5 questions for Craig McDaniel

founder and president, Sweepstakes Today

It's no secret that people love themselves a game show - look no further than Bob Barker's spray-tanned, four-decade reign at The Price Is Right or Howie Mandel's recent germ-free career resurgence on Deal or No Deal. Free entertainment plus free stuff creates a foolproof formula for success for fans and marketers alike. Craig McDaniel, a 25-year sales and marketing veteran, channeled this no-brainer into, a promised land of online sweepstakes for members to strike it rich: Exotic vacations! Home gym equipment! Lifetime annuities!

McDaniel, 52, has even hit the jackpot himself. Unable to continue weight lifting and playing golf after back surgery in 1998, he turned to Internet sweepstakes to kill time, racking up more than $75,000 in prizes. "That included two trucks, trips [and] four TVs," he says. "Local and national news got wind of my winnings. Then I had people all over the U.S.A. tracking me down, asking, ‘What are your secrets?'" We found out.

How do you find your sweepstakes?

I started to collect the Web sites of the Fortune 1,000 companies in the consumer stables markets and their brands. I also receive their newsletters. Then I receive information about new sweeps from the companies and sponsors, their ad agencies, ad networks and PR firms. I have other sources, including my members. In our current database we have well over 16,000 active and expired sweepstakes. 

What do sweepstakes sponsors gain from running sweepstakes? 

The first answer would be an increase in brand awareness. If a brand uses sweepstakes as part of its marketing plan, it does resonate into future sales. I can tell the story of one major consumer brand that stopped using sweepstakes, only to lose market share over a four-year period. This same company has started to offer sweepstakes again in 2008. Why? Because sweepstakes work in building an online presence.

The second answer is the massive increase in online registrations. I have run advertisements with and without a sweepstakes offer. On average, we have seen 50 to 100 greater numbers of click-through entries for a promotion with a campaign that has a sweep. In my mind, this is a no-brainer for any advertiser. Take the numbers and build the database with prospects. From there, integrate an e-mail campaign to determine your brand penetration from that sweep. 

Who is the typical ST visitor? 

This question can be answered well beyond the typical demographic stats. The membership is typically female, 40 to 55 years old. They are interested in a clean and fun hobby that does not require a special talent to participate in. Mostly, they want to just win big and experience something that is very special in winning the big sweep. Our members create more than a community; they become part of a family. They are willing to help each other with answers, UPC codes, and sweepstakes tips and answers. The members want to see each other win, but they also enjoy creating new friends who have a similar interest.

 What's the most annoying online trend right now? 

The concept that the big social network sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and others will produce a high ROI for the advertisers. I believe these sites will do financially well. However, specialty Web sites like ST will always blow away these sites because of the actual click-through per member, per day. This is because my members click onto the sponsors' Web sites for the entertainment value they receive of entering their sweeps. The difference is I don't sell the hope that a member will click through to the sponsor, I sell real results. 

Where do you keep your many sweepstakes winnings? 

On a personal basis, I have sold or given my prizes away to friends and family. My real trophies come from the thank-you letters I have received from the CEOs of a handful of these companies. For the members, we created the Winner's Circle and the $10K Club Forums. Both forums give the opportunity for the members to blog and share their winning stories. The $10K Club is for members won have won over $10,000 in value. There are currently 70 members in the $10K Club.

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