I readily admit that I've rarely, if ever, voted in the Salem Statesman Journal's annual Best of the Mid-Valley contest -- the 2016 version of which is underway now.
If memory serves me (chancy at my age, but I think I'm correct about this), Olive Garden won "Best Italian Restaurant" some years back. That soured me on viewing Best of Mid-Valley as a genuine reflection of business/organization bestness.
Rather, the Best of Mid-Valley rules are clearly pointed toward a popularity contest, rather than a quality contest.
We rely on our audience to supply us with the names of outstanding people, businesses and establishments in each of the more than 160 categories. Once the nominees are finalized, our audience is asked to vote on one choice in each category. Per our guidelines, you are allowed to nominate/vote once every 24 hours.
Since people can vote once a day for as long as the contest lasts, this means that the nominees need to work hard on encouraging turnout -- the "vote early and often" thing.
Readers are permitted to vote in each category once per day. Businesses, institutions and schools may promote the contest in order to gain nominations and/or votes. Competitive advertising, special offers, campaigns are permitted; however, the Statesman Journal, at its sole discretion, reserves the right to exclude from the competition any businesses or individuals that engage in activities intended to "rig" or "fix" the voting process.
The biggest winner in the Best of the Mid-Valley contest has to be the Statesman Journal itself. The newspaper sells ads that appear with the category being voted on. Here's a few 2016 screenshots.
A bit of Googling revealed that "Best of..." contests are a lucrative moneymaker for newspapers. Second Street, which the Statesman Journal is using for its Best of the Mid-Valley contest, talks about this in "How Record Journal Drove $40K in Ballot Promotion."
The Record-Journal, a daily newspaper in Meriden, Connecticut, has been running our Reader’s Choice Awards for 10 years. The Reader’s Choice Awards is a region-wide ballot promotion that allows our readers to vote for the best local businesses from four different towns in our coverage region in a variety of categories.
In 2012, this promotion brought in a total of $40,000 – for a paper with a circulation of only 19,500!
The revenue from the Reader’s Choice Awards comes from a variety of sources – print and online ads around the ballot, a special section in the paper after voting has ended that features the winners, and a deals store featuring deals from the winning businesses (see a full case study on our deals store). In 2013, we plan to add a Readers’ Choice Awards red carpet dinner event to announce the winners to the mix, which will be a source of additional revenue.
Likewise, there's the experience of a California newspaper.
In a few months, The Santa Clarita Valley Signal will gear up to run their annual “Best of Santa Clarita Valley” contest and plans to implement the same promotional strategies that brought in their highest revenue of $86,000 in 2014 since kicking off the program 13 years ago.
Look, I don't begrudge the Statesman Journal or any other newspaper generating revenue in any way they can. Times are tough in the newspaper industry.
I just want to point out that the Best of the Mid-Valley contest is first and foremost a profit center for the Statesman Journal. There's nothing wrong with this. We just need to remember that the winners aren't necessarily the "best" businesses and organizations; they're the ones who were able to generate the most votes.
The Eugene Register-Guard runs a similar contest. But a person is only allowed to vote once for each category.
Q: How many times can I vote?
A: Only one vote is allowed for each category. Duplicate entries from the same email address will be deleted. Individuals attempting to enter multiple votes will have their entries removed and risk having their IP address blocked from participating.
The Register-Guard also makes money from advertising, though.
Q: As a business owner or decision-maker, are there ways I can advertise during the voting phase to increase my odds?
A: Yes, we can provide you with assistance on print and online advertising programs to help "encourage" votes. Contact your advertising sales rep or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get you more information and options. Additionally, we encourage you to read our "How to win a Readers' Choice" post.
When I checked out a few of the 2015 Best of the Mid-Valley winners in categories that interested me, the sometimes-weirdness of the contest was apparent. Is this what you would expect in the Best Outdoor Gear Store category?
Salem Summit Company
246 State Street
3335 Commercial Street SE, Salem
6035 Ulali Drive, Keizer
Maybe I'm old-fashioned, or missing out on a great outdoor gear shopping opportunity, but I find it hard to believe that a pawn shop beat out REI for second place.
(Got to say.. congrats to Salem Summit Company; I love that store!)
Update: I got this message from someone after publishing this post.
Good article on the best of... Campaign. Also note the Statesman charges a business $600 to use the winning logo every year. And if a business doesn't pay it, they never win the next year.