What's wrong with UK house competitions?
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05 May 2010
What's wrong with UK house competitions?
A number of UK win a house competitions have struggled to take off in recent months. While we've seen winners in other countries, so far 2010 has been relatively quiet in the UK. Although new competitions are launched every month, many UK organisers seem to underestimate what is required to make them a success. Here we offer some points for discussion to try to understand what lies at the heart of this issue.
It is clear that the UK has seen its fair share of house competitions - with a handful delivering on the promise of giving away a home to the winner. The rest have either led to a cash prize, or have been cancelled altogether. As a result, it is fair to say some members of the public have become a bit jaded with the concept.
At the same time, there continues to be strong interest in the idea of winning a dream home in a competition in the UK. We also regularly receive enquiries from homeowners interested in giving away their property by way of a competition or raffle. All in all, the appetite for house competitions seems to remain strong.
What's more, a number of organisers in other countries, such as Austria, New Zealand, Australia and the US seem to have struck the right balance for players, closing successfully and on target. This has allowed the house raffle sector to grow steadily - particularly in the US and Australia where property raffles are a more established form of fundraising.
Of course, this doesn't mean they all lead to a winner - but a big enough proportion succeed to make this a viable concept for the non-profit sector.
Planning & Preparation
It is apparent that too many house competitions in the UK are launched in a relatively short timeframe and with insufficient preparation.
We are often called upon to help find solutions for organisers after their competition has already been launched. In the past months, a number seem to have overlooked certain basic aspects of their competition, such as payment processing, administration or even legal matters. Solving these kinds of issues after a competition is launched can be costly and more complicated than at the planning stage.
While it is tempting to mirror past competitions that may have been successful in the past, each competition faces specific challenges that need to be considered in their own right. We continue to see too many copycat competitions, where most aspects are very similar to previous contests. This is done without necessarily analysing why those competitions could have worked or how their success could be replicated.
For example, after the success of the Oldborough Retreat competition, we saw dozens of very similar property competitions in the UK. Some of these had clearly been rushed, with poor attention to detail. Most ended up failing - in part due to similar legal issues vis-à-vis the Gambling Commission. However to this day we continue to see similar mistakes being made.
A number of organisers have also relied on the same advisors that worked on previous competitions, such as solicitors and web designers. This has led to a number of very similar competitions launched in parallel in recent months.
While the advisors may be confident the structure satisfies regulatory requirements in the UK, this doesn't necessarily equate to a commercial success - or players actually buying tickets. On the contrary, in some cases a radical re-think is required to make the competition not only legally compliant, but also attractive to potential players.
The timing of each competition should also be carefully considered to avoid any potential crowding effect, where there are too many similar contests running at the same time. This can have an impact on the success and cost of advertising across different mediums.
Tax & Budgeting
In the past, some UK competition organisers seemed to have received incorrect tax advice, or failed to investigate this angle in enough detail. Many ended up having to change the terms of their competition, or in some cases cancel it altogether. This issue seems to have been largely addressed in recent competitions.
However, many organisers continue to underestimate the kind of budget required to successfully give away a property in a competition.
Unfortunately, in some cases homeowners turn to house competitions as a solution of last resort - having been unable to sell their property in the conventional way. Combined with insufficient planning, this can lead to situations where they literally run out of funding early on.
Of course, working with an unrealistic budget trickles through to the entire strategy and affects critical areas of planning, execution and marketing. In some cases, it can lead to unexpected costs that could have been avoided - or the inability to react or adapt to change.
We continue to see competitions launched on the back of relatively basic websites and terms and conditions that are ill suited to the requirements of this type of project. This can extend to the structure of the competition itself and the players' experience on the site. Unfortunately, it can have a direct impact on trust and on the degree to which they engage with a competition.
It seems that some organisers place too much emphasis on the public empathising with their personal story. Although this can play a role in their assessment, ultimately the value proposition has to make sense. They must be able to trust not only that the organisers have good intentions, but also that they can actually deliver on their promises. The second challenge can be more difficult to overcome.
Charitable partnerships remain an afterthought for some organisers. While the majority specify good causes they would like to support, the charities themselves are often only involved in a passive way. In some cases, they are not even aware of the project.
A more fundamental rethink of the role of non-profit organisations in this type of project could help achieve better results overall. A brief look at how house raffles are organised in other countries can provide useful clues.
Perhaps the area with the most room for improvement. While house competition organisers in other countries have developed sophisticated online marketing campaigns, the promotion of UK competitions is too often limited to local press and newspapers, and often handled in a 'DIY' fashion.
In too many cases, house competition websites are not indexed properly online. One consequence is that potential players can struggle to find the competition site even if they try. This lack of visibility represents an important opportunity cost and ultimately helps explain why too many UK house competitions fail to take off.
In a bid to save on costs, some competition organisers are focusing their resources on obtaining free advertising online, via link building, SEO and negotiating for freebies generally on low quality sites. This can only take you so far, as the time and energy required to achieve results in this way can quickly outweigh the benefits. This is particularly true for competitions giving away a property, where the sheer scale of the project requires a strong momentum from the outset.
A more cost-effective approach is to budget appropriately for marketing and focus energy and resources on building a broad presence where it matters. In particular, working with marketing professionals to selectively purchase advertising on quality specialist sites, together with coordinated search engine optimisation work, can yield good results.
This is not intended to be a comprehensive review of UK house competitions, as these are just some of the issues we have observed. Rather, we would like an open discussion where both organisers and players can contribute their reactions and ideas. There remains significant untapped potential in running house competitions in the UK and so far the keys to success remain elusive.
What do you think? Why is it that some UK house competitions do well, while others fail to take off? Are there any lessons to draw from other countries, and what would entice you to enter as a player? What do you think UK competition organisers are doing right or wrong? Your thoughts and ideas are welcome.