used for their own marketing. Instant wins will always be a classic technique for increasing sales. Keep an eye out for thrilling prize promotions in the blossoming mobile marketing industry as marketers start to spend more of their budget in this innovative area.

I’d like to know whether it's better to make up a subject or leave it blank, when an email comp doesn't specify what they want on      

I’d recommend writing the name of the prize promotion in the email subject line, just in case the promoter has to filter entries








  1. Great post!! Answered some things I've always wondered about!! Very helpful! Thanks :)

  2. Very Interesting. It's never too late to learn something.
    Thank you.
    Sylvia Robbins

  3. An interesting read with lots of the questions that often pop up answered in full. Thank you very much.

  4. Excellent, thank you Jane and Sarah.

  5. Superb as always Jane, love your blog and facebook advice thank you

  6. Fantastic - great information for everyone.

    Hazel Rea - @beachrambler

  7. Really helpful - thank you. Still trying to get to grips with mobile marketing comps - i.e. Instagram and Blippar though! Just about got the hang of Pinterest. x

  8. Now this is really amazing help. A very interesting read.


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