Maximising Engagement using Competitions

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

Generating Engagement with Open Calls

Crafting an open call is a great way to create exposure for your brand, show support for your community and begin a dialogue. 

  • If you’re running an award, competition, residency, etc., this article will help you make the most of your process to create engagement.
  • If you’ve never run an open call, the following may give you ideas on how running a new programme will help you engage more meaningfully with your stakeholders.

This article covers:

  • How the life-cycle of your opportunity can create engagement
  • Using your programme to make partners aware that you exist
  • Engaging with candidates by celebrating their work
  • Structuring your results to increase the visibility of your brand
  • Involving the public in a meaningful way

Staged Opportunities

Each stage of your programme provides you with different ways of getting people to talk about you and your mission. 

Most open calls will have the following life-cycle:

  • Planning
  • Announce Programme
  • Open Submissions
  • Close Submissions
  • Start Selection (this could include judges)
  • Announce Results (possibly in rounds)
  • Celebration Event (it may be an award ceremony, exhibition, the start of a residency etc.)

Whilst planning your competition, think carefully about how each stage could allow you to engage with your stakeholders (the sections below should give you a few ideas).

Like-minded Networks

Before you even start planning, take a little time to identify and approach other networks that share your vision. Offer to support them in spreading the word for their initiatives.

Doing so helps you build a relevant audience for what you are about to run and will foster relationships with like-minded networks. 

Once you start planning your initiative, reach out to these networks and let them know what you are planning and whether they could help — this could be through offering advice on your plans, sharing your call out, getting involved with judging, shortlisting or even sharing the winners work.

Regardless, even if some organisations aren’t able to help you at that point, having reached out to them will create exposure to your work and may lead to a positive outcome next time.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Having diverse networks share your programme will help you diversify the entries you will get (e.g. Women in GamesBAME in Games…)

Impact from the Pandemic

Organisations are still very busy dealing with the echoes of COVID. Make sure to make a strong case for getting involved.

Using Zealous

Let us know what you are running, and you could be in our newsletter (it’s free)!

Let them be the judge

Approaching external individuals to lend their views to your process will give you similar benefits to those highlighted in the section above. But this need not be restricted to those outside your organisation.

Including members of your workforce in the selection process (even if only in earlier rounds) can bring teams together and create clarity around what you are trying to achieve. Inviting your team to judge entries also demonstrates trust and leads to a selection of entries that reflects the view of your organisation.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

If your workforce is diverse, the outcome of your selection will be diverse. If not, try and balance out the panel to reflect as many opinions equally.

Using Zealous

Our judging journey is fiercely efficient. You can allow yourself to invite more people to score entries without wasting valuable resources doing so.

Celebrate Applicants

As soon as you open to submissions, you’ll want to find a way to stay in candidates’ consciousness. You may also wish them to engage with you and submit earlier instead of waiting until the last minute.

One way to do so is to let candidates know you will celebrate some of the submissions on social media if they submit before a specific date. Don’t offer any guarantees that you will share works, instead share those that represent the qualities you aim to attract in future submissions. 

This will reward candidates for submitting early and creates exposure to the work you are doing.

If you’ve run the programme before, you might wish to choose the works received in your past call.

To make your life easy, be sure you ask candidates for permission to celebrate them on social media when they submit and capture their social media profiles to tag them in any posts about them.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Sharing entries from a diverse set of candidates will allow others in those communities to feel welcome to submit.

Impact from the Pandemic

It’s been a hard couple of years — a positive word and valuable exposure can go a long way in putting a smile on someone’s face.

Using Zealous

Save time: ask for permission to share their work on social media and which accounts to tag in your application form.

Simplify your submissions in minutes

Experience our submission management platform with a customised online tour.

Share Results in Stages

People love to share success. No matter how big or small the achievement, they will be happy to let the world know. Scrolling down your LinkedIn feed will confirm that.

Publishing the results in multiple rounds (e.g. Longlist, Shortlist, etc.) allows you to create these moments of celebration.

To make the absolute most of the moment — be sure to send those who were successful assets to make it as easy as possible to celebrate their success. That could be a laurel to add to their profile or images to publish on their feeds.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

Publishing your selection at each step helps build trust. Highlighting diversity is reflected across your process.

Using Zealous

Allow anyone to view a gallery of the winners in each round. Set your selection rounds to be public at the click of a button.

Involve the Public

Opening up your competition for a public vote can be a great way to extend the engagement you gather for your programme. 

Public votes encourage candidates to share your programme with their networks to gather votes. However, depending solely on candidates will skew results and favour applicants with more extensive networks. 

To make the results more meaningful and create more valuable engagement. Reach out to your communities to weigh in on what application they like the best. You could even extend that outreach to the organisations with whom you have built relationships.

Fostering diversity & inclusion

If done correctly, a public vote can be a fair democratic process reflecting your communities opinions.

Using Zealous

Switch on public voting at any time, view results in order of most votes, to least votes.


Creating meaningful engagement is vital in growing the impact of your organisation. Taking submissions for any programme is already a great way to engage with your communities.

But don’t let your ambitions stop there. With careful planning, you’ll be able to create meaningful relationships with others that share your vision and grow your impact. The key is to identify those opportunities and integrate them into the structure of your programmes early.

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