Digital signage contests, much like our industry's associations and organizations, are a dime a dozen these days. While that may not seem like a big deal, simple math dictates that the membership dues, "sponsorship" opportunities and application fees can pile up very quickly -- and many companies might not be able to take full advantage of the distinct benefits and opportunities that each organization or event can provide. As you might imagine, this was a topic of much discussion at POPAI's Outstanding Merchandising Achievement (OMA) meeting earlier this year. While POPAI's OMA contest is celebrating its 50th anniversary (and has become the de facto awards program for all things merchandising-related), their digital signage contest only recently got off the ground. With this in mind, the whole OMA team, along with myself and fellow industry veterans Jeff Porter from Scala and Raji Kalra from Artisan Live, started thinking up ways to ensure that the Digital Signage Awards contest becomes the competition to win -- just like its OMA sibling. Today, I'll share some tips to give you the inside track on winning this competition.
Having either watched, judged or participated in lots of digital signage-themed contests in the past two years, my team knew exactly what we didn't want. We didn't want touch screen kiosks that happen to show content occasionally. We didn't want interactive TV programs. And we didn't want entries from "networks" that still rely on mailing out CDs or DVDs instead of getting content over the Internet. What we did want was a way to showcase the best and most innovative networks and the content that runs on them. Realizing that it was impossible to compare a network (e.g. the way the screens were hung, integration with the venue's environment, etc.) with individual pieces of content, the first thing we did is split POPAI's Digital Signage Awards into two divisions: one devoted to the nuts-and-bolts aspects of making the networks great, and the other for showcasing outstanding digital signage content. (For an entertaining look at the state of content in our industry, check out Pat Hellberg's wish list for better digital signage content.)
With that problem out of the way, the next thing we looked at was the different kinds of networks that we might expect to receive entries from. One of my biggest gripes about other digital signage contests has been that they're either too focused on one particular vertical market (e.g. retail), or they treat all content from different verticals the same. We wanted a way to highlight the subtle differences that make networks and content for different verticals, well, different. So we further split the contest into five different categories: retail, transportation, hospitality/entertainment, healthcare and government/education/corporate. With these fine-grained categories and divisions, we should be able to accurately judge and showcase entries from virtually any part of the digital signage market.
The last problem that we dealt with was entry fees. From our research, we found that these varied from contest to contest, from free to upwards of a thousand dollars per entry. While POPAI simply used OMA's fees for digital signage entries during 2007, we've lowered the fees for the 2008 Digital Signage Awards to $299/entry. Hopefully this makes it affordable for smaller firms and companies who wish to submit more than one application. This was a tough one for us -- some people in the group wanted to suspend fees for a year or two in order to build up momentum. But others pointed out that having a non-trivial entry fee both reduces the number of poor entries, and gives more weight to the outcome of the contest. So after some bickering, we settled on a number that shouldn't prevent anybody from entering -- except those who probably shouldn't be in the first place (these are my opinions, and not necessarily POPAI's).
With the rules more or less settled, we turned to one last challenge that has plagued so many contests: the entry form. Anybody who has entered the OMA contest in years past knows what a challenge it can be to answer the seven long-form questions that go along with each application. Similarly, anyone who has ever judged the OMAs knows how long it can take to go through the 20-50 entries that make up a category. We wanted to simplify this, and distill the entry form down to the minimum amount of information that would separate an outstanding entry from a mediocre one. So we ditched the seven long-form questions in favor of four shorter ones that can (and should) be answered in one to three quick, bullet point-style sentences. And the questions themselves eschew touchy-feely language about values and responsiveness in favor of straightforward wording about the project and its goals. The questions we'll be asking are:
1. What was your objective?
2. Explain how you accomplished it.
3. What were some of the challenges in this deployment?
4. What were the results -- did you meet your objectives?
While you can enter the contest today, we're going to be holding a free webinar on Wednesday, November 28th to go through the process in more detail and answer any questions that might arise. If you're thinking of entering the contest (and if you have a network or you make content, you really should), I'd strongly urge you to attend. The only thing you need to do is register for the webinar during the next week or so, and then listen in from your computer. If you can't attend the webinar but would like to learn more about the contest, send me an email and we'll send over a copy of the presentation and try to answer any questions you may have. And in case you can't see the links above, you can find all the info at http://www.popai.com/oma -- just choose "POPAI's Digital Signage Awards Contest" on the left side.