One of my favorite parts about being a web editor is my freedom to be creative — to come up with new projects and initiatives for the website.

Best of 2013 logo

All of our Republic-Times Best of 2013 graphics and marketing material were created by our award-winning, in-house graphic designer Tammy Taylor.

By no means is a people’s choice award project a brand new concept that I invented myself. However, I knew it would be a success in our market and serve as a platform to interact with local businesses and our readers.

Therefore, as a way to recognize our local businesses and engage the community we ran a people’s choice awards contest, called the Republic-Times Best of 2013. This has never been done in our community to honor local businesses and customer favorites.

For one month, people were able to go on our website and vote for their favorite businesses in 25 different categories, from Best City to Best Place to Get a Workout and Best Fried Chicken. This allowed us to highlight community favorites, while interacting with the community and it was a hit!

Best of Poll display

This is a sample of one of our “Best of” categories in an Opinion Stage poll.

The businesses got very excited that they were included in the contest (attracting new advertisers and doing good for those that currently run with us) and the community was excited to vote on their favorite things and show their support for the businesses they love. This also encouraged people to shop local.

It gave us a significant amount of web traffic, as well, with a total of 12,884 votes cast (we have a newspaper circulation of 4,000), increasing our followers and touching people, young and old, that don’t normally pick up our paper.

We were able to use the polling system (Opinion Stage) that we normally use for our weekly poll on our website. We created a new poll for each category and were then able to put it into an accordion module that we normally use to display our sports schedules on our website. (This allowed us to create a FREE solution for us to conduct the contest.)

"Vote for me" example

“Vote for me” example

We also provided an automatic way for advertisers to get people to vote for them through our “Vote for Me” buttons. The buttons were then displayed in the category that the business was nominated in to encourage people to vote for them while voting for that poll/category. Advertisers were able to sign up and pay for the buttons on our website, while, at the same time, sending us their logo to create the simple “Vote for Me” button. It was an easy and inexpensive way for advertisers to rally for votes.

This was also a great grassroots marketing campaign for local businesses, as the contest was shared all over social media by us, the businesses and people voting in the contest. We marketed the contest in our print paper and in our email News Flashes as well.

We provided each nominated business with a flier to print out and hang in their business, letting people know they could vote for them.

Best of Sign

Waterloo’s Beauty Network Salon was so excited they won, they printed up a banner to display in their business using a graphic we personalized for each contest winner.

The winners of the contest were then announced in the paper and were not displayed online for several weeks after, to encourage people to pick up our paper.

The winners were awarded with certificates to hang in their business that displays their name, our logo and the category that they won. They also received a graphic highlighting their award that they could put up on their website, social media pages, and use in other marketing material as they wish. (One person even had a sign company make up a banner using their winners graphic for them to hang up prominently in their business.)

We went around to all 25 businesses that won and handed them their awards personally, to make that personal connection with them and our sales department. We also took a photo of the business owner with their award to display on our website in a photo gallery.

Best of 2013 Website Wallpaper

This “Best of 2013” wallpaper was displayed on our website encouraging people to vote. It was linked to our voting page.

In addition, we have a poster of all of the winners hanging up in our office for all to see until we do the contest again next year. A few weeks later we ran a special for all of the businesses nominated in the contest to get 10% off our online business directory and to give them an added perk, while offering them something useful to market their business.

We plan to make this an annual thing, as we got an enormous response from the community in doing this our first year. It was a wonderful experience that brought our community together.