just a thought – tough calls for entries

I have had some great experiences with competitions.  Back when I was in school, I won a competition sponsored by Zellers, and with the prize money I bought the Mac G5 that I am writing this post on.  That was a competition that changed my life.  More recently, I won the Dr. Martens design competition which was pretty darn cool.

Granted, it is not like I have won every competition I have entered.  But I have a little bit of experience with design competitions both as an organizer and an entrant, and as a blogger, I get sent a lot of press releases for competitions.  Most of which I do not post.  I have mixed feelings about a lot of design and art competitions.  There are some great opportunities out there – but do not forget that a lot of companies have ulterior motives for sponsoring a competition.

If you are going to spend the time crafting an entry to a competition, do due diligence.  Here is what I consider in a competition when deciding if it is worth making an entry or posting a call for entries on Final Fashion:

  • Are you eligible? Make sure you read the Terms and Conditions carefully so you do not waste your time.
  • Do you have a good idea? If not, you’re not likely to be a finalist or a winner.  If you consider a contest brief and are not inspired with an idea you’re passionate about, don’t even bother.
  • Is the prize worth the effort? This is one you’ll have to sort out for yourself.  Generally, I only enter contests with cash prizes.  If the level of effort is low (like I could craft an entry in an hour or two), the value of the prize is less important.  If the level of effort is high, consider how much you would charge for the work you would put in, whether you have the time to execute your entry well, and try to honestly assess how good your idea is.
  • What are the intangible benefits? If it is a competition sponsored by a major corporation, as a finalist or a winner you will very likely have a top-tier public relations firm working for you, if indirectly.  If getting recognition is important to you, this can be a great benefit.  I am always cynical when it comes to “exposure” as a prize unto itself – if the competition is sponsored by a big company and they are not even willing to offer a few hundred dollars for prize money, you can bet they might try to cheap out on the PR too.
  • Is it a popularity contest? The current trend is for competitions to be decided in some way by a popular vote.  Why?  It brings major traffic to the website of the sponsor.  As an entrant, consider how much weight you pull on the internet – do you have a popular blog, thousands of facebook friends or twitter followers?  Also, will they tolerate a self-promotional blitz and vote for you or just unfriend you?
  • How grabby are the T&C? Again, read the rules and documentation carefully.  Many competitions will try to claim ownership of the full copyright for your entry whether you win or not, and ask you to waive moral rights and other rights without compensation.  Larger competitions like reality shows will also grab for rights to your image and even your life story.  If you see the legalese “in perpetuity throughout the universe”, do not sign the dotted line!
  • Is there an entry fee? I know these are pretty common for illustration contests, and I have seen a few fashion design contests demand an entry fee.  In my opinion any contest with an entry fee is a scam akin to a ponzi scheme.

For a rising designer or artist, a competition can be a great opportunity to get your name out there, get practice, get a great portfolio piece and maybe even get some cash.  It can also be a major rip-off – where the organizers get your hard work for nothing.  When it comes to competitions, it pays to pick your battles wisely.

Do you have a story about entering or sponsoring a contest?  What were the results?

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2 thoughts on “just a thought – tough calls for entries”

  1. Danielle – this is a great post, one of my favourites to date… I can stand behind your advice, mostly from personal experience. I could have written it myself (although not as eloquently…).

    Something that you didn’t mention, although I am sure it’s obvious, is how “impressive” placing in a competition, even if it’s not a win, looks in a portfolio or on a resume.

    Finally, speaking as a working designer with most of my experience as a in-house designer (not for myself / personal line), doing competitions is a good way to keep your portfolio fresh. Win, place, or no-win, especially as an in-house designer, it’s a great way to exercise your creative muscle.

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