Establishing the perks for your competition

This article is part of a series sharing a decade of experience supporting you to run open calls.

Establishing the perks for your programme

The only reason applicants will take the time to submit is that there’s something in it for them. Defining what’s in it for those selected, and understanding what you have available to you, could allow you to run a competition on a very tight budget, and still make a great success of it.

The building blocks

Knowing what you are offering those selected for your competition is key.

Perks can be made up of a mix of any of the following:

  • Money (e.g. £12,000 of prize money to be won)
  • Space (e.g. Get your art on the walls of the Tate)
  • Resources (e.g. Get a free week of ARRI Alexa to hire and access to our editing suite)
  • Kit (e.g. Win a tablet)
  • Prestige (e.g.  Have your work seen by Yinka Shonibare)
  • Exposure (e.g. Get featured to our 1,000,000 strong audiences on Instagram)
  • Experience (e.g. Have your portfolio reviewed by our creative director)
  • Purpose (e.g. Make a case for the importance of gender diversity)
  • Time (e.g. Takes 5 minutes to submit)

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Be aware of the needs of the community you aim to serve. Some of the perks above will be of no value to them if they can’t access them (e.g. space that’s too far from home).

Impact from the Pandemic

Space and exposure in a physical context might be a tricky reward at this time. Try and balance it out with something else.

Using Zealous

Perks are made clear on your opportunity page, so candidates can make a quick decision on whether they will apply.

Perks on tight budgets

When we think of rewards, we tend to think about money. This isn’t the case, you can absolutely run a competition on a very tight budget by offering alternative rewards.

Have a think about everything you already have available to you – is it a link to a high profile artist who could give you an hour of their time? Is it an unused space or kit you have? Do you have a good social media following (it doesn’t have to be large, it might be high-value individuals who buy art)? It could also be free tickets, feedback on a portfolio or kit from your shop.

Everyone has something they can offer, being creative and putting together a list will allow you to discover the value your organisation already holds without spending any money.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Again, knowing the needs of the community is key. Money is agile and allows winners to buy what they need. But what they might need is training.

Impact from the Pandemic

People’s needs have changed in the last year. Depending on the audience you serve, they may need to upskill. Knowing that will define the value of what you offer them.

Using Zealous

Our pricing plan won’t eat into your resources, and will save you a ton of time – so you can spend more of what you have on those that you serve.

What’s in it for me?

Answering “What’s in it for me” as quickly as possible in your communications is key to getting candidates to engage further.

If you have many perks, list them in order of most valuable to least valuable and focus on the top one when pitching your opportunity (cramming too much in your pitch makes it difficult for candidates to digest the information and take action). Candidates will discover the others once you’ve caught their attention.

There is an exception – when advertising your call out on social media, you can mention the other perks, but be sure to mention only one perk per post. This will help keep your content fresh and allow you to gain better traction by advertising certain perks to certain audiences.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Certain demographics are focusing on their most basic needs. If you want to engage with them, make sure to save them as much time as possible.

Impact from the Pandemic

The value of your offering may have changed since the pandemic began. Physical space may have less value than digital exposure. It’s worth revising it.

Using Zealous

Order your perks directly on your page, so candidates see the most valuable one first.

Simplify your submissions in minutes

Experience our submission management platform with a customised online tour.

Be clear

Exposure means nothing (just like money means nothing). Each one of your perks needs to be defined in enough detail to ensure candidates see the value of what you have to offer.

“We will give you exposure!”

✔️ “Your work will be exclusively featured to 24,000 UK based art collectors”

Find a way to prove what you have to offer is true (get a high profile judge to tweet their involvement, add a link to readership stats, have a good website, publish testimonials by past winners…).

If you are not already established; you will need to go that extra mile to prove you can hold true to your promise. Telling candidates you will feature them to thousands of potential buyers when your social media following doesn’t reflect your promise will lead to candidates losing trust, and often being very vocal about it. Candidates will do their due diligence so don’t be tempted to cut corners.

It's better to under-promise and over-deliver

Proving your worth will become less important as you run more opportunities, but be sure to capture testimonials from winners as soon as your call ends to include them in future opportunities and galvanise your credibility.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Being clear at the onset means candidates are clear on the outcome. The last thing you want to do is disappoint a community which is already feeling hardship – they will never submit again.

Impact from the Pandemic

The pandemic has led to many new initiatives and disrupted many others. Be sure to spend additional time to ensure you define contingency perks (what will you do if you can’t show the works physically?)

Using Zealous

All opportunities you have run through us are listed on your page. This helps builds brand recognition and creates a legacy of opportunities.

Balance effort & reward

The rule of thumb is the more valuable your rewards are, the more thorough your application process can be.

If you can't offer much, then make submitting as quick as possible

However, giving valuable rewards shouldn’t excuse you from making the application process as simple as possible, so do review the information you require from candidates and trim it down.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Time-poor candidates will not take a risk on applying. Shrink your process as much as possible, and be sure to let candidates know how long applying will take at the onset.

Impact from the Pandemic

People either have more time (furlough) or less time (balancing a job with 2 kids at home). Serving the latter with a quicker process, also allows you to serve the former.

Using Zealous

Our whole platform is built to allow candidates to save time, and complete their application in steps – so they can chip at it in the time they have.

Alternative structures

You might want to consider alternative structures to having just one winner – this could be rewarding your shortlist or the runners-up. Even small things like feedback on their work, or featuring the 10 best could be invaluable.

Winner takes all leaves many with nothing.

You could even use that as a way of marketing your own services, offering a free coffee in your shop for taking part, or a 25% in your shop. You might even be able to engage with other local brands who might see what you are doing as valuable to them (free marketing) – why not reach out to them and see if they would be happy to offer a discount on their kit for all candidates?

Fostering diversity & inclusion

You cannot support a whole community by giving only one person a reward. Try an find how else you can create value for some of the others.

Using Zealous

Make your selection in as many rounds as you like, allowing you to reward candidates across the life-cycle of your competition.

Supporting the others

What about all those that were not selected?

It’s impossible to reward everyone, but it isn’t impossible to make everyone feels valued.

Make sure to email everyone who took part and remind them of your appreciation for them taking part. A little empathy goes a long way in building a relationship with those you serve and is likely to inspire them to submit again to your next opportunity.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

For communities used to being overlooked, the feeling of rejection might be felt deeply and will stop them from trying in the future. If you really want to help a community you have a duty of care towards them – make sure they know they are valued regardless of the result.

Using Zealous

Zealous will send out results emails by default, but you can also download reports and do a mail merge to add that personal touch.

Rewarding a public vote

Some opportunities reward a candidate based on a public vote. This is a great way of creating engagement with communities and get exposure to your brand.

When doing that be mindful of what you offer the public vote winner – giving a large amount of money is likely to lead to foul play. Although you can identify some types of fraud, it doesn’t cost much to buy votes from click farms.

Offering large cash prizes is likely to inspire some to go that route – however, alternatives to cash are likely to stop this practice (click farms don’t accept exposure, experience…)

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Giving the public vote to those who can afford to pay to cheat is bound to put people off engaging with the competition. Making sure there is no monetary incentive to cheat the system creates a more equitable system.

Using Zealous

To help ensure public votes are legitimate, Zealous blacklists email domains that are known to be temporary. However, it is much harder to catch click farms whose job is making traffic look legitimate (it is actual people doing these jobs).


The success of your opportunity is pegged to creating value for the audiences you serve. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to WOW (unless you want to generate PR with it), but it has to be of value to those who submit.

Making sure candidates know what they get if they win allows for more submissions, and will have a more positive impact on winners once they are selected. This puts you in a good position to build positive brand recognition and scale your ambition with future call-outs.

About the author


Guy Armitage founded Zealous to simplify access to opportunities in the creative sector. He was voted Guardian’s Creative Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013, has discussed the world-changing potential of creativity at TED and in Forbes; and is a proud trustee of Firstsite (Colchester) and Arebyte (London). Prior to Zealous, Guy kept the London Stock Exchange open during the 7/7 bombings and founded a creative startup in Cairo. Contact Guy