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Promotional Contests

Here a business simulation is used as the basis of a business contest that is partially or fully sponsored by a company.











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Over the years I have been involved in several business contests where my business simulation-games were used. Contests that have involved many thousands of contestants and obtained tens of thousands of editorial coverage in the press.

Reasons for Use

Build a relationship with customers
A different type of sponsorship
Targets Business People

Practical Issues with use

Elimination Rounds
Choice of Winner

Examples of Contests

National Production Contest
National Purchasing Contest
National Engineering Contest
Radio & TV Retailers Contest
International Contest

Suitable Business Simulations

Benefits of a Business Simulation based Promotional Contest


In the 1980s I provided business simulations for the Benson & Hedges Management Challenge - a huge promotional contest in the Arabian Gulf. A couple of years ago (some quarter century after the contest) I was in Egypt on business. There I met a contestant who remembered the contest and what he learnt from my business simulation.


Traditionally, sponsorship has been concerned with recreational interests - sport, the arts etc. In contrast, a sponsored business contest using a business simulation is different and positions the sponsor as an organisation concerned with learning and business success. 


For companies selling goods to business, traditional sponsorship does not focus on their target audience. In contrast, Business Contests focus on business people - executives and aspiring executives. Further, the choice of simulation can focus this further. Thus, an operations based simulation will focus on production executives, manufacturing engineers and buyers. A general management simulation focusing on marketing and cash flow is appropriate for use as a contest for small business people.


The "serious" purpose of the simulation reflects the concern the sponsoring organisation has for good management and economic development. For example, the Benson & Hedges Management Challenge had considerable support from industry leaders and the ones run in the UK obtained government support. For most of the business contests that I have been involved with a Business School has been a co-sponsor because of the prestige associated with the contest.


The Management Contest's educational purpose and the way it targets contestants means that there is a synergy with the sponsoring organisation. Computer companies, Hotels and Airlines have sponsored simulations because the contestants are people who will make use of the sponsor's products or services. At the very least this can be used to build the sponsor's mailing list.


During the last few years of the Benson & Hedges Management Challenge editorial coverage was some eleven thousand column centimetres.

Practical Issues running a simulation-based contest


A properly designed contest will have significant, real educational benefits for the participants. Even losing teams will gain from the experience. However, the size of contests with several hundred to several thousand participants precludes individual tutoring. The tutor cannot support and advise one team at the expense of any others. Learning can be enhanced through suitably designed software that documents team progress and identified strengths and weaknesses. Another approach is to write a short article at the end of each stage that documents the key issues of that stage.


Although the contest is an educational experience and presented as such its prime purpose is promotion and so is important to plan and resource this/ There is a risk that this will not be done and the sponsor or sponsors will not exploit the promotion sufficiently. This promotional plan should include press relations, phased press releases, pre-written local interest stories etc.


Sponsorship can range from paying for a completely free contest to the situation where there is an entry fee that pays part of the cost. Where there is an entry fee the sponsors might provide free advertising, accommodation for the finals and prizes. Further, there may be several sponsors - a main sponsor and secondary sponsors providing accommodation, prizes, publicity etc.


Except the smallest promotion, management contests consist of a series of elimination rounds were the number of participants are progressively reduced. Early elimination rounds are usually on a postal basis. A final where the remaining teams meet and compete face to face follows these.

A very large or geographically spread contest may consist of several postal rounds followed by regional finals and, finally, a "grand final". The regional finals and grand final involve contestants meeting face to face and provide opportunities for press coverage.

The length and format of the elimination rounds is a balance between learning, promotional opportunities and cost.


During the elimination rounds success can be based on meeting a few objective criteria. The choice of winner for the finals can be based on this or, alternatively and, perhaps, advisable, on a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures. If the latter is chosen, a panel of judges is needed. This panel should consist of several "authorities". These may be academics, business gurus, senior sponsor staff or leading business people.


If successful business contests provide good publicity. However, if badly run there is a risk of bad publicity. This is especially true if there are significant prizes and recognition. This has implication in terms of the experience and expertise of the team and the choice of simulation.

The number of teams in the elimination rounds means that logistics are key. Postal submissions must be turned around rapidly and correctly. Telephone queries must be answered accurately, completely and quickly. The simulation must be designed to allow for this.

The finals present different problems. Pressure on the contestants and the team running the final can be extreme. To obtain maximum publicity, the press should be present. They have to be managed, encouraged to become involved but not interfere.

Examples of Promotional Contests

National Production Contest (UK)

This involved contestants setting up a factory and then running it on a month-by-month basis for up to a year. Initial decisions covered factory layout, vender selection, investment appraisal, staffing and work study. Following this the monthly decisions covered material purchases, production scheduling, maintenance etc.

The main sponsor was Metalworking Magazine with secondary sponsors Honeywell Information Systems and Dunchurch Industrial Staff College. The business simulation used was my TEAMSKILL. The contest consisted of three rounds - two run on a post basis where the numbers were whittled down and a final where four teams fought is out face to face.  (Today the initial rounds would be run using the Internet).

National Purchasing Contest (UK)

The main sponsor was Industrial Purchasing News Magazine with Honeywell Information Systems the secondary sponsor. The business simulation used was my Buyplay. The contest consisted of three rounds - two run on a post basis where the numbers were whittled down and a final where four teams fought is out face to face.  (Today the initial rounds would be run using the Internet).

National Engineering Contest (UK)

The main sponsor was the Engineer Magazine with the Engineering Council and Ashridge Management College as secondary sponsors. The business simulation used was my TEMEwork. The contest consisted of three rounds -  two run on a post basis where the numbers were whittled down and a final where four teams fought is out face to face.  (Today the initial rounds would be run using the Internet).

Retailers Contest (UK)

The sponsor was Philips The business simulation used was my Rentra. The contest was run at the Radio and Television Retailers conference.

International Business Contest

The main sponsor was BAT UK & Export with a variety of airlines and hotel chains as secondary sponsors. This ran for six years as the Benson & Hedges Management Challenge. It consisted of an elimination round (that did not use a business simulation) that whittled down the five thousand or so contestants down to manageable numbers. Next were Country Finals across the Arabian Gulf (Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia (x2), Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman and (in the final year) Jordan. At the country finals six teams of contestants (and occasionally, press teams) fought it out to win through to the Grand Final.  wing were developed for management contests: The latest editions of the Country Final simulations are still available (Management Challenge, Retail Challenge and Service Challenge). As is the Grand Final simulation (INTEX).

Because I was able to develop several of these business simulations not only as a suitable for the contest but also to serve defined learning objectives, they are still in use and provide some promotion for the sponsors

Suitable Business Simulations

National and International Contests - Generally this will involve the development of a special simulation or version of a simulation. However my platform and design expertise mean that the cost is not high.

Learn more about my design services

Local Contests - Usually, one of our existing simulations can be used for these.

Source: Churchill Fellowship Study and chapter in my latest book - Corporate Cartooning Book (find out more).

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1999 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 03/04/12
Hall Marketing, Studio 11, Colman's Wharf, 45 Morris Road, London E14 6PA, ENGLAND
Phone +44 (0)20 7537 2982 E-mail