Contest site lets staff save best work all year

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By Karen T. Braeckel
HSPA Foundation

As school buses and carpools hit the roads again, the HSPA Foundation begins its own fall training season with back-to-back conferences in September – the first for circulators and the second for publishers, advertising managers and sales reps.

In case you took a vacation from The Publisher (for the past four months), we remind you to register soon to hear Mark Henschen, vice president of operations and circulation for the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) Sept. 20, and Kelly Wirges, founder of ProMax Training & Consulting, Sept. 27. For more information, visit HSPAfoundation.org/events.

Schools and students face evaluations all year long. And while the Foundation does not give exams, we do recognize excellence in advertising and journalism at two major events each year.

Following the professional development sessions at the Advertising Conference and Newsroom Seminar, contest winners receive awards and recognition for their various achievements.

Yet sometimes we wonder why all newspapers do not participate and give their employees a chance to shine.

The Indiana Newspaper Advertising Executives Association board and the Newsroom Seminar Committee work hard in their respective areas to keep contest categories relevant. Members of these groups also approved the move to the more efficient digital contest format.

The advertising contest switched to techy submission in 2010, while the editorial side used digital labels only that year and waited until 2011 to submit entries online (except photos that went digital years earlier, leading the way nationally in Better Newspaper Contests).

A review of the number of contestants and entries over the past few years shows an increase in participation in the advertising contest and a decrease in editorial.

From 2008 to 2011, the number of participating newspapers in the advertising contest hovered between 25 and 30. In 2012 some 44 papers submitted 966 entries – a high in my nearly 14 years with HSPA. This year 37 competed with 793 entries.

While we welcome the rise in participation, we won’t break open the champagne just yet (not that we would on company time or property anyway).

The editorial contest moved in the opposite direction.

Prior to 2009 at least 90 papers participated every year. From 2009 to 2011, 88 papers competed each year regardless of the contest format. In 2012 the number declined to 82. Then we hit 75 this year, even though the number of entries increased.

For the past three years contestants submitted approximately 2,600 entries.

From the judges’ viewpoint, that’s enough already! But the committee does not like a drop in participation. With that in mind, we think we’ve discovered a difference-maker.

Scrapbook your work

SmallTownPapers’ BetterBNC offers a new feature on its contest platform that we hope helps member newspapers keep track of stories or ads they may want to enter in 2014.

A feature called Scrapbooks allows contestants to save their best work in a free, cloud-based storage folder throughout the year. Then when contest time rolls around, the mad scramble to decide which stories to submit – and the hunt to actually find them – become much easier.

Scrapbooks include storage of documents and URLs. Journalists may open their own accounts at www.BetterBNC.com through the Open Call Login.

Invite your staff to visit www.HSPAfoundation.org/contest for step-by-step directions to set up their own storage, which includes up to 10 named folders and can hold 500 MB of attachments.

The 2013-2014 contest period began June 1 for advertising and July 1 for editorial.

Start saving appropriate work now in one place and then upload it directly into an entry when new rules come out next year.

We hope this new feature engages more people and increases participation.

Why bother?

Contests serve other purposes than the recognition of outstanding work and bragging rights. Who doesn’t like a pat on the back for months of investigative work or a creative ad that proved effective?

But beyond the awards comes the educational side of contests. A well-written and researched story inspires others to do something similar – or better.

Great use of graphics or a creative approach to advertising may stimulate other innovative ideas.

Even veterans can learn from the best entries – new writing or design techniques, story ideas or clients, digital schemes or revenue streams.

Excellence raises the bar for everyone.

Lifelong learning can occur in places other than the formal classroom. Contests provide an entertaining, rewarding route to knowledge (sans the buses).

Karen T. Braeckel is director of the HSPA Foundation. Her column runs in the second issue of each month.

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