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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Brief History of The Best of British Contest--and How That's Been a Great Promotional Tool

I started The Best of British Scrapbooking Contest to encourage the growth of scrapbooking in the UK. You see, scrapbooking became big here in the US due in part to contests which spotlighted new talent and added excitement to the marketplace. I lived in the UK in 2001-2 and I was there when the first dedicated, independent scrapbook store opened. No one there was doing a contest for talent, and having seen how that worked here in the States, I knew it could work in the UK, too.

Here's what it took to make it happen:

1. I had to hire a solicitor in the UK. My friend and neighbor Lesley Hindmarsh was kind enough to find one for me. I submitted rules and then made the necessary adjustments so all was legal.

2. I had to announce the contest so we'd get entries. The strongest and most popular website for scrapbookers in Europes was and is UK Scrappers. I announced the contest there to good result.

3. We needed judges. Mary Anne Walters and Beverley Stephenson of UK Scrappers were natural selections. Shimelle Laine was the first person to win two contests in the same year here in the US. They all agreed to help me.

4. I answered ongoing questions about the contest. Meanwhile, Lesley's home was the gathering spot for the entries. Poor Peter, her husband! On the one weekend day he chose to sleep in, someone decided to have her entry specially delivered and woke him up to accept the package!

5. I flew to the UK, met with the judges and we went through the entries. It was hard work--and it's gotten harder--but we found our winners. We actually expanded the number of winners because we had so much great material.

6. We requested that winners send their original art to Mary Anne, who graciously packaged it all up and sent it to me in the US. (We held our collective breath that nothing happened en route.)

6. I worked for about 12 months with a graphic designer to create the book. I personally scanned and extracted art, one pixel at a time. My hand was cramped from the effort at the end of each day. But I wanted crisp, vivid images. We spent nearly $12,000 on getting everything just right, including having a professional photographer shoot the cover art. I actually sat down with our graphics person and we compared the original layouts to the on-screen layouts and adjusted the color for accuracy.

7. We sent the files to Malaysia for printing. This cost about $20,000.

8. While all that was happening, my original distribution deal fell through. I sent out packages and called folks to get distribution. Which I did. (Believe me, I have all sorts of respect for any publisher. You don't know panic until you've invested $30,000-plus of your own money in a project which might wind up sitting in your garage.)

9. We sold the books. We covered our costs. Most importantly, we didn't lose any money.

10. ScrapBook inspirations Magazine asked me if they could "take over" the contest. This was a natural fit. They were there in the UK, so they could much more easily administer it. For legal reasons, they asked me to be the judge, which I agreed to. I sure didn't want to see all that hard work come to an end. And the contest now had a rep. ScrapBook inspirations vowed to continue the high standards, which they have.

How have I benefited? (I'm sharing this for the edification of my writer friends who look to this column for marketing ideas.)

1. The contest keeps me current with the marketplace. Now that my mystery is out, people keep asking, "Do you scrapbook?" Well, I do, and I feel my involvement with Best of British helps me stay on top of trends.

2. My name is associated with the contest, so I get numerous mentions which I hope will translate into attention when Paper, Scissors, Death is released in the UK.

3. I get a nice warm, fuzzy feeling. Yep. I remember that as the color galleys were due to go back to the printer, I received an email from Sarah Wheatley's husband. Sarah was losing her battle with breast cancer. One of her life goals had been publication--and she was one of our winners. I Fed Exed the color galleys to her. She was able to see her work in print, and two days later she died.

No contest is perfect. No judge is always right. But when I look back at all the names of scrapbook artists (and I think of them as artists) whose work now appears in various publications, I take pride that many of them were "discovered" through the Best of British.

So, yes, the Best of British has been a good promotional tool for me. If I'd spent that time and money in other ways, I might have had the same or a better return. BUT...I wouldn't have had the satisfaction of seeing the names and work of others receive well-earned recognition.

You have to give back. That's a rule in nature, in life and certainly in business.


sarah said...

i was so touched by your kindness to Sarah Wheatley that was so thoughtful of you to send her the prints it must have helped her so much keep up the good work Sarah

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Sarah Wheatley and her family reminded all of us why we scrapbook. I hold her memory as a precious blessing in my life.