Sunday, April 29, 2012

Compete for more business: enter a contest

Contests and competitions have been part of American agriculture throughout history. Early exhibitions of livestock and produce soon grew into competitions, with the winners taking home a blue ribbon that would be proudly displayed at the farm. And it didn’t take long for that blue ribbon to become a marketing tool.

Promoting award winning products is a tactic that crosses all industries. The blue ribbon has come to connote quality to such a degree that it has made its way into product names, company names and logos.

So, it’s not revolutionary to suggest that the next time an appropriate contest is announced, it might be a good marketing move to enter it. After all, a contest is a great publicity generator for all involved and there’s really nothing to lose, even if you don’t win.

Whether it’s a taste-off to see who grows the tastiest tomato or a photo contest to select the best farm scenes, if you’re among the top award winners, you’ll have something to brag about for the next year or beyond. If you come in dead last, most likely no one will know. These competitions are planned to generate only good publicity. Usually only those entrants who place well are announced and scores and judges comments are typically kept confidential.
Besides, when local farm products are being compared, you’re only talking about degrees of great quality and taste, anyway. It’s all good.

Opportunities for friendly competitions in agriculture abound. Of course, fairs offer the most traditional and standardized competitions. But there are also contests put on by farm organizations, state ag departments, publications, communities and various kinds of businesses.

Often, well-known experts, local celebrities or dignitaries are invited to judge entries, which lends credibility and helps generate publicity.

When you get the trophy or certificate or ribbon, display it in your farmstand, put a photo on your website, and mention it in your advertising and point of sale displays. The contest organizers will probably send out a news release, but it wouldn’t hurt to send out your own, too, with your own quotes and more details on the winning fruit or veggie. Be available for interviews and photo ops.

In fact, contests and awards are great ways to generate news coverage. Newspapers love to run articles about local citizens and businesses who win awards. It’s an irresistible combination of a news hook (the “best” or “biggest” superlative), timeliness, human interest and, best of all, a local angle.

Consider running a contest of your own, too. Invite customers to enter a recipe contest featuring your products and have local chefs or dignitaries serve as judges. Ask customers to guess the weight of a giant pumpkin or extra large tomato. Run a photo contest for pictures taken at your farm and display the winners at your farmstand, on your website, or have an exhibition at the town library or other public place.

You’ll get publicity when you announce the contest and when the winners are announced, if you send out a news release. Maybe you’ll even get coverage of the judging itself; the local paper might send a reporter or a photographer if you notify them in advance.

Contests are a win for all involved. The participants and the sponsoring organization get publicity. And the publicity draws attention to local farms in general and perhaps a particular local product. Consumers learn about local agriculture and where to find the best local products.

And when folks read that the winning cider or corn or tomato or zucchini or jam or pie came from your farm, they’ll flock in to get some for themselves.

by Diane Baedeker Petit
Originally published in Growing magazine, April 2006 issue