It all started with a tweet about a photography contest organised by a hotel chain. A friend tagged me with the suggestion that I participate. This was about 6-7 months back and after thinking about it for a couple of days, I decided to participate. I submitted the requisite information, uploaded 3 photographs, and for the next couple of weeks followed the other entries submitted for the contest.
After a month, I lost interest in the contest as the organisers had not kept to the original deadline and there was no information as to when it would end. As the weeks went by, I soon forgot about the contest. So imagine my surprise when I got a mail from the contest organisers last month. The mail said that I had been short-listed as one of the contenders for the finalists. And since I was required to connect on a telephone call with them for a brief discussion, would I please share my contact details and suggest a convenient time for a representative to call me?
My initial reaction was to send a polite response saying I was not interested. But I do not like leaving things half done and felt that I should see the process through. Besides, getting “interviewed” for a photography contest was a first for me. I mean, I have been interviewed and grilled for scholarships and jobs, but this was… well, intriguing. So, I wrote to them with my contact details. I had received the mail on a Saturday and on Monday I was leaving for one of my travels for 5 days. In my mail, I requested the organisers to contact me before Monday or after I returned from my trip the following Saturday.
I got a call from a representative of the organisers the very next day, that is Sunday. After the initial, usual pleasantries were exchanged, and the disclaimer that I was only a contender for one of the final spots and not a finalist was conveyed, my “interview” began.
(Note: The representative’s questions and comments are italicised in blue, while my responses are in roman black lettering.)
Why did you participate in our contest?
[I was quite tempted to say because it was there, but… 😛 ] It seemed like an interesting contest at that time. Besides, I hadn’t participated in a photography contest before.
What kind of photography do you like to do?
I love photographing architecture; also urban, rural and natural landscapes. I have just about started on street photography. I like experimenting with light and shadows as well.
What kind of camera do you use?
I currently use a Panasonic Lumix FZ100, but the photographs submitted to you were taken either with a Kodak point-and-shoot film camera or a Canon Powershot.
I see. [After a significant pause] You don’t use a DSLR?
Not at the moment. Why? Is using a DSLR important or necessary?
Er… no. I was just asking. Lets move on to the next question. What social media platforms to you have a presence on? Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? Any other?
Well, the only one I am active on is Twitter. Though my blog does have a Facebook Page, it is still in the initial stages. I have an Instagram account, but don’t use it as my Windows phone is not compatible with it.
You should be on Instagram. Do you know that Instagram has come out with a beta version for Windows phones? You could try it out.
No, I wasn’t aware of it. Tell me, is having an Instagram account necessary for being chosen as a finalist?
Er… no. I was only suggesting.
You mentioned that you are travelling this week. Is it possible to cancel your travel plans?
Cancel my plans? Whatever for and why?
You see, we will announce the finalists tomorrow and the event begins this Thursday at our place, and…
[I interrupt here] But that’s just 4 days away !
Yes, but you have to understand that we had so many entries that it took us time to sort out the best and short-list the contenders from which we will choose 3 finalists. Besides, if you had read the terms and conditions, while signing up for the contest, you would be aware that if you are chosen as a finalist you will have to travel to our hotel.
I am aware of that. But not that the chosen finalists would be expected to travel at such short notice ! The terms and conditions did not mention that.
So you’re saying that you cannot cancel your travel plans and be part of the event at our hotel from the coming Thursday?
Certainly not ! But wait a minute, are you saying that I am one of the finalists?
[In an alarmed voice] No, no. What I meant is if you are chosen as one of the 3 finalists, can you be part of the activities beginning this Thursday?
No, I can’t. I’m sorry, but this is too short a notice and rather unfair to expect me to drop everything and come running. [In a sarcastic tone] That is, “if” I am one of the 3 finalists.
Well then, thank you for sparing your valuable time to speak to us and that too on a Sunday. We’ll let you know our decision tomorrow. Have a good day.
I didn’t hear from the organisers the next day. Or any day after that. Not that I expected to, but then I always live in hope that people will have the courtesy to keep their word.
When I returned from my trip, I saw from my Twitter timeline that the event was underway at the hotel with the 3 chosen finalists. To be honest, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t selected as one of the finalists. But at the same time I couldn’t help about the probable reasons for not making the cut — was it because my photographs were not good enough or was it because my social media presence and reach was not satisfactory, or was it because I refused to alter my travel plans to suit the organisers. I can speculate any amount, but will never know. I’d like to think that my photographs not being good enough was the reason. But, somehow, I feel that the other reasons are closer to the truth.
And therein lies my discomfort with contests like this where writing a good blog post or submitting a good photograph is not enough for a chance at winning a contest anymore. You need something more. That something more could be garnering votes, or a strong social media presence or the ability to drop everything to do the organiser’s bidding at the snap of their fingers or in this case a phone call. Or sometimes all three.
This discomfort goes beyond contests and extends to the invitations I receive as a travel blogger for FAMs or Familiarisation trips from hotels / resorts / tourism boards or rather the PR firms who handle the accounts. It always starts innocently and positively with gushy emails about what a fantastic blog I have and how they would love to have me visit them. Then come requests for sharing blog and social media stats. Initially, I would share the details and now I simply say no. Either way, once my social media presence is calculated and my worth as an ‘influencer’ deliberated upon, the correspondence stops completely. (Well not completely ! I do get spammed with mails about events and happenings from the firms 😛 )
Once again, I don’t really mind that these offers don’t work out, but I do wonder where does the quality of my writing fits in the scheme of such invitations where numbers seem to play such a big role. I can’t help thinking about the quality versus quantity debate. In an ideal world, the result would be a balance between the two. But then, we don’t live in an ideal world, do we? 🙂
I have been thinking about not participating in contests for a while now. In the three-and-a-half years that I have been blogging, I have participated in about 8-odd contests. The last contest I took part in is the one discussed here and the “contest interview” has helped me arrive at a decision for sure — no more contests for me.
Just wondering, if I should also take the same decision for the FAM invitations as well. Hmm…