How to get $25,000 in free advertising or at least win a contest

Enter a contest to win $25,000. That’s what the local Reno Veterans’ Guest House did. And they asked the community to help. The Home Depot Foundation apparently runs a contest once a month and gives back to the winning charity $25k in gift cards. The votes come through Facebook and Twitter (links to the FB page). In order to vote you have to “Like” the Home Depot Foundation. A great way for HDF to capture followers.

But here’s why it worked for REno Veterans Guest House. They clearly had a plan. They utilized skills from some local public relations pros. Staff and publicists for Veterans Guest House posted on Facebook seeking vote.s They provided simple instructions in a post. They shared samples stories like starting because a vet’s wife and kids slept in their car while the vet was in hospital cause they couldn’t afford hotel fees. And they properly tagged links to the Home Dept Foundation page; links and comments on their friends pages, groups.Lesson-take advantage of your relationships and post in appropriate group discussions.

They also sent instructions via LinkedIn. They emailed a letter to every person on their personal lists and asked people to forward. I did. My audiences are not the same on FB and LinkedIn-some overlap. But different people use different tools. So their plan covered their bases.

They also pitched local media. So a news station covered the contest, as did a radio station.More than once. The newspaper printed the contest. And that’s just the media I was paying attention to.

And the contest started to get close. Several PR pros took up the challenge-many of us have reasons to love vets. I posted daily on my personal Facebook page, on my business page and on many groups I’m associated with. I tweeted the contest–Congressman Amodei even retweeted my post. We hardly see eye to eye on any political spectrum, but we do for vets. I gave extra credit in my public relations class assignment-and some students took me up on it. Can’t tell you how many friends appreciated my daily reminders on Facebook! The voting went back and forth. If I heard correctly, it’s the first time the contest has ever seen that kind of action. The other program was based in Atlanta-Home Depot’s hometown with close to 12 times the population of Reno Nevada. But it just took a few groups to dedicate themselves to the project-and a lot of social media.

If the Veterans Guest House had tried to buy the coverage of their services across all those platforms it would have easily cost $25000. I don’t recommend measuring with Advertising Value Equivalent, but clearly this program demonstrated to non-profits and small businesses unique ways to LEVERAGE a contest to build awareness, supporters and increase capacity.They carried the news story further with the win; getting back on the radio and television and further telling the story. Posting the news on their website.

The Veterans Guest House is now trying to capture who did what for them. My only criticism in their plan was the direct link to Home Depot rather than driving traffic to “Like” the Veterans Guest House page and find the link there. But hey, they are working towards connecting with their supporters. And maybe they thought of that and were concerned about barriers for participation. Won’t try to second guess them.

And now they’re in a contest for $250,000. Look for the social media posts on how to vote for them throughout March!

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