Low participation in SSA video contest is latest in a lackluster series

But trend could still change direction with more strategic planning, publicity expert says

The Social Security Administration’s recent video competition generated fewer than 10 entries, and is the latest in a string of federal video-production promotions with lackluster participation.

The contests to create original videos are part of open government/innovation programs at several agencies. In April, a video contest at the Environmental Protection Agency drew in about 20 entries, and another one at the General Services Administration attracted about 30 entries. Both those competitions offered $2,500 prizes.

The SSA contest to create a publicity video for the agency offered no cash prize, yet generated high hopes. “We anticipated selecting the winner – or even several – from a sizable collection of contest entries,"  Frank Baitman, SSA chief information officer, wrote on the White House Open Government Blog on Oct. 1. "Well, we didn’t get as much participation as we’d hoped. Fewer than ten solid entries came in.”

However, recent history also shows that federal video competitions can attract a much larger pool of participants. A Health and Human Services Department competition for an influenza preparedness video public service announcement last year got more than 200 entries vying for the $2,500 prize.

The three recent federal video contests have generated far less participation. But that trend might be reversible, according to a public relations expert.

Sandy Levine, public relations expert and president of Advice Unlimited LLC in Olney, Md., said the low participation rates for the most recent federal agency video contests suggest that better publicity and outreach is needed in the future.


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“It’s a good start, and the first time is always the hardest,” Levine said. “The lesson learned is that they need to publicize it more, make it more appealing, reach out to the audience in a more engaging manner so they get people more excited and eager to respond.”

Offering a cash award can't hurt, but doesn't guarantee high participation, Levine added. “What actually motivates people is the prestige. Don’t always feel you have to give a cash prize.”

Another key factor for success is to have contest rules that are easy to understand and that are targeted to an audience of likely participants, Levine added.

“I don’t know how complex a particular contest was, but we know that rules have to be simple and easily understood so you can capture the people who you want to participate,” she added.

Levine suggests that agencies planning any type of public relations campaign consider carefully their prospective audience, and how to reach their audience.

“If they issued a press release, perhaps they thought people would hear about it, and that’s not enough,” Levine said.

“Definitely, 10 entries in a contest is very, very low. In my mind, 20 to 30 is also very low. But again, for the first time, it’s great that [SSA] did it,” Levine said. “Next time, let’s look more strategically and plan how do we get this audience’s attention and define who our audience is.”

 

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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