Every year we get a ton of feedback during our Best of the Pines program, and occasionally we hear some negative things going around! Many of the criticisms we hear are a result of a simple misunderstanding, so we decided to address these openly.
We at The Pilot work very hard to preserve the integrity of Best of the Pines. We live here, too, we’re very invested in our local businesses and it’s important to us that we get it right. For the last few years, we’ve hired an outside company, Second Street, to help ensure accurate voting results. If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know. We are more than happy to meet with you and address them as time allows (keep in mind, Best of the Pines is our busiest season, so we can’t always meet immediately). But now, let’s deal with some of the comments we’ve heard.
1. “The awards are given to businesses that advertise.”
FALSE. Businesses can choose to advertise if they want to. The businesses that advertise (and the businesses that sponsor the campaign) recognize the value of advertising with Best of the Pines because it brings our largest audience of the year. Advertising with the campaign keeps your business top of mind as our readers are voting. Many advertisers do end up winning, but many other advertisers don’t. And plenty of businesses are winners without ever spending a dime. However, if the advertisers seem to win, we take that as a sign that advertising works.
2. “Advertising with The Pilot ensures you will win a category.”
FALSE. Advertising a business does a lot of things if done right. This includes increasing name recognition and bringing in new customers. And these also help you gain votes in Best of the Pines. But as much as promoting your business with The Pilot will help, it is not a guarantee, and that is disclosed in our advertising sales kits. We recommend it as one piece of a larger promotional campaign.
Why does it seem so many of the winners advertise with us? If you recall, the voting ends in July. We publish the results in September. We need that much time in order to contact winning businesses. Many businesses want to promote their win by advertising in the magazine because they know the magazine stays out all year long. We appreciate their support because, without it, we would be unable to continue doing these awards. But as much as we appreciate it when winners advertise, we certainly do not require it.
3. “The winners are not determined by the readers.”
FALSE. As stated earlier, we hire a company called Second Street to monitor our voting. They’ve handled these types of ballots for thousands of media companies around the world. With the importance of the success of these ballots, ensuring that only genuine nominations and votes are influencing the results is vital. They help eliminate potential voter fraud and keep it as honest as possible. They’ve even implemented new features this year to further identify and mitigate potential fraud. Voters are required to have a valid email address when voting. The voting is calculated by their system. In 2022, we had approximately 272,000 votes cast in the ballot.
4. “Businesses who don’t pay an advertising fee are removed from the ballot.”
FALSE. At no time are businesses required to pay any type of fee to participate.
We reserve the right to remove businesses from the ballot if they owe us a large amount of money for a significant amount of time (usually over 6 months). For example, if a business owes us for months of advertising and has refused for months to make a payment, we may decide to remove them from the ballot. We don’t enjoy doing this, and would only do it when the business refuses to communicate with us over their bill. If a business is having financial troubles, we are happy to work with them.
In the past, we have occasionally heard from an advertiser who would rather not participate and they asked us to remove their name from the ballot. For example, one business in the “Veteran Owned Business” category produces a retail product that other Veteran Owned businesses sell in their stores, and the business owner did not want to compete against other businesses that sell their product.
These types of situations don’t happen often, but if you notice that a particular business is missing from a category that fits them, there is likely a good reason behind it.
5. “Under what conditions do you remove a business from the ballot?”
It is our goal to have any business who wants to participate in Best of the Pines included on the ballot. Beyond the situations mentioned above, we reserve the right to eliminate any business that we feel does not represent the competition in a positive manner.
6. “How are your categories determined?”
Each year, we look at what was popular with voters the previous year and what things are trending in our area. Overall, our goal is to stay below 200 categories. This number is largely determined by the space we have at our party venue in September, as well as by the resources we have.
There are six of us managing this ballot, which includes monitoring nominations, communicating with hundreds of businesses, uploading business information, answering questions from business and voters, and selling ads – in addition to our “regular” job responsibilities! Not to mention the production team that creates and places all of the extra ads during that time! If we could, we’d have 1000 categories. Unfortunately, this would simply be unmanageable.
Once the ballot is open, we’re unable to make changes to categories (except in extremely rare circumstances), but we save all feedback and suggestions to take into consideration for the following year. We use that information when reevaluating the categories each winter.