Meet The Compers: Sophie Cowling
Hooray! I know lots of you have been looking forward to this edition of Meet The Compers, and it’s finally here. My latest guest is Sophie Cowling, a successful comper and clever photographer, whose imaginative and unique entries have won her some marvellous competition prizes. Sophie’s Instagram feed is absolutely swoonworthy, so make sure you check it out!
Sophie, how did you first discover comping?
On the day I found out that I was pregnant with my first child, I was so excited that I ran to my local newsagents and bought a stack of baby and parenting magazines. It was November, so all the December issues were on the shelves. Prima Baby magazine were running a very generous competition for Christmas, giving one person every single prize that they’d already given away during the whole year. It was back in the day when you had to fill out an entry form and post it off. Having yet to tell anyone my news, I wrote on my entry form that I’d just found out that I was pregnant, so I think this is my lucky day. Remarkably, a few weeks later I received the winning call. This was the first competition that I’d entered, and the prize consisted of everything from a pram to a car seat, Moses basket, bottles, baby bath…the list went on and on, and around 50 deliveries later we had everything we ever needed to have a baby. The prize was so special to us as we were young, had no spare money, and we never bought anything brand new so to have all these beautiful gifts delivered to us was a real luxury. We were so unbelievably grateful, and it was the most amazing introduction to comping! Life seemed to take over after that and I didn’t really get in to comping properly for some years later.
What’s your favourite type of competition?
I love entering judged photo and creative competitions, and I find it very therapeutic to get lost in the planning of a big creative entry. If a competition involves filming, then I usually run a mile. I feel much more at home with still pictures and often sketch out how I want the end image to look before I start, along with a list of everything I want to include so that nothing gets missed off. I also enjoy trying to work out the psychology behind judging winning entries, what makes someone pick one entry over the others? What elements of the entry make it a winner? And how can I implement these winning factors into apparently random competitions to try and influence a winning outcome. Looking back, I wonder, if I hadn’t written my comment on the Prima Baby entry form, would I have won?
Is there a type of competition you have the most success in?
My highest return rate is undoubtedly with creative and effort-based competitions, but I get the most wins by far on Instagram as that’s where I enter the most and stack up 100’s of wins. On air radio competitions have also been a great source of big wins, these are usually generous prizes, often bundles and I can think of at least 17 radio competitions that I’ve won in the last few years. Prizes include everything from tech bundles, phones, cash, supermarket vouchers, a hot tub, tickets, a private chef at home experience and holidays. I’m quiet natured and not a fan of the limelight so at first I was really nervous going on the radio, spurred on by the fantastic prizes on offer, each time got easier and I now feel much more confident, and you really can’t beat the buzz of a live radio win!
My least successful type of entries are probably purchase necessary and text to win competitions. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some wonderful prizes from these type of entry methods but probably the lowest return rate. I find purchase comps frustrating as I live so far away from any supermarkets, this means I’m slow off the mark and often miss the prime time to win at the beginning of a promotion. I’m not keen on splashing out on items that I won’t use either, a lot of purchase necessary comps are on alcohol-based products, which are not that useful when you don’t drink, and a lot offer holiday prizes for just 2 people, again, not that useful when you have a young family. I rarely win on text competitions despite my best efforts and I’m eagerly awaiting the day I get a big Tesco text to win!
In 2022 you received an amazing winning phone call from McVities – tell us about that!
That week, I’d put a lot of effort into a creative entry which I was perhaps feeling a bit too overconfident about! I knew they were going to call the winner on the Friday, so I had my phone turned up loud and glued to my hand. At about 10:30 I excitingly got a call from a withheld number; however, it wasn’t who I was expecting it to be, rather a lady from McVities. My mind started racing as McVities had ran so many different competitions in association with Britain’s Got Talent, my first thought was that I’d probably won tickets to the final. But after telling me that my day was about to get a whole lot better, she congratulated me on winning a brand-new Mini Cooper! It still gives me goosebumps. To enter I’d bought a pack of Jaffa Cakes from Asda and then text the word ‘MINI’ to their short number. I honestly couldn’t believe that my two least successful entry methods combined, a purchase necessary and text to win managed to bag me my best prize ever. I never did hear anything from the other competition that I’d been eagerly awaiting to get a call from that day, safe to say I was more than consoled with a shiny new car instead.
Do you have a comping routine?
Daily, I probably spend a couple of hours looking for and entering competitions. As I enter so many on Instagram, my feed is always flooding with new competitions. I usually have a quick flick through during the day every time I have a spare couple of minutes and save them for later. Me and a friend share the competitions we find with each other which works really well and saves us both a lot of time, plus other people tag me in competitions too. If I’m putting a big creative entry together then I could easily spend a few hours on it, I enjoy every aspect of this though and don’t find it a chore like filling out online entry forms.
I’m a member of Compers News (*Di’s affiliate link) and Lucky Learners, both are an invaluable source of competitions and I often search social media for local competitions or specific hashtags, especially if there’s a certain prize that I’ve got my eye on. I’m also very grateful to be part of the most amazing private Radio Group on Facebook where we all listen out for upcoming competitions. My radio is never off as I think the key to winning an on-air competition is to put the effort in to listen yourself. Often you only have 2 minutes to enter so if you’re relying on someone else to listen, they might be listening on a delay, they’ll probably enter first before sharing the cue to text in so by the time you’ve seen it and text in, you’re probably too late. On occasions, I have been known to listen to 2 stations at once when different stations are running a competition at the same time, this is very difficult though and really messes with your head!
Your Instagram photos are so bright and cheerful – what do you use to take them, and can you share a few tips?
Thank you, that’s really kind. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to win an AX7 camera in a photo competition with FujiFilm, I absolutely treasure it and use it to take most of the photos I set up at home. When I’m out and about I just use my iPhone. You definitely don’t need a fancy camera to get a great shot, phone cameras are amazing, and a lot of my winning photos have been taken on a phone. My top tips would be to make use of the grid that’s on your camera, you might need to activate this in your settings. It really helps to make sure the horizon or any lines are straight which makes the photo instantly easier on the eye. I often rotate my phone 180° so the camera is at the bottom, this gives a much better angle, especially if you’re taking a photo of flowers or something close to the ground. There’s lots of free photography magazines available online from your local library and so many incredible photographers on Instagram that give quick tips and tutorials. I’d say, the amount of effort you put in to taking a photo is only half of the job though, the editing afterwards is equally as important, you can manually adjust the settings like brightness, saturation, shadows etc or try out some filters to enhance the photo. Finally, take lots of photos, for every great photo, there’s probably about 20 similar shots that aren’t quite as good.
Are your husband and kids happy to help you out with your creative entries?
My family are amazing, they’re all very supportive, always on hand to help when needed and my husband is great at taking photos exactly how I like them. I’m very aware that it’s my hobby though and not theirs so I try my best not to bother them too much with it all and they probably secretly dread the words ‘can you just give me a hand for a minute’. My personal preference is not to have too many photos of my children online and I always try and conceal their identity to some extent. This can have its challenges as obviously showing lovely smiley happy children in my entries would have a positive effect and no doubt help me to win more but it has pushed me to be more creative when taking photos of them.
Which of your prizes have your family enjoyed the most?
A real highlight for us was winning a family holiday to Universal Studios in Orlando with Magic Radio. It was our first time across the Atlantic, we had the most incredible time, and it was a holiday that we could only have ever dreamed of. It’s not just the huge prizes that bring us lots of joy though, the more regular ‘everyday’ items that we use all the time always bring a smile to our faces, whether it’s a kitchen appliance, sofa or lamp, it’s very much got to the point that when I take a look around our house, pretty much everything was either a prize or bought with prize vouchers, even the paint on the walls!
Are there any types of prize promotions you’d like to see more or less of?
I’d love to see more family holiday prizes; these are like gold dust compared to the abundance of holidays out there for 2 people. I always joke with my husband that when our children have grown up and left the nest, we’ll be jetting off all over the world with all the 2 person holidays that I plan on winning.
I’d love to see less randomly drawn creative / effort competitions or ones where they randomly draw maybe 20 entries and then pick their favourite from just those few. I think if you’re asking people to go to the effort of making something specifically for their competition then the least that they could do is take the time to look at all the entries and judge accordingly. It’s even more annoying when they randomly draw a winner but then ask all the entrants who’ve gone to a lot of effort if they can use their photos for future content. I’ve learned to say no in this instance after one company randomly drew a winner and then came to me afterwards asking if they could use my photo for their gift cards and instore Point of Sale material. They’d mocked up all the artwork using my photo but didn’t want to give me anything in return which I thought was a little cheeky.
One of my favourite entries was your leaf pumpkin which won you a £3,000 Tui voucher. How long did it take you to get the perfect photo? And how many prizes has it won in Halloween comps since then?
Thank you, it was a tricky one that one, my husband teetering at the top of a step ladder holding a selfie stick to try and get high enough for the photo whilst we all hoped the wind didn’t blow any of the leaves out of position. He couldn’t see what he was taking, it was just a case of shoot and hope for the best. We could have done with a drone really to get a shot from directly above (I’ll have to try and win one). I’ve lost count of how many competitions it’s won, maybe around 20, it’s definitely been my most lucrative picture. In fact, it’s probably about time I retired that photo and thought of something new for this year! It did make me giggle when I won another big Halloween prize on Instagram, it was just a comment and tag a friend type competition, but the promoter told me that they loved my pumpkin photo so much that they chose me to be their winner too, despite the fact it had nothing to do with their competition. It just shows that companies are often looking around at your feed and profile.
I vividly remember when I won two holidays in one day back in 2006 – but I read in Compers News that you managed to win THREE in one day! Tell us about those!
I’d tried really hard for a couple of years to win a family holiday without any success, I thought it was never going to happen, so on the morning I got the winning call from Heart about my Pumpkin Leaf photo, I was ecstatic, the prize was a £3k Tui voucher that we could spend on a holiday of our choice. We hadn’t had a chance to think about where we’d go before I received a message on Instagram from Mark Warner Holidays. I’d won an incredible family ski holiday in the Alps along with lots of other prizes from their partners. The day then got a whole lot more surreal when I received a message from Gala Bingo on Instagram a few hours later congratulating me on winning a Trip to NYC! Honestly, I thought I was dreaming, and I couldn’t sleep properly for about 2 weeks as I was so excited.
What would be your dream competition prize?
A big ITV win would be the pinnacle, and I’ve always had a gut feeling that I’m going to win one day. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll keep trying. In the meantime, I’ve figured that whilst the odds of winning say £100k in one go is quite slim, the chance of winning £1k 100 times over is much more achievable and a good way to focus my efforts for the same result.
Sometimes we put so much work into a creative entry – and it doesn’t win! Do you have any favourite losing entries to share?
A lot of my personal favourites are often quite minimalistic and in black and white or silhouetted. These never tend to do well compared to the bright eye-catching photos, but I still throw them into the mix every now and again on the off chance that someone out there has the same taste as me. I also really loved my Heart Star Wars entry where I made the Millennium Falcon out of lots of shiny pennies. Again, this was quite pared back, my friend went on to win with her incredible entry but I’ve yet to have a recycled win with that photo, not even on Star Wars Day! It’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea…or anyone’s cup of tea come to think of it.
Luckily you’re also good at creating entries that aren’t brand specific so they can be recycled for future comps if they don’t win! What’s your favourite recycled win?
Some of my favourite prizes are from recycled entries and I now always try and create entries with future competitions in mind. One of my first recycled wins was for an electric bike. The original competition required you to take a photo of yourself riding an invisible bike. I think it was randomly drawn, however a few months later I entered the same photo for a judged competition with Gazelle Bikes, saying ‘I’d love a bike to be able to keep up with my boys’ who were also pictured in the background on their bikes. That’s when I learned the power of recycling entries and now do it all the time. My favourite recycled win was a recent ‘show us your recycled Christmas tree photo’. I made a tree out of polaroids, using one photo for each Christmas my children had been born. It didn’t win the £1k prize on offer but a week later I entered it in to a ‘show us your Christmas memories’ photo competition where it scooped the prize of a Jackary portable Solar generator and solar panels which had a much bigger price tag.
I also love to get a win by recycling the thank you photos that I post on Instagram. It’s always a bonus to get a win from a win so I try and set up any thank you photos carefully showing the branding and shot in a real setting rather than stuffed in the box it arrived in, you just never know when that photo is going to come in handy. This also makes it more likely for brands to reshare your photos which I’m convinced helps prevent me from getting the dreaded Insta ban.
Which other compers do you look to for inspiration?
There’s so many brilliant creative compers out there. I love the ones that have their own individual style. @Nikewikewa creates brilliant videos that always make me laugh out loud. @Melcrum19 does the most beautiful food photography. @Naynaycearns takes amazing wildlife / outdoor and home interior photos, and @Curly_whirly_jo always creates big memorable entries, like her iconic Swizzels beach hut.
Which winning entry are you most proud of?
I’m especially proud of my winning EasyJet ‘Love Sick’ poem. The competition required you to write a love themed poem on an EasyJet sick bag and the prize was 2 flights to any of their destinations. Not only was I delighted with the prize, EasyJet approached me a couple of months later asking if they could turn my entry in to a print advert. To me this was especially exciting. I’ve been weirdly obsessed with adverts since I was little, and as a graphic designer I love to see my designs brought to life in good old-fashioned print, but I’d never had anything that I’d written used in an advert before. I was even more amazed to see that they’d taken out full page adverts in all the nationals which must have cost a small fortune.
Do you hang out with other compers in real life?
Yes, my best friend @naynaycearns is also a super successful comper and has an amazing back catalogue of wins to her name, if we’re not out enjoying one of our prizes together, you’ll often find us on a ‘lucky walk’ discussing all things comping after the school drop off. Quite aptly named, we almost always get a lovely win straight after our lucky walks.
Finally, where can SuperLucky readers follow you?
You’ll usually find me hanging out on Instagram at @happy_go_sophie so feel free to drop by and say hi!
Thanks so much Sophie – there’s some fantastic tips and food for thought here for anyone looking to improve their win rate and get stuck in to creative comping!
If you enjoyed this interview please do check out the other Meet The Compers Q&As here.