local media insider

Create a money-making wedding contest

Wedding contests can drive sales to the bridal services category

Alisa Cromer
Portland Bridal Show: Lost revenue or gained revenue for this local media partner

Wedding contests collect highly valuable and hard-to-find names of current brides and are especially valuable to expo producers and local merchants. Contests also can provide content for wedding sites and increase site traffic. So here is the when, what and how of creating profitable wedding contests.

Why create a wedding contest?

There are a variety of reasons local media we surveyed have produced contests: 

• Help launch and provide interactive content for wedding and wedding expo sites
• Develop annual “bride-to-be” leads for advertisers and expo vendors
• Devolop audience in a key younger demographic in an early phase of hyper spending 
• Secure more revenue from contracts with external expos or print supplements

For local media with a strong expo already in their market, contests are one way to gain more advertising dollars from the promoter. For media going into competition with these promotors – or starting their own wedding site area – contests can be integral to launching and securing a long term franchise.

What kind of contest to create?

Wedding contest ideas fall roughly in to two categories:

1.Contests for couples who are already married

There is a broader market for wedding contests that are, essentially, married people's contests. Examples include a “Wedding song playlist,” great for a radio station whether building an online bridal area, or upselling a bridal expo. Other contests include best essay, “My Fairytale Proposal,” “Our story,” “Best wedding photo,” “Best wedding vows" or "Renew your wedding vows.” Etc.

These contests are useful for building wedding site content, and also for targeting an "after market" of married people who may make secondary purchases, such as rings and vow renewals.

2. Contests for couples about to be married

The red hot market, however, is the market for couples about to be married. These people are harder for merchants and promoters to find.  Contests that engage this needle-in-a-haystack market prior to the wedding when most of the dollars are spent. While there are multiple variations - win a ring, honeymoon, or venue - the most successful mega-wedding contest prize is a package of free wedding services. With names The Royal Wedding, the Ultimate Wedding Giveaway, or just Win a free Wedding, this is a tried and true model around the country for a variety of reasons, some of which are already alluded to:

• The prize bigger and more sought after, meaning more traffic, entries and social sharing as brides asked friends to help out with the vote. Case studies show contests of more than 500,000 page views from just 291 entrees.

The cost of a wedding nationally is $27,000 so this is as big a ticket item as giving away a car. However, no one merchant needs to donate the whole amount, we've seen up to 25 merchants provide gifts for contests, especially in conjunction with their booth purchase, or in return for exclusives at expos or on websites.

• Captures high-value registrations of people before they get married and while they are in top spending mode. Once the wedding is over, brides will still spend on home set up, but a large chunk of their investment in getting married is already made with 14 days after the wedding.

• Involves a variety of number of vendors as part of an expo or sponsorship package.

• Adds value - and extra dollars to advertising campaigns for third party  bridal expos. 

• The media that owns the contest owns the data. Strategically, owning data on brides is the best position on the board; in conjunction with some capacity to publish bridal announcments all year long via a web site or print vehicle, a contest is the way to capture even more during the key season. 

Here are two examples for holding local wedding contests, one in which the media sold sponsorships to merchants and one in which the media partnered with the expo promoter, having, essentially, one sponsor:

Example: Q108’s 2012 Wedding Giveaway

Second Street Media’s top contests in the wedding category, Q108 ‘s Wedding Giveaway used a package of free wedding services to create a mega-contest. Prizes included a wedding dress for the bride, tuxedo for the best man and groom, catering, the reception location, linens, hair and nails, the wedding cake and other freebies.

The objective of the contest was simply traffic, registrations and direct revenues, as the station has neither a wedding site, expo or even expo partnership, according to Scott Chase, Q108's operations manager. They also did not sell or give names of brides to the merchants. Missed opportunity? 

• The station sold 17 vendors, who paid a promotional fee of $295 plus air time. Even with some trade the total revenues was $8000.
•Traffic was huge. 291 submissions yielded 20,528 registered users and 517,546 page views.

The contest was created at the same time as a bridal showcase put on by a third party promoter who advertised, it was otherwise unrelated to the expo. The station also chose not to share the list of registered brides with sponsors, but certainly could have done so. It still owns the names, but they will not be as valuable as names from the upcoming 2013 contest. 

Example: Free Wedding contest/campaign for the Portland Bridal Show

KSRK 105.1 The Buzz in Portland, Oregon, owned by national radio group Entercom, took a different approach. They created a contest for and with, the local expo promoter to secure a larger campaign. The station's adult contemporary format is a match for the young female demographic targeted by the expo, as exit polls showed at past events.

"The real value of the contest is the buzz that it builds and the viral value," says Danny Davoodi, KRSK's Marketing Director. "It's one thing to advertise, but it's another thing to put this contest out there." 

An extensive prize list includes, besides the typical wedding services, invitations, teeth whitening, eyelash treatments, limo services, and balloon decorating - a total of $10,000 in free services. This year's contest, which is was still in its voting period at the time of this writing, has 591 entrants. They expect 500 to 1000 every year. The promotor sold all of the booths and sponsorships, while the radio station produced and promoted the contest on its platform. 

Deciding whether or not to simply upsell the expo producer is a strategic choice. In these two cases, an expo producer who paid more than $8000 for the campaign would have been the most profitable and most efficient decision. However, if there is a weak or reluctant producer, and the media has a longer term play such as a wedding content area on their site, announcements, and even a smaller event from time to time, the $8000 in revenues could grow to an overall $30,000 or more for the category (see how WCTV.TV sells out its wedding page)

How to create a wedding contest 

1. Clarify the objective of the contest. Is it intended to build content for a site; grow ad revenues paid by a third party promoter; or kick off an expo partnership or event?

This means that the team has to have thought through its strategy for the wedding services franchise overall. 

2. Come up with a "votable" concept. KRSK's contest form simply asked couple to "tell their story and why they deserve the utlimate wedding."

3. Capture bridal registrations for repackaging to vendors or other advertisers. This means having opt-ins so couples can check off who is getting married and if they want other kinds of information. Merchants want to know first and foremost who is a bride and who is a friend of the couple. Not every media collected or repackaged these opt-ins, but there's no reason not to add this data to the pool - and have it available to resell to merchants. Data is cumulative. So even if you don't have a reason for it now, collect it anyway.

4. Make the contest deliberately social by encouraging viral voting. Rather than a simple sweepstakes, allowing a vote helps spread even a small contest of a few hundred brides-to-be to a massive list of friends and relatives already invested in the wedding. That's the true value of this contest, so the platform needs to be strong on Facebook and strong on social sharing tools. Keep in mind that a contest with just 300 votes has 500,000 impressions and 80,000 new email registrations - that's a huge amount of data collection. 

5. Include an extensive list of wedding services. Think outside the box. Categories include teeth whitening, tanning, in addition to flowers, caterers, cake stores, auto, home developers and realtors. For more prospects outside your company database, use Claritas. 

6. Tier the packages. Allow exclusive or semi-exclusive options for more money, contributions to the big prize and first right of refusal in the category next year.

7. Look for email local wedding opt-in lists in addition to promoting in the media site. There may be lists of brides to be already compiled and for sale by email marketers in your market. Make sure the wedding is "upcoming," and the names are very recent. Companies like Consumer Database and Take5Solutions may be able to deliver a locally targeted list from a national source. If there are no email lists available, here is an opportunity to resell a targeted opt-in list when it is collected. 

8. Time the contest to coincide with the "wedding season."  Mid-January to early February is a great time of year, slow for media and just in time to capture couples prior to the spring wedding season. 

9. Look towards building a wedding niche site to house not just this contest, but also to take bridal announcments all year and house content from other contests. Our favorite here is an audio contest, "Best Wedding PlayList" as well as a "Unique Wedding" photo contest. ContentThatWorks also provides curated video from YouTube as well as original content. 


Wedding services is a plum category in most markets and contests are one way to use the massive horsepower of the media to gain an advantage in building category sales. It's not difficult, and worth doing right. The key decision is whether to seek revenues from the local promoter or directly from merchants, and whether the contest should be part of a larger initiative building a wedding franchise, such as an online area that takes engagement announcements (valuable to merchants) all year long; or an expo, or small event. 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.