Asked on LinkedIn:
In an earlier question regarding promotional ideas to promote our community classes, it was suggested that we offer a free sign language course (value $195) to someone in need; maybe a family member, spouse, or other individual who wants to learn this valuable and important language. We like the idea of this type of promotion, but not sure how to structure this offer and create criteria so that the selection of winner is fair. We plan to send a press release to announce this free offer. Do you have any ideas on how-to set the criteria, and/or any lessons learned offering a similar promotion?

The most compelling contests have a low threshold to participation. If you’re doing this to promote your work, you want to encourage people to participate as widely as possible, and not just by coming direct to you: you want them to encourage to “enter” by posting in a place where lots of people see their entries.

I’d let go of the (admirable) impulse to award your prize to the person most in need, and think about how to engineer a contest that will drive awareness of your work. That means going for volume: a photo contest or short text contest would probably be ideal. And have some fun with it — capture people’s imagination with a clever framing or call for entries. For example:

“What’s your sign?”

Snap a picture of yourself making a sign that tells us why you want to develop your sign language skills. Maybe it’s your niece’s initial — and you want to be able to communicate with her directly. Maybe it’s the sign for “teach” — because this is the first step towards your dream of teaching ASL. Or maybe it’s the sign for loss: the hearing loss you’ve recently experienced, that has brought you to CHCA’s classes. Submit your photo with a short caption by posting to Flickr or Facebook, and tagging it with “CHCA”. Or send a photo and caption via Twitter to @CHCA.

The virtue of this kind of approach is it gets people to do your marketing for you: because every time they enter your contest they are letting their friends, family or Twitter followers know about your work.