Best of the City - Save Time and Energy

How can we create our Best of the City project more efficiently? Right now it takes a massive amount of time and effort.

Best of the City tends to be a "reader's choice" project in which your readers nominate their favorite companies, people, and things in a variety of categories. These projects are extensive - generating thousands and thousands of votes across 50 to 200 categories. Once the votes are cast, the publication selects between 1 and 10 of the top vote-getters in each category as the winners of that category. This data fuels a printed issue, highlighting the winners, and an online list that does the same. Sometimes the data consists only of winners names. Often, however, publishers collect contact information and other profile information for the winners.

  • Setting Up Voting Forms. Publication creates voting forms. Often, publishers use open-ended forms such as Survey Monkey, Wufoo, or simple Web Forms.  Some publications supplement voting with mailed ballots, but generally response to postal ballots is relatively low.
  • Voting. The publication drives traffic to the online voting forms where people can vote.
  • Tallying. The publication sorts and tallies up votes, usually in a massive Excel file. 
  • Selection of Winners.  The publication selects the winners based on top percentage, or highest number of votes.
  • Verification. The publication acquires publishable contact information/profile information directly from winners. For publishers who only publish the names of winners, this step does not occur.
  • Print Publishing. Design and formatting for print feature.
  • Online Publishing. Deploying the results online.

  • Gaining Participation. It can be difficult to foster high participation. Sure, you can create a product from a small sample, but the integrity of the product is directly proportionate to the number of people voting. 
  • Ballots. Most pubs do a mix between online and printed ballots.
    • Printed Ballots: 
      • Can incur significant mailing costs.
      • Require hours of manual labor to process, including manual transcription of text into Excel (or something like it), trying to read and interpret people's handwriting, and allocating someone on staff to condut multiple hours of pure data entry.
    • Online Ballots: 
      • Data is collected through an online form, but generally compiled into an Excel spreadsheet. This file can end up being thousands and thousands of rows. From here, someone has to manually consolidate the winners, since each vote ends up in its own row of the spreadsheet. To make matters more difficult, the staffer assigned to tallying will need to account for misspellings and alternate spellings of names of candidates, leading to a high possibility for error. Not to mention, the tallying process is extremely time consuming.  
  • Other Challenges. Post a comment below to tell us about other challenges you have encountered. 

  • Online Ballot Management System. DataJoe provides a complete online balloting system that automates many of the processes that make Best of the City so time consuming. In time, DataJoe can replace all print based balloting, eliminating both postal costs and massive time investment of hand-entering printed ballots.
  • Direct E-mail of Ballots.  Within DataJoe, you can direct e-mail PRE-POPULATED ballots to your subscribers, increasing response rate and making it easier for people to vote. (pre-populated with their general info, not pre-populated with votes.)
  • Autopopulating Voting Forms. DataJoe ballot forms contain autopopulation, so that voters can start typing the name of nominee and be presented with a list of options. From there, the voter can select from the list. This simple feature can eliminate MANY HOURS of manual vote consolidating during the balloting stage - you don't have to rack your brain to make sure that Billy B. Williams and Willie William are the same person. Try it. (once you reach the form, type the first three letters of my name, Johnny Levy, into one of the voting fields and wait for the list of options to appear.)
  • "Write In" Feature. It's easy to feed data in for autopopulation prior to beginning your campaign. However, there's no way you could possible cover every possible company, person, or thing that could be a candidate. The Write In feature gives you the best of both worlds. Voters first type in the first few letters of their candidate. If the candidate does not appear in the dropdown, then the voter can click "Write In" to submit a new candidate to the database. Once added, this new candidate will appear for others to select through autopopulation. 
  • Automatic Tallying. Enough said. Since all votes are submitted into the database, the database can conduct tallying. This includes the ability to weight 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choices differently. 
  • Automated Verification. Automate the verification process of verifying/supplementing data for winners. Withing DataJoe, you can blast a verification survey directly to your winners.  This saves a LOT of time, because your winners will be HIGHLY MOTIVATED to provide you with good information. You will undoubtedly see a high response rate - I would postulate 60-95%.
  • Automated Print Publishing. Once the winners are selected, you can export a complete directory (you can choose the data you want to include) into *.DOC and *.XLS formats. 
  • Automated Online Publishing. By integrating a widget (i.e. a tiny snippet of code) into a Web page on your site, you can have a plug and play solution for online display that updates in real time whenever updates are made in the database. This widget also enables you to make the product searchable and interactive. It's awesome. 

Whether you choose to utilize DataJoe or not, there are some general principles that can help you improve your workflow and save time. 
  • Get Outside Your Comfort Zone. We can get stuck in our workflow just because "it's always been done this way." That can lead to antiquated processes and a colossal waste of time. Be willing to re-evaluate the way you are doing things.
  • Put on your Binoculars. Have a long term view. Most publications seem to implement this project in a way that does not yield any significant advantage for next year's project. You have a choice. You can implement in a way that "gets it done" for the year, or you can implement in a way that will make it easier and less time consuming in successive years. The second strategy requires more labor up front, but can guarantee amazing dividends over a 3-5 year period.
  • Ask Questions.  Trade secrets and strategies with others who have done similar projects.

  • New Orleans Magazine

Post a comment below, shoot me an email ( or give me a call (303-989-1300).

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