Promotional Spotlight: The Times News Shop • Eat Local

Promotional Spotlight: The Times News Shop • Eat Local

Shop • Eat Local contest goes from crisis to constant

The COVID pandemic has brought an array of changes for Pennsylvania newspapers, including masks, remote work and advertising income drops. As many small businesses struggled to stay afloat financially in 2020, the support they received from their local papers was invaluable. Likewise, the local newspaper readers were in desperate need of fun and hopeful activities. Jen Benninger, advertising director at The Times News in Lehighton, was no stranger to these ideas in April 2020, as she and her team began brainstorming sales initiatives. They quickly developed a new contest dubbed Shop • Eat Local that would launch in May 2020.

The Shop • Eat Local contest campaign was rolled out over a two-week period, and Benninger said the type of contest is better known as a “pick a prize” sweepstakes. Using Second Street software, The Times encouraged readers to go to a special contest page on the newspaper website to submit their names and select prizes they would like to win. Benninger was conservative with her expectations for the contest. With the pandemic lockdown weighing on many businesses, and a small sales staff of four all working from home, she hoped for 10 sponsor participants. “Our approach was to let businesses know that we wanted to help them, to get their name out to our readers,” said Benninger. “This was during a time when local businesses were taking a huge hit due to the pandemic.” Much to her delight, more than 20 local businesses ranging from real estate agencies and bicycle shops to delis and pizza shops came on board to participate as sponsors of the contest for a small entry fee and a gift card valued at $25.

Benninger said the contest campaign increased reader engagement, with more than 230 entries and 28 new contacts for The Times communications and newsletters. It also helped the paper learn a little more about its readers, as the team could view the most popular prizes – the most entries going toward a gift card for a local Italian restaurant and sports bar. “It was something fun for our readers,” said Benninger. “With everything that was going on at that time – who doesn’t need a little fun?”

Benninger said the contest not only performed beyond her expectations from a sponsor participation perspective, but from a reader engagement perspective as well. With that in mind, The Times has planned the continuation of the contest as an every-other-month campaign in 2021. Just as they had in the May campaign, sponsors will be included in 3×5-inch print promotional advertisements as well as digital ads. They are also included in an email newsletter to readers and several social media posts. Benninger said the sponsors will be limited to 10 per contest, and she noted the January 2021 contest has already sold out for sponsors and has more than 500 entries. The businesses involved have changed since the May 2020 launch. “We have seen some [businesses] who were not regular advertisers with us,” said Benninger. “It pleasantly surprised me.”

For additional information, please contact Jen Benninger at (610) 377-2051 or