How to Expand Reach and Grow Profits with Reader’s Choice Ballots


For years, print publications have been running Reader’s Choice programs in their communities and have found significant success with these initiatives. With the advent of new digital platforms, there is now a substantial opportunity to grow and expand these franchises, and as an industry, publications need to seize this opportunity. By capitalizing, newspapers can grow engagement with readers and SMB advertisers, while also generating substantial revenue and collecting valuable crowdsourced content.

Executing these promotions has been historically difficult, resource intensive, and has relied heavily on print components. In recent years, publications have taken a few steps by manipulating survey tools and contest platforms to bring certain elements of these promotions online. These steps increased efficiency and reader participation to some extent, but as new tools that are built specifically for Reader’s Choice ballots come to light, the opportunity around our online and offline efforts dramatically increases.


In the future, by moving ballots to optimized platforms, which should include social integration, nominating tools, merging functionality, and expanded listings, to name a few, we will not only be able to reach a wider audience, but will be able to drastically cut down on time spent administering ballots. Gone are the days of manually counting or hiring accounting firms to tabulate ballots, or being caught in spreadsheet agony!


By adopting these new tools, we will be able take advantage of all the ways to bring our Reader’s Choice programs to the next level in terms of the amount of revenue that we’re able to generate, as well as the size of the audience that we’re able to engage around these franchises. Below are some of the ways that newspapers are taking full advantage of their programs:


Sponsorships & Category Ads

Selling either an exclusive sponsorship or multiple sponsorships for both print and digital packages for your programs is a great way to drive additional revenue. You can also sell category specific ads – restaurant, retail, recreation, and so on – to participating advertisers.



Upgraded Listings

To drive more digital revenue, sell upgraded ballot listings to participating advertisers. Consider supplementing the name of the business on the ballot with a logo, description, physical address, website link, and Facebook and Twitter icons.




Live Events

After your Reader’s Choice program has wrapped up, consider hosting a live event that celebrates the winners and brings the experience to life for your audience. While this live event could be just a simple awards ceremony for winning advertisers, you could also build it into a huge community event and sell tickets to the public. Some publications are pulling out all the stops for events like this – vendor booths, event sponsorships, live music, and the works. Be sure to have issues of your special section (see below) at the event for people to take home.




Agency Services

Your Reader’s Choice programs offer the ability to deepen current relationships and create new relationships with SMBs in your community. Approaching your advertisers with this program gives them a unique way to engage with their current customers, plus allows them to target potential new ones. This program is a great way to open the door with new advertisers to expose them to all you have to offer, including your agency services.


Year-Round Destinations

Through social media and email promotion, your ballot will be able to reach a larger audience and enjoy huge viral reach as your participants share the promotion among their networks. This valuable crowdsourced content that you’ll collect from your ballot can be utilized year-round in online directories that can become a destination on your website showcasing the best businesses and services in your community. These destinations allow you to sell ads year-round to participating advertisers.


Special Print Section

Many publications are doing special print sections for their Reader’s Choices, but we see this as a huge growth opportunity. You have the ability to create a special section to promote your Reader’s Choice program before it starts and after it is over. To monetize, consider selling ads to past winners in your preview special section and selling to winners in the edition after the program ends.


Deals Store

A deals store – a collection of deals centered around a theme – is an excellent way to continue driving revenue once your Reader’s Choice ballot is over. Your audience chose the winning advertisers, so you know that deals from those advertisers will be appealing to your audience. Even if you don’t have a regular deals program, consider creating a special store that features deals from the winners of your ballot.


As you can see, by utilizing digital tools that create efficiencies around your Reader’s Choice programs, it allows you to take full advantage of the opportunities of this promotion that you’ve been executing for years.


For an expanded look at all the opportunities around your ballot promotions, download our playbook at


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Matt Coen

Matt Coen is the Co-founder and President of Second Street, the leading provider of online promotions platforms and partner success services for the media industry. Coen also teaches entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2006, Coen Co-Wrote and Produced the award winning documentary Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? Coen began his career in media technology at Pulitzer Technologies as Director of New Business and Product Development. Coen is a native of Rhode Island who loves spending time with his family, sports, politics, travel, and serving on a number of community boards.
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