A contest “interview”… and some afterthoughts

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.
Right.

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.
Thanks.

======

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…

26 thoughts on “A contest “interview”… and some afterthoughts

    1. I wish you all the best in winning a contest. 🙂

      And I am not that noble to rise above contests. I like winning contests as much as the next person. But my dislike for soliciting votes or likes is greater than my desire to win. Simple. 🙂

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  1. Gee! thats the weirdest thing I have ever heard…you MAY be one of the finalists but you HAVE to cancel your travel plans…who cares whether you made your bookings months ago!! Now a days, I participate only in contests which sound interesting to me..in terms of the topic! anyways I hardly win contests 🙂

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    1. RM, contest organisers exploit the participants’ desire to win. And that’s why they expect people to come running whenever they call. I have only participated in travel and photography-related contests so far, but not anymore.

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  2. I’m glad you place your writing above such things. Being a (pseudo) Travel writer, working for an online company, I can’t help but agree with what you think. Social equity and perceived value of a writer is weighed. Companies say if you’re good, you’d be popular. But the truth is, not all writers are good marketeers. Besides, they (rightly) believe it’s better to spend the energy and creativity in creating than in marketing…

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    1. Thanks, Abhishek, for your wonderful comment. If I don’t value my writing, no one else will. While I do understand the importance of social media and do use it to publicise my work, it is always on my terms. I can never extend it to soliciting votes and likes.

      There used to be truth in the “if you’re good, you’re popular”, but not anymore. There is probably more truth in “If you’re good with social media, you’re popular”.

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  3. Hilarious questions! Loved your responses. I hate contests as well. Takes so much effort and you just don’t know where they are coming from. And I can’t blog about the random things contests ask me to anyway! At certain desperate moments, though, when life is unfair and blog traffic also drops, I am so so tempted!

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    1. I have only participated in travel and photography-related contests, but of late I have found that even they are getting pretty bizarre with voting, promotion and what not. I predict that a day will come when the top nominees will have to travel from place to place soliciting votes; there might even be a blogging reality show ! Anything is possible in the current scenario. 😉

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  4. What a weird interview! 😦

    Well, this is a post after my own heart. While I do love the way blogging has been evolving, I do agree that it brings with it certain evils. Like your influence in social media being more important than the quality of the posts that you put up. I have been receiving a few e-mails/travel requests that have been suggesting the same, and I have been wondering the same.

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    1. Weird from our perspective and necessary from the perspective of the organisers ! Well, I’m glad that I won’t have to face anymore of this stuff. 🙂

      I’m quite tired of the Fam invitations. I have had one experience when dates and itineraries were finalised and then there was complete silence from the organisation. It was only when I saw other bloggers at the site/event from my FB/Twitter TL that I realised that I have been ‘dropped’ from the entourage.

      The decision for Fams will happen soon 🙂

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  5. Typical ‘interview’ which gave you an idea about the organisers’ thought process and helped make your mind up. Social media rules in every sphere of life today — from personal to business and even creative. It has become a demon that is virtually controlling our every action and reaction. It is therefore to be expected that having an account in as many platforms as possible has become an overt and covert requirement for contests. Contests are a means of advertising, which is fine if the organisers are upfront about it, so that if someone doesn’t want to participate on those terms, they can opt out.

    Why talk of just organisers of contests, even publishers often go for the social media presence and popularity while evaluating manuscripts. I guess it makes it easy for them to know the saleability of a writer by the ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ one has on one’s profile! Little wonder then that self publishing is gaining ground.

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    1. Wonderful to see you here after such a long time, Zephyr. Thank you so much for your comment. 🙂

      I look at social media as a double edged sword. Used well, it is an absolute dream. I would cite the example of #TSBC here and it is something that we are very proud of. But the same social media has also become a tool for contests and organisers are taking advantage of participants’ desire to win.

      The same analogy is being used for just about anything. Why just publishing? At the rate we are going, the day is not far when candidates for jobs will be selected on the basis of likes and followers on social media. 😦

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  6. Those questions surely are the most laughable part of this entire episode, Sudha! It reminds me of the time a guy called me up re some content for his new site, and after gushing about my blog, asked me if i have ever written about Karnataka… this when most of my posts around that period had been about Karnataka! as for contests, let me not even get started! which is why (as you already know) I hardly participate in any these days. Also, it is painfully evident that it isnt enough to be good at what you do. you also need to be a good salesperson who can sell your skills really well.. in our case, the means seems to be social media. which is why i feel much happier these days following happenings from the outside, so to speak, without actually getting into anything.. and writing just what I want to 🙂

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    1. I had actually written the entire conversation from start to finish, Anu. That would have given you a stomach ache for sure – you would have laughed so much.

      After saying what a fantastic blog I have and how the representative enjoyed reading it, I was asked if I had ever visited and written about the state the hotel is based in. I was silent for a while and then asked the representative if he had gone through the blog he would have known the answer. The Rep quickly moved to the next question 😀

      Writing is what I want to do too. After all, if I don’t value my writing, no one else will, Right?

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  7. Reading your post reminds me of a contest I had participated a long time ago, much before the entry of the social media. For this contest, I had to answer a few questions and give a tagline for a food product….all this in a matter of few minutes at a departmental store. The prizes were:
    First prize – a trip to Hong Kong; Second: a holiday in India; Third: a luxury sedan; and a whole lot of consolation prizes.
    I had, of course, forgotten about it. Months later, a call came home from the company. My, then toddler, picked up the phone and proceeded to carry on a conversation in baby language. After several terminations of the call, I managed to answer the call to an extremely testy spokeswoman of the company.
    Her first question: Are you married?
    Her second : and with child?
    Third: Do you have a passport? To which I answered that the application for the same was in process.
    A few more minutes of a rather one sided questioning, I was informed that I had been shortlisted for the first prize and would be informed in a week’s time if I had won the coveted prize. I never heard from the company and neither did I win any consolation prizes. It made me wonder if I my marital status had something to do with my not winning the prize or the lack of a ready passport.
    Yes, so contests have always meant (to me at least) as a matter of marketing and nothing else.

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  8. I think contests are a way for organizations to get their “name” in Social media. So, of course your social presence matters and sometimes I feel that that’s all that matters. I remember participating in a few contests early on and the winning entries were… to put it candidly, plain bad. Not just the content, grammar and spelling wise too, they were atrocious. However they had managed to rope in several thousand votes and hence were declared winners. The very same contests had some examples of superlative writing but since these posts garnered a fraction of the votes, they were overlooked. I think it was then that I stopped participating. I wish contest organizers weren’t so coy about what they wanted. If you want a wider audience reach, say that loud and clearly. Serious bloggers who don’t give a fig about votes wouldn’t waste their time participating.

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    1. Contests can also be fun and give a new blogger some much needed exposure and is also a great way to discover some great blogs. That’s what contests were all about till about a two years back. Now, with blog contests mirroring reality shows the scene is quite different. There is less focus on the actual content and more with how the organiser can gain some visibility on social media.

      And you’re absolutely right when you say, “Serious bloggers who don’t give a fig about votes wouldn’t waste their time participating.”

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