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How a “Best of” Contest Can Solve a World of Chamber Challenges

Ryan GriffithRyan Griffith

As a chamber pro you have the weight of the business world upon your shoulders (or at least it can feel that way). You have to balance recruitment, retention, sourcing non-dues revenue, supporting your chamber members and your community, providing value, making referrals and so much more just to meet your goals every year. 

That can be a lot. 

But you can make vast inroads toward these goals by instituting one new initiative this year—a Best Of contest.

You may be thinking you don’t need another project to manage. We might even agree if we didn’t know the power of this program and how it will make a world of difference in all these areas you’re trying to succeed in.

Ryan Griffith, President of VoterFly, recently sat down with veteran interviewer Chris Templeton of Influence Spotlight to discuss community engagement and several other reasons a Best Of contest can turn things around for chambers and boost their efforts in the eyes of their community.

No matter what your chamber challenges: non-dues revenue, member retention, recruitment, desire for innovation or notoriety within your community, VoterFly helps you achieve your goals and more!

Best Of Contests Help All Types of Chambers with a Variety of Goals

In the interview they talked about the Best Of contest as a way to:

Key Takeaways of the Interview:

Read the full transcript of the interview below:


Chris Templeton  
Ryan, welcome. Tell everybody a little bit about what VoterFly is. 

Ryan Griffith  
Sure. VoterFly is an online platform, with high traffic and high visibility for community-focused organizations such as Chambers of Commerce or newspapers, magazines, that are focused on a local community to engage that community and allow members of the community—businesses and individuals—to nominate and vote for the best businesses in that area.

Chris Templeton  
And it really does fit for anything that’s locally based. This wouldn’t work in a broad geographic region like the United States or a state. It really is hyperfocused locally, isn’t it?

Ryan Griffith  
That’s exactly right. We try to focus locally because we want to celebrate local business, we want to drive commerce to those local businesses. You sometimes hear this called a Best Of, Readers’ Choice Awards, or People’s Choice. It goes by different names. But that’s essentially what the VoterFly platform does. We specialize in working with chambers of commerce because that is our background. I’m on the board of directors with my local chamber. My wife was president for several years. We were really plugged in, and we want to continue to stay plugged in.

Chris Templeton  
Running one of these must be a real kick in the pants for a chamber of commerce. It’s got to be fun and a great way to engage your membership and to recruit new members.

Ryan Griffith  
Exactly. There are multiple benefits for running one. New membership is a big one. You “cast a wide net” to the community to try to engage as many of those community members and businesses to participate as possible. We’ve seen percentages up to 15% of the community getting involved. When you think about the population of an area, being able to engage 15% of them in this one product, that’s huge. With all that attention, the chamber is getting an introduction to new businesses that are not chamber members. It’s a way to say, “We’re the chamber. Nice to meet you. This is one of the many things we do for commerce and for businesses in our area.” A lot of chambers convert non-member businesses into members.

Chris Templeton  
One of the ways you are able to help a chamber generate revenue is through new members, which is a big, big one, especially after COVID, I assume there are a lot of chambers that are still recovering membership from COVID.

Ryan Griffith  
Absolutely. I know by working with chambers, most of them are still feeling the impacts of lost membership, and they are climbing back. We are getting back to normal, but they’re still feeling some of that pain.

Chris Templeton  
When you go in and talk to a chamber about VoterFly and what it can do for them, what are the things that chamber leaders are most attracted to?

Ryan Griffith  
The first question is always non dues revenue. How do we make money with this program? We touched on that a little bit ago; membership is a big one. You’re getting the revenue from the new member right then and there, but the big thing there is the recurring revenue. That member may also then bring in new members. It’s important to continue to expand to grow that membership. The other big piece is adding sponsorship revenue. This is a high traffic platform, with high visibility. We can get 10 to 15% of a community and that’s a perfect opportunity for an advertiser or a sponsor to get in front of that local community. Chambers make revenue through ad and sponsorship sales to the platform. 

Chris Templeton  
I imagine that for a business that wants to either be a sponsor or an advertiser for this, this is really a great way for chamber to put the spotlight on itself in terms of what it’s doing to help the community.

Ryan Griffith  
You got it. That’s another non-financial, non-tangible benefit. It’s getting out there and getting the brand recognition of the chamber or the organization putting this on. It’s putting that name in front of so many people. That’s a big soft benefit that makes an impact.

Chris Templeton  
In terms of implementing this, your platform allows for identification of businesses to be selected for this and advertising. Is that right? And sponsorship?

Ryan Griffith  
That’s right. We connect with Google so when businesses are nominated, we reach out to Google. We supplement that nomination information with information from Google to beef up the nomination. That can be turned into a lead list for the chamber. We’ve talked about how to recruit new members but with that supplement information, we now have contact information, address, phone, et cetera. It’s a perfect way to bring the chamber closer to being able to contact that business.

Chris Templeton  
In terms of that perception of a chamber being a part of the community, how important is that to the leaders?

Ryan Griffith  
That’s completely vital. I have spoken with some chambers, where businesses aren’t even aware that a chamber exists. That’s detrimental. Making sure that the chamber is prominent within that business community is so important, making connections with affiliate organizations, or sibling organizations like a Park and Rec, etc. – it’s important the chamber is out there showing they are prominent in that community.

Chris Templeton  
From that standpoint, strengthening relationships with local government, with the newspaper, with Parks and Rec is just so important in terms of that perception. That as a chamber leader, we’re connecting with the community and the community begins to feel the same way.

Ryan Griffith  
Right. Absolutely. By doing this, you’re touching so many people who haven’t had that introduction. It’s not just businesses. The chamber isn’t just touching businesses in this. They’re also touching community members and residents and putting themselves out there. So, you’re right. There are lots of intangibles to doing this.

Chris Templeton  
And I think it’s important to just say that, you know, just because it’s a business related thing, that you’re because of what it is, it does involve the broader community. And that’s also really important for a chamber to be considering, isn’t it?

Ryan Griffith  
Yep. Absolutely. You’re right.

Chris Templeton  
Talk about the process of putting one of these together. What kind of a commitment is involved in doing the Best Of?

Ryan Griffith  
Usually, this is an annual thing. You’ll typically see something like the 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards. It’s an annual program. With our model, we have annual subscriptions. That’s how it works. Pay for the year. Then we work with you to establish your Best Of. We don’t hand you the keys to the software and say good luck. We help you succeed. We’ve done so many of these. We know what works and what doesn’t. If you haven’t done one of these before, it’s very difficult to pull off, especially in the first year and pull it off in a way that you can feel successful. That’s one of the big advantages we bring. We work with you. We share all our knowledge of how to execute this successfully. If we follow the patterns, we end up having successful races for organizations doing this for them. The very first year they walk away going, this was fantastic

In terms of what it takes, we do it once a year typically. You’re going to run your best stuff for about four to six weeks. You might have a couple of weeks before that for preparation. Some organizations will take it a step further if they have the resources and host an event at the end where they award those businesses. That’s a whole additional opportunity for the Chamber to generate more revenue on the event side of things.

Chris Templeton  
What are some of the challenges an organization runs into that you are able to help them get through and then be ready to go a second year?

Ryan Griffith  
Timing is a big one. If you’re not familiar with how to structure the timing, and then announcements of launch of nominations, launch of voting, close of voting, if you’re not familiar with how to put together a good category list that’s going to be inclusive enough to where it’s going to attract businesses that aren’t chamber members, you need to be thinking about these things. We’ve learned through trial by fire and years and years of doing this. We know what’s necessary to make it successful, and what to avoid to make sure that we don’t fall into those traps. Those are some of the things that I mentioned that someone would want to look out for if they were to do that for their first year. But again, with us, we walk you through all that to make sure you don’t run into those issues.

Chris Templeton  
Talk a little bit more about the timeline. Obviously, I can’t engage you today and have one of these up and running tomorrow, can I?

Ryan Griffith  
You’d be surprised. As far as our software system is concerned, we can get the site up and running. But it’s very important to consider the communication to the community if you’re going to engage 10 to 15% of a community in this. No, you’re not going to be able to launch it tomorrow. You need to think about what are you going to say. Do we have press releases? Do we have imagery that we’re sharing on social media? Again, these are all things that we provide. We have templates to get you going so you don’t have to come up with this. 

Chris Templeton  
That’s got to make a huge difference having those templates available. What is the best timeline in terms of from the time I engage with you saying yes, I want to do this to the time that I start this process with having the vote in. What’s the best timeframe?

Ryan Griffith  
Three to four weeks before launch would be reasonable. We engaged with a chamber that launched in under a week and a half from talking to us. We were able to turn that around very quickly with them. But again, they couldn’t have done that if we weren’t able to share those resources that we have to fast track it. That was key to making that happen. Without those resources, we wouldn’t have been in that position.

Chris Templeton  
I imagine that’s not an ideal timeframe. I think from a marketing standpoint, I’d want to hype that it’s coming and engage my membership, build it up and at the same time, have it be something that’s really fun for the chamber staff to be promoting and get going.

Ryan Griffith  
That’s right. So one month would be our recommended minimum. But we certainly could do it faster. If a chamber knows what they want to do, and they have a vision already about how they want to execute, and they come to us, we can accommodate that, and have had success doing so.

Chris Templeton  
When you look at the number of these that you’ve run, what are some of the most surprising comments that you get from chamber leaders?

Ryan Griffith  
There are some fun one. We’ve had members of the state assembly that have come up to some of these chamber leaders and joked about how they want their own category. They want to win. We’ve had mayor’s come up. It’s interesting to see how far the reach of this can get. One of the things that’s interesting that I hear from chamber leaders is how much it affects the community, not just the types of individuals I just mentioned, but the community in general. That’s just one example. The effect is huge. What ends up happening is the Chamber’s previous goal of wanting to get non-dues revenue now becomes a secondary goal. They realize what an impact that this is. So that becomes their number one benefit, if I ask them. When you first start a conversation with a chamber and they’re not familiar with you, they want to know, tangibly, how can I make money? After they run the program they say, Money is secondary, but this right here is really showing benefit by being out in the community. That’s one of the surprising things.

Chris Templeton  
I love that because chambers, as a generalization, are not the best at promoting what they do in the community. This is such a fabulous way to engage members, additional businesses that aren’t members, and the community at large. In a way that’s fun and, for the most part, easy and exciting. What you’re doing is fascinating. It’s really great that you are involved on the board of chambers so you see it from a number of perspectives. You now have seen what to do to make these things work the best. What is the last thing you think a chamber leader should know about VoterFly and why it’s important?

Ryan Griffith  
It’s important for them to know that if they want to experiment with this, they are not on their own. I mentioned this before, but they do not have to come up with this. A chamber is very interested typically in making sure that whatever they’re doing—if they’re adding a new program—is easy to implement. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to make sure it’s a success and you can grow with the platform. It doesn’t have to start out being an event with many categories and a complex endeavor. It can start out simple and you can grow with it. We’re here to help that entire process.

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