I am a contest junkie. I mean someone has to win—why not me. My attitude is that you have nothing whatsoever to lose except maybe a little time required when entering. How did I get hooked on contests? At the ripe ol’ age of 14, I won my very first contest—a washing machine from Sears Roebuck—now known just as Sears. My mom wouldn’t let me keep it, so we donated it to the high school band so they could raffle it off and raise money towards new uniforms. I reckon that was a kind of re-gifting or paying it forward decades ago!
Since then and over the next years, I’ve won my share of contests. Some have been small while others have been big. I find these contests in the most unlikely places. For instance, when I was in-flight reading a magazine, I saw a contest for Stouffers Foods. You had to write a jingle for Stouffers in 25 words or less—of course creativity was a biggie. So having a lot of time to think, I churned and turned my thoughts and came up with a circle of love jingle for Stouffers. Yep, I won. My winnings earned me $2500 worth of Stouffers’ coupons…I think they were $3 off coupons. I mean you had to go buy the product(s) then you’d get three bucks off. Now who in their right mind can eat that many Stouffers’ meals in a year—yes, there was an expiration date. I was giving away coupons right and left. People I didn’t even know in the grocery store would be standing at the frozen food doors, and I’d say, “Oh, you have to try Stouffers, and, by the way, here’s some $3 off coupons!”
One of my favorite contests I won was with Oil of Olay. Saw the ad in a Ladies Home Journal magazine. It was called “I Keep Getting Better,” and to enter you write in 100words or less why you were getting better as you got older and submit a picture. This wasalmost 18 years ago when I was 44, and my husband, Ben, had taken a picture of me exhausted head on pillow. We actually were on a train in Eastern Europe going from point A to point B. He used a cheap disposable camera. Dang, it was one great shot! You guessed it, I won. That prize was a trip to NYC, a photo shoot complete with professional hair styling, makeup and clothing and a full spread in LHJ magazine.
It was great! Kathie Lee Gifford was on the front cover, and I was on the inside! The Beauty Editor from LHJeven called me back for a second photo shoot about 9 months later when the magazine was advertising for the repeat of the contest—my lucky day—another photo shoot and spread in a major magazine.
Many of the contests I’ve entered require you to write a pithy essay, which is almost an oxymoron, about this or that. Most are 150 words or less. Now, it’s really hard to do this because you have to pick and choose each and every word judiciously. You do not ramble. Unless something makes a power punch, you don’t use the word! Such was the case with a contest several years ago highlighting the 20th anniversary of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s epic novel, A Woman of Substance. If you haven’t read it, do! Barbara Taylor Bradford is prolific having written 27 novels http://www.barbarataylorbradford.com/ She is a New York Times bestselling and an internationally acclaimed author. Many of her books have been made into television specials. Her husband, Bob, is a producer. So with this contest, they were looking for someone who personified the heroine in her novel, Emma Harte. I had to write an ‘essay’ in less than 150 words as to why I did. You also had to have someone who knew you well write a ‘letter’ of support and submit a picture. I was notified that I was the grand prize winner. This was an awesome winning! A trip to NYC, putting’ on the ritz, a total day of pampering and spa, then, a private dinner evening, complete with our own stretch black limo, at Le Cirque, 151 East 58th Street, with Barbara and Bob! Talk about Ben and I feeling like we were in another world. Yes, indeed, the rich and famous, the stars, the celebs—no Kardashians at that time, but very Kardashian-like! It was truly surreal. But in an odd sort of way, I was feeling very comfortable…maybe it was the decor, which was very Bohemian inspired and posh! And, Barbara and Bob were most gracious, warm, and engaging. We talked about everything from our families to our dreams and our roots. The uncanny thing is that when Barbara wrote the book she said, she had given the heroine another name, but her Editor changed it to Emma. The other name—Alice. That’s almost too eerie for coincidence!
The dinner, of course, had an ending time, but Barbara and Bob invited us, impromptu, to join them and their friends for after-dinner drinks at an exclusive NYC club—we were stunned! Our biggest dilemma to take ‘our’ limo or ride with them in their limo! Barbara sent me many of her books, all personally inscribed, and Bob sent complete videos of the mini-series movie version of ‘A Woman of Substance.’ The inscription Barbara wrote in the book followed the dedication was, which said ‘For Bob and my parents—who know the reasons why…’ She continued in her beautiful hand written script ‘…And also for Alice—truly ‘a woman of substance’, who undoubtedly married ‘a man of substance’—that’s you, Ben! Wishing you the best of everything always. BTB’
Rack Room Shoes is a chain of shoe stores nationwide. They launched a ‘Models Wanted’ contest in about 2004. On one of my visits to their store in my local mall, I spotted an ad for the contest. All you had to do was submit a picture of yourself wearing Rack Room shoes. Wow, I thought, now this is one easy contest to enter. I was buying new shoes anyway. Why not take a picture of me in the snazzy new tootsies and submit it. What did I have to lose? Nothing. What did I have to gain? Major photo shoot and advertising for the entire nationwide chain of Rack Room Shoe Store. Since the deadline was looming, I had to work fast. So I headed home, got my digital camera and had the lady, Myrtle, who was helping clean my house take some pictures of me! Myrtle thought it was so much fun…we laughed and giggled as we played with the camera! She had no idea how to frame and take pictures, so we got some really cockeyed ones, but luckily being digital we could just ‘delete delete delete’!The experience was awesome—professional makeup, hair, clothing—great time with great people taking cool photos. Then getting a complete disk of the shots was an added bonus because I could always use them for my acting portfolio. The upshot of winning this contest was that I was featured on their website for an entire year, I was in major advertising nationwide, and it was a hoot to seesome ads come out in Sunday papers throughout the year for Rack Room Shoes, and I’d see either me or my feet!
Most recently I’ve been entering contests that are for cooking. Contests requiring me to create new recipes, find innovative ingredients, bring new twists to standby products like butter, eggs, cranberry juice, potatoes or peanut butter. I’ve entered quite a few and won some—Wisconsin Cheese ‘Grilled Cheese Academy’, Lenox, Gallo Family Winery, Ocean Spray, Idaho Potatoes. The prizes vary. Some are cash while others are things like beautiful Lenox china, lots of Ocean Spray blueberry juice or a professional full-scale photo shoot at my home resulting in a full-page spread in the November 2011 issue of Taste of Home magazine. I mean there’s nothing more enchanting than feeling like a Kardashian for an afternoon! However, on the flip side there is a bottom line. And that is that all the contests come with one caveat—you pay taxes on your prize winnings regardless of whether it’s cash or not. The ‘value’ is reported to Uncle Sam. But that’s only fair, I think—I mean even Sam needs to have his cut of the booty!
To all of you out there, if you hear of a contest that might interest me or that you think would be up Ally’s alley, let me know! Who knows, I just might enter! BUT, even better…YOU enter!! Nothing ventured, nothing lost…the only thing remotely possible that might happen is that you’re the grand prize winner…not too shabby!