The readerís choice
What can winning the polls mean for your establishment?
Written by Jim Chliboyko
Most big cities have alternative weekly newspapers. They’re anything from 20 to 100 or more pages, and are heavy on arts and entertainment info and articles about civic issues. Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, Winnipeg’s Uptown, Toronto’s Grid, or the Montreal Mirror are a few with which you may be familiar. At some point in the year, often springtime, these alternative weeklies, release one of their biggest issues that includes the results of their reader’s choice polls. These editions become a staple of their publishing year, as issues with the results tend to have a higher page count, more ads and extra copies are printed out for tourists, conventioneers and generally anybody wanting to find new places to go in their own city.
Inevitably, there is the category of Best Pizza.
“I don’t have an awful lot of data about what kind of bump it gives a pizzeria,” says John Kendle, the editor of Winnipeg’s Uptown, the city’s 25-year-old arts and entertainment weekly, about what a restaurant may gain by winning a Best Of contest. “What I can tell you with these kinds of reader polls, I have seen businesses, obviously, rally behind them. It makes them want to motivate their customers get behind them.”
Though not a particularly democratic exercise, and sometimes prone to ballot box stuffing, the reader’s choice, like an election, is a participatory event. Readers generally fill out a form listing dozens of categories, some of them standard (like “best pizza”), some mundane, some funny, while other categories can be a little racier. Most publications have a few rules to avoid ballot box stuffing. In the case of Uptown, people have to fill out a minimum number of categories so they don’t just metaphorically stuff the ballot box with just a single category filled out. After all, this is meant to be a fair and interesting contest.
“Some businesses in town have, obviously, motivated their clientele to get online and vote,” says Kendle. “It’s fine for them, and fine for their point of view. It’s not scientific and not a binding election.”
In Winnipeg, the big winner for the last several years has been Santa Lucia Pizza, a home-grown chain that started in the northern Manitoban mining city of Thompson in the early 1970s, expanded into Winnipeg, then crossed the border into North Dakota. The company makes use of their wins (they’ve won several years in a row) in places like bus-bench ads and their high-profile radio commercials on TSN1290 sports radio. Last year the chain sponsored Winnipeg Jets game day radio programming; on their radio ads, they make sure to trumpet their Uptown wins.
“We find that the restaurants, in particular, use it a lot,” says Kendle. “The profit margins in restaurants are not fantastic. So, any competitive edge that they get, they’re going to exploit it.”
Kendle knows that some businesses have been craftier than others in attempting to curry favour with the voting public during reader’s poll season, usually a few months before the results come out, but he doesn’t know how successful their efforts have been.
“The only way to improve one’s rank is to a) be good to start with, and b) encourage social media advertising,” he says. “I know of one business that’s photocopied one of the ballots for people to fill out while people wait for their appointment.”
Another thing becomes apparent, too. In some areas, it’s pretty difficult to unseat an incumbent. Like in Halifax.
Joe Nahas is on the other side of the reader’s poll. Nahas is one of the people behind Sicilian Pizza, which has dominated the Best Pizza Slice category for the last few years in The Coast, Halifax’s weekly arts and entertainment paper. The Coast has categories for Best Pizza Slice and Best Pizza Pie, and the latter is dominated by another establishment, Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo Trattoria. Nahas said he was recently notified about his 2012 nomination, and was expecting to find out the next day whether or not his business would retain its streak.
Sicilian Pizza has several locations in the Halifax area, including one on the city’s famous Pizza Corner, an intersection that literally has a pizza joint on every corner. Pizza Corner, says Nahas, is like a metaphor for the business in Halifax.
“It’s quite an honour, especially since how competitive the pizza business in Halifax is. It shows passion that you put in your products. You know consumers are appreciating you.”
And while he doesn’t chart how much the honour earns his business, he knows that it does have an effect, and he is quick to take advantage of the honour, in his advertising.
“Well, I’m sure there’s obviously a benefit,” says Nahas. “You’re not bragging when they actually select you from literally hundreds of pizzerias in Metro.”
“We do have the plaques on the wall. We do use it in our advertising. It’s not a claim we’re making; it’s the readers of the magazine. And, every year, I’m told, the vote goes up and up and up.
”We’re fairly visible in our advertising. Every year, we just add on another year to the award [list].”
According to Nahas, there is a slight drawback to becoming so prominent, though.
“When you’re voted number 1 you’re sort of a target; everyone is trying to mimic what you do. It definitely keeps us on our toes.”
Kendle’s Uptown used to do plaques for his reader’s poll winners, but discontinued the practice a few years back. He’s thinking of reinstating them, though. Ultimately, though, the editor reminds us of what these contests are all about.
Says Kendle, “It’s a fun thing.”
Back in Halifax, The Coast published its 2012 list in May. Nahas won Best Pizza Slice, yet again.