Triangle small businesses compete for Super Bowl XLVIII ad

vbridges@newsobserver.comSeptember 9, 2013 

  • Small Business Big Game deadlines Phase 1, July 31 to Sept. 22: Businesses or nonprofit organizations with 50 or fewer full-time employees can sign up and get others to vote for them.

    Phase 2, Sept. 23 to Oct. 13: More than 50,000 businesses will have the opportunity to advance and provide additional information.

    Phase 3, Oct. 14 to Oct. 25: A panel of judges will determine which businesses make the top 20.

    Phase 4, Oct. 28 to Nov. 1: About 7,000 Intuit employees across the globe will narrow down the competition from the top 20 small businesses to the final four, which will be announced on Nov. 11.

    Phase 5, Nov. 11 to Dec. 1: Public voting will determine who will win the grand prize and can expect to have their advertising broadcast during the third quarter of the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, 2014.

— From cupcake and candle makers to tarot card readers and dog biscuit bakers, many Triangle small-business owners want a piece of the Super Bowl XLVIII action.

The NFL season has just started, but hundreds of small businesses and nonprofit organizations across the state and nation have entered Intuit Small Business Big Game, a contest with prizes that include a 30-second commercial during the Feb. 2 Super Bowl, which is one of the most-watched television broadcasts of the year.

Small-business owners who enter this and other contests that involve public voting need to be strategic about the challenge they choose, ensure they can deliver if success follows, and think about the burden it puts on clients and friends if a company is asking them to vote in a new contest every week, said Jeremy Sisk, president of Xperience4Higher, a marketing and consulting firm in Durham that focuses on small businesses.

Sisk likened participating in too many contests to someone going around asking for a date from every girl in the room.

“I become much less attractive if every time they turn around I am asking somebody for assistance, or a date or a vote or whatever,” said Sisk, whose company is participating in the contest. “However, if I am very strategic in the way that I ask for a date or I ask for a vote, chances are my reputation is going to be a whole lot better.”

Before entering a high-profile contest, small-business owners need to ensure their general business affairs are in order and consider whether the contest could hurt them by giving disgruntled customers a reason to speak out, Sisk said. Owners also need to have a plan to respond to a rapid increase in demand if they get national attention from an actual or near win.

“You have got to be prepared for the best- and worst-case scenarios,” Sisk said.

Sisk has identified call centers that could help his business handle an influx of calls if he progresses, in the contest and systems to capture appropriate information.

Once small-business owners enter, Sisk said, they have to balance promoting voting versus becoming an annoyance or burden to their followers.

Talk to customers

Courtney Tellefsen said small-business owners who aren’t communicating with their customers face a disadvantage.

“If you don’t already communicate with your customers, you are less likely to win because you don’t have the basics yet,” said Tellefsen, founder and co-owner of The Produce Box, a Raleigh-based, online farmers market that buys about 2 million pounds of produce from North Carolina farmers and delivers it to the Triangle, the Triad, and Wilmington via a network of about 200 moms.

About a year ago, The Produce Box was one of five small businesses around the country that online voters deemed worthy of a “Big Break” in the contest sponsored by Facebook and American Express OPEN, the credit-card company’s small-business division.

The Produce Box received $25,000 and other prizes, along with a daylong visit from American Express and Facebook executives. Since being named a winner in the contest, the company has doubled the amount of food it buys from farmers, bought and moved into a new warehouse, and worked with people in other states interested in duplicating her business model.

Tellefsen said it was easy to motivate the company’s fan base because communication and engagement was already a key part of her business model. The Produce Box limited stand-alone Facebook posts on voting to about once a week, but tacked the message onto emails, newsletters, videos and other communication.

Tellefsen recommends presenting a story that is clear and concise and emphasizes the businesses’ larger impact on the community.

“It has to be more than ‘Vote for me because I want to win,’ and ‘I want my company to be a winner’and ‘We are such a great business,’ ” she said. “It’s good to be a great business, but really, if you want someone to vote for you, you’ve got to show how it benefits if not that person individually, but how it benefits their community.”

Tellefsen said small-business owners should enjoy themselves and use the opportunity to evaluate and improve their business.

“It helps you refine your story and figure out what your story is,” she said.

A ‘holistic view’

There are other benefits of participating in such contests, beyond raising the profile of a business, said Margaret Shepard, executive director of Communications and Strategy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In February, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognized 100 small businesses across the nation with its Blue Ribbon Small Business Award. Those businesses were then eligible to compete for the 2013 Community Excellence Award, which is determined by a popular vote.

“We found that this program has allowed these businesses to analyze all aspects of how they are doing business, from the staff and the benefits to their client work, and figure out where they are excelling, where they want to focus more,” Shepard said. “I think that sort of holistic view is really helpful to them.”, a 16-year-old Raleigh-based website about Super Bowl commercials that is also participating in Intuit’s contest, states that last year a 30-second national spot during the NFL’s championship game cost about $3.8 million and was seen on average by 108 million viewers.

Small-business owners who are in the thick of the Small Business Big Game competition expressed different reasons for participating.

Nancy Alinovi, owner of Adore Designer Retail Boutiques in Cary and Raleigh, said the contest is an opportunity to raise awareness about her company and increase franchising opportunities. Sara Fitzpatrick, owner of The Cupcake Shoppe Bakery in Raleigh, would like to increase production and celebrate small businesses.

Philip Young, who founded Black Unykorn Astrology and Tarot in Cary, thinks it would be fun to have Super Bowl ad about an astrologer and tarot reader.

“I figure it will be as entertaining as the Janet Jackson (wardrobe malfunction) halftime show,” Young said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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