The art of handling holiday competition winners…

Winners of travel promotions are not always as grateful as brands would expect, often asking to exchange the prize for cash, sell the holiday, or take someone other than the person they named in their original entry…

We take a look at the complexities of managing winners, from making the draw to communicating the good news and arranging the logistics…


In early 2015, M&Ms ran an on-pack promotion to win a trip to the US, while YeoValley has recently run a competition offering the winner and five friends a luxury skiing holiday in Austria. Sainsbury’s is currently giving shoppers a chance to win a £1000 holiday voucher with the purchase of Ribena’s mango and lime one litre drink, while in December 2015, Waitrose enticed shoppers with a competition to win a trip to the Cayman Islands.

Travel, it seems,  is always a hot ticket, but a lot of work is required to ensure that a dream departure doesn’t turn into a brand disaster…

“Organising and executing a travel promotion can be a really complex process, and winners are not always happy and grateful, as you might expect them to be,” says Amy Nield, head of travel promotions specialist, Protravel.  “Where possible, we always try to remind people that we are booking them on a holiday that they entered a competition to win.”

Tackle the professional competition-goers

One of the main challenges comes from a cohort known in the industry as ‘pro compers’, or serial prize winners. Instead of entering a competition because they are interested in that particular brand or product, this group simply enter multiple competitions as a pastime. “Some people get addicted to the feel good factor of winning and enter every competition going,” says Nield.

“Many ask the brand for a cash alternative, and some try to sell on their prizes.”

But if a brand or its agency has written  – and verified – the terms and conditions for the competition, being obliged to offer a cash alternative can be avoided. “99% of terms and conditions written by our clients state that there is no cash alternative, and that the prize is non-transferable, which means we simply refer the prize winner back to these rules to avoid any confrontation,” says Nield.

Prepare for those trying to cash in

Others try to sell their prizes. “In one case, I found a winner trying to sell the holiday they had won on eBay,” says Nield. “They had taken a photo of the promotion and put it on eBay, using exactly the same description of the prize that we had put together.”

In cases like this, Nield says the promotional specialist will contact the brand or agency to ask if they are happy for the prize to be sold. “If the brand doesn’t object then we will go along with it, but otherwise we will refer the winner to the terms and conditions to illustrate that what they are doing is not possible. Sometimes winners can be difficult about it, but if a brand has the correct terms and conditions in place, it is simple to deal with.”

Always check terms and conditions with a specialist, or with the IPM (Institute of Promotional Marketing) , or ask a specialist to put them together for you.

Build in some flexibility

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, if a shopper has been automatically entered into a prize draw by swiping their loyalty card at a supermarket, they may either not remember entering the draw, or perhaps be unaware what the prize entailed.

“In that situation it is useful for the brand to allow some flexibility,” says Nield. “The holiday may not be suitable for the prize winner – they may not like long haul flights, yet win a trip to Australia, for example; or they may have mobility problems and win a week’s skiing. Being able to offer an alternative in this situation is sensible.”

At other times, entrants may win the ‘big’ prize, having presumed to have a greater chance of winning a more suitable smaller one. Nield gives the example of a promotion run by Duracell in the past.

The main prize was a walking holiday in Mount Kilimanjaro, and it was won by an elderly lady with knee and hip problems. “We worked with the brand to change the prize to a relaxing beach break. It was different to the brand’s initial idea, which was synonymous with ‘high energy’, but they wanted to keep the winner happy.”  

Specialists will be able to work with brands to put together an alternative package to the same value.

Engage participants in your competition

To avoid the problem of drawing a winner who has little or no interest in the brand or product at the heart of the promotion, structuring the competition around some sort of consumer engagement is advisable.

For example, L’Oreal ran a  ‘Show your glow’ promotion in 2015. It required consumers to take a photo of themselves and post it on Instagram, with a winner drawn based on the photos submitted.  As Nield says, “L’Oreal’s target audience was younger females engaged with its brand, and it wanted the winner to fit this profile. Asking consumers to invest some time in entering a competition will ensure the brand is connecting with its key demographic.”

It also means the winner is very likely to feel positive about the brand as a result of the experience.

Prepare for the unexpected

But brands also have to prepare for human error. “I once worked on a promotion offering a trip to Barcelona,” says Nield. “We drew the winner and contacted them, but a couple of weeks later someone at the brand’s digital agency re-sent the winner’s email to everyone on the database by mistake, so all participants were told they had won.”

In the age of social media, the message that a free holiday could be up for grabs quickly went viral. “The brand had to rerun the competition and draw an extra winner from all the entrants who had received the email,” says Nield. “It could have been a huge problem for them but they decided to offer a second holiday to one of the recipients of the ‘winning’ email, to minimise any bad blood or negative PR.”

Digital means brands must be on their toes…

Social media and chat rooms have certainly changed the nature of the competition industry.  Today there are numerous sites dedicated to serial prize winners, or ‘pro compers’. People share details of competitions, as well as answers and tips, and awareness of an attractive prize can go viral very quickly.  

It means that if there is an error, brands must be on the ball. “Clients have to act a lot quicker if there is a problem, ideally before people go online to share the details,” says Nield.

“Make sure someone is closely monitoring social media so if there is any problem brands can react quickly.”

Ensure the winner ticks all the boxes…

But the work isn’t finished when the winner has been drawn. There are numerous logistics to be considered to make sure the trip is a success. “We need to ensure that, prior to travelling, winners have everything the need to be able to travel,” says Nield. “For example, in some cases, the winner may have been eligible to enter the competition but is not eligible to take the prize because they are not a British passport holder.”

Again, brands must think very carefully about the entry requirements for the competition, and ensure that the terms and conditions are comprehensive. “A client may require the winner to be a British resident, yet as the specialist travel partner, we would need them to be a British passport (or visa) holder, for example, and this would need to be made clear in the terms and conditions.”

Other aspects of the prize might require the winner to fulfil other conditions. For example, the recent Waitrose competition to win a trip to the Cayman Islands included two days car hire, but it specified that the driver had to be over 25 years old and hold a valid UK driving licence. “Brands need to ensure that all of these boxes are ticked very early on in the process, so that winners are eligible for the whole experience and there is no disappointment further down the line,” says Nield.

Hold winners’ hands right up to take off…

Indeed, a specialist partner will also do a lot of necessary hand holding to ensure that the process is seamless and the holiday successful. This usually includes contacting competition winners in writing within 24 hours of receiving their names, and congratulating them on behalf of the brand. A ‘prizewinner information sheet’ is also sent out for winners to return once they have chosen their travel dates. “It means we can verify certain details, and confirm that they have a valid passport, for example,” says Nield.

“We carry out all of the administration for winners and are in constant contact with them right up to the day of travel, giving them advice on timings and reminding them about what paperwork they need.”

It is a process that works. “We have never before had anyone turn up at the airport who can’t travel because they are not eligible or don’t have the correct documents. We eliminate any risk early on.”

Winners can be a challenging bunch. But for brands who do their homework and pay attention to the small print, holidays continue to be a powerful promotional tool.

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