Saturday, April 7, 2012

An Open Letter to Contest Organizers

(The Plains) --

Dear Organizer,

First I would like to thank you, on behalf of myself and my fellow judges, for dedicating a significant portion of your life to putting on your event. I've helped do what you are doing and I know it is a lot of work. You are to be commended for your considerable efforts which, most of the time, are undertaken in the name of charity. You are a credit to your community and are owed a debt of gratitude.

Okay. That's it for the back-slapping -- at least in this post. Soap box time. I'm going to compare some of you with others and it won't always be favorably. Hopefully it will  be constructive, though. Perhaps you can take something away from it and, where it is warranted, improve on any areas where you may be anemic in your efforts -- primarily toward your (prospective) judges.

This is not news to any of us but it bears repeating: There are three sets of people you absolutely need  to have present in order to pull of your contest. There are the cooks and the judges. Then there are, of course, the reps. Need them to keep the former two categories in line and the trains running on time.

It is a given that you are taking good care of the reps -- there aren't all that many out there and they hold the keys to it all. Apropos of that same notion, we know you had better  be taking care of the cooks. They pay to enter which means they are not just a contest component but a revenue source. If they ain't happy -- you ain't happy.

Sometimes organizers feel like the proverbial plate-spinners
So, what about the judges? How are you treating them? Not just the ones you've brought on to judge the contest but the CBJ's who have reached out asking if you have place at the table for them. The ones volunteering to drive sometimes hundreds of miles to help your event become successful. Those people. What about them?

Some organizers are fully cognizant that the judges are the key third component to the contest system. Others...not so much. Again, I understand how much you have on your plate but I would urge you not to lose sight of the importance of the judges in the formula for a successful event. Allow me to offer some words of advice from the perspective of a judge.

When submitting your event to the KCBS office for posting on the Society website and listing in the BullSheet, please include a link to either the webpage on which judges may register (preferred) or the email address of the judging coordinator. All too often the email address posted is not for the person handling the judges and as a result the email is forwarded around until it falls through the cracks or just ignored outright.

If you are going to register judges via email, please make sure that you acknowledge receipt of the initial contact in a timely fashion and then give the judges you've selected some indication that they will be serving that weekend. Likewise inform those who would be alternates or those you won't need of their status. This allows them to seek out another contest if they should wish to do so.

Of course the best way to do it is to allow judges to register via the web on a "first come, first served" basis -- be confirmed then and there -- and then contact them individually or via mass email (careful of spam filters) as the event nears and then again just prior to the contest with information and a contact in case something has come up and they need to advise you they won't be there and to seek and alternate.

It is a common problem -- far too common -- the organizer who waits until the week of the event to send out the email informing judges what time the meeting will be and where to park. Here's the thing -- if you wait until the week of your event to contact us (actually happened to us twice  in 2011) -- there's a good chance we won't be there. We've already either made plans to travel to another contest or will be with the family. We've already made the assumption you didn't want us.

You know  this guy -- don't be this guy.
Communication with your judges is so important. Some organizers are great at this. They respond immediately, give an idea of whether we will be needed, confirm it when they do know and then get in touch at least a couple weeks before the event to get a head count (allows for contacting of alternates) and to offer maps, times and other key information.

I have time to write this out because there is a contest I wanted to judge this weekend but will not be (I won't call anyone out by name here but the initials are The Stillwater Elks Blazeathon in Stillwater, Oklahoma). I am fully cognizant that it is solely up to the organizer who shall judge and and who shall not. I respect this and I know there are no guarantees. I also know I contacted the organizer of this event six months ago -- the week it was posted on the KCBS site -- to ask for a spot at the table. I know I attempted to follow up several other times. Only last week did I finally hear back and then only after my email was forwarded to different people four times  -- telling me they had all the judges they need. The event clearly has a professionally designed website -- why no judges registration page? Seems like it would make it easier not just for prospective judges but also for the organizer.

So here I sit, getting ready to hit a local BBQ stand and review their meat, and wondering what's the deal, folks? Did I contact you too early? Not early enough? Is there some sweet spot in the middle I should aim for? I truly don't understand why you don't want me there. I bathe and groom myself regularly. I'm a CTC and am willing to do that. Even more than that though, I wonder why you refused to -- or were at least unable to email sooner to tell me my services would not be needed and that I might want to find another show.

I do understand from talking with other judges (and make no mistake friends and neighbors -- we have plenty time to talk and we use it) that contests and their organizers quickly gain reputations. Reputations that stick like burned sauce on a tin grate. A common topic of conversation in the tent before and after the meeting is which are the well-organized shows that value the judges and which are just too much of a hassle, too disorganized, too unresponsive or just downright too unfriendly. There's generally a consensus in these discussions and the fact of the matter is that once that reputation has been earned it is difficult to shake. What do the judges say about you? Are they saying what you want them to say?

In the end I think perhaps you, the organizer, might bear this in mind as you go about the business of organizing. If you get that bad reputation there could come a day when the judges stop asking to judge. And without judges you no longer have a contest.

None of this is meant to be construed as hateful or to offend anyone. As I wrote earlier the intent is to offer constructive advice and those reps making the effort should hold their heads high and be proud. If this is not  you -- please don't take offense if you read this and see yourself. Just communicate. Because this piece is not to minimalize what you do or to make you feel bad. It is...

Respectfully submitted,

Hey, readers. I notice that there are a lot of you having a look at this page -- and if it's a topic that interests you perhaps you have an opinion. C'mon -- tell us what you think! Are we off base and out of line or are we spot on? There are no wrong answers. Thanks! ~R.

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