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Coffee Chats: Online Contests & Self-Promotion


LeahCevoliOne of the quickest ways to get a ton of self-promotion is by entering an online contest.

I’ve always loved contests.  As a child, I won Halloween Costume Contests, Raffles, even won 2nd place in the Philadelphia Horticultural Society one year for an awesome scarecrow I made (with lots of help from Mom.)

That’s all fun and good but how does it parlay into your acting career?

A good contest gets your creation (you) out into the sights of people that don’t know who you are yet.  But that also means you better make sure your entry, whatever it is, is FABULOUS, because unlike your family and friends, the outside population is not going to just click “like” and say ‘good job”.  They’re going to pick it apart. So be READY!

My first experience with an online talent contest was in 2007.  I entered After Dark Film’s Miss Horrorfest Competition.  I was nervous and scared. I waited until the last minute to enter.  I literally shot this video 24 hours before it was due and my editor was working up to the deadline.  I was intimidated by the elaborate gore and special effects in some of the other videos. I knew I couldn’t compete with that.. So instead my director (Andy Mackenzie) and I decided to keep it simple and real. And it worked beautifully.

Although, I did not win this contest, it really was instrumental for connecting me with many industry people in the horror world.  I ended up meeting with the president of After Dark Films on a few occasions.  In fact, the character I created, Scarlet Rose, was invited a year or so later to host the 1st Vampire Con in Hollywood.


In 2009, I entered an online music hosting competition. The winner would get to be the on-stage host at the Mayhem Festival with headliners like Korn.  I’m known more as a rock girl than a metal girl but I decided to go for it.  THIS was an insanely difficult contest.  Unlike Miss Horrorfest where the producers would choose the final winner, this was ALL about the number of votes your video received.  There were 10 finalists but the true competition was me and a male host known as Jimmy Roc.  Jimmy’s social media following wasn’t that big, but his hosting demo was AMAZING, filled with tons of metal rockstars. It was a neck and neck race.  Things got intense.  Some of his fans slung mud and got downright dirty, to the point where he and I had to speak to each other and he had to call off the “dogs” so to speak.   The voting system was flawed and people could vote multiple times.  Jimmy and I were online 24/7 voting for ourselves and friends were pulling all-night voting parties. In the end Jimmy won but I established myself as a fair, strong competitor.  I was introduced to a ton of new fans and my hosting demo that year received over 3400 views!

Immediately after that I entered the Oprah Winfrey contest to find hosts for OWN.  Although I did submit an online entry, I was counting more on my in-person interview and audition.  Sadly, I did not place or receive any attention from this, but it did boost my confidence. It helped me formulate and create a new web-series, and well, hey, I can say I auditioned for Oprah Winfrey.

And then finally…. After feeling like, okay, enough contests.  You’ve entered three. You didn’t win them; your friends are close to deleting you… I entered ONE MORE contest in 2010… and I WON!!!

This was no ordinary contest either. I won FREE EYE SURGERY

And on top of that, they let me Vlog the entire experience and even got to film the SURGERY  Out of all the contests I had entered, I won the most valuable one, and am eternally grateful to everyone that voted and to Kremer Eye Center for making it happen.

So what did I learn about online contests?

Here are some tips:

1) Post your Video/Voting Links on YOUR PAGE ONLY: It’s your contest, post as many times as you want, but only on your page. If friends want to share it GREAT, if they share it and tag you EVEN BETTER; but when you go and post your contest link on someone else’s page without permission, it’s rude.

2) Choose Your Contests Wisely:  Don’t enter every contest that comes along. Choose something that you are SO super passionate about that you are willing to put yourself on the line for it.  Any one of those jobs would have been a dream come true, and I was willing to fall on my butt in the attempt!

3) Research the Contest System:   Let’s face it, it’s a popularity contest plain and simple.  BUT some systems are set up better than others. Kremer Eye Center actually noticed multiple voting coming from the same IPs and after a few days, they contacted all of the finalists, took a hundred or so votes away from us, and put out a warning that disqualifications would happen if cheating was occurring. Find out as much as you can about how the voting will work before you decide to enter.

4) Put your best material out there:  Know your strengths, your time constraints, your budget.  If my director and I had tried to go over-board with special effects for Miss Horrorfest with little time and no-budget it would have looked like crap. We kept it simple and it worked, and it’s a piece I’m still proud of to this day.  YOU are going to have to be your biggest cheerleader, so make sure you’re proud of what you’re sharing.

5) Have a Thick Skin:  It’s going to happen. You might be the nicest, sweetest person ever, but inevitably someone else’s fan, or even just some random mean internet person, is going to criticize your entry.  With the rock hosting contest, things got brutal, but because I am secure in my hosting abilities, I didn’t let it bother me. Be prepared.

6) You might lose some “friends”:  For whatever reason, whether they think you’re being spammy, or they’re tired of seeing your contest video pop up in their stream, or they’re annoyed by your emails, or maybe they’re jealous of your gusto, you will lose some friends.  About the time of these contests, I met a nice guy from New York.  We spent a little time together, went on a nice date, had a nice kiss goodbye. Soon after, he deleted me. I thought nothing of it. But a few years later he reported my career newsletter as spam (Mailchimp takes that seriously!).  I emailed him to inquire why. His response: he thought all I cared about was getting people to like my things and vote for me and didn’t consider me a real friend to anyone.  I considered it for a second. I double-checked my values and how much I care about and support other people in their endeavors. Then I remembered that these contests that annoyed him so much got me a $10,000 life-changing eye surgery. So, like I said, you might lose some “friends.”

7) HAVE FUN:   I hope you win. Chances are you might not, but I hope you do.  However, as long as you’re smart about the contest, your materials are sharp, you’re not spamming people, and you’ve entered a contest that you’re truly passionate about, the only thing left to do is HAVE FUN with it.  You never know what opportunities you have set in motion by putting your heart on your sleeve and putting your work out there to be judged.

In closing, a great man and a mentor of mine passed away this weekend.  A.C. Lyles was 95 years old and was Paramount pictures longest employee ever.  I had the great pleasure of  spending time with A.C. during the filming of three seasons of Deadwood.  A.C. told many a great story.  He was a man that believed in the power of kindness, gratitude, and an old-fashioned thank you note. In fact, that’s how we became friends. After listening to his tales, I sent him a thank you letter.  In true form, A.C. phoned me to thank me.  Here I was, in my 20’s, a non-union actor, new to town still, and I’m receiving a personal phone-call from Paramount Studios.

A.C. Lyles will be missed by thousands. He was one of the last great links to the golden age of Hollywood, and I am blessed to have known him.  He had a saying that always stuck with me, and it relates to this coffee chat.

“It’s not who you know.  It’s who knows YOU.”  ~A.C. Lyles

So get out there and be known by your hard work, your kindness, your generosity, your gratitude and the gifts that you are here to share with the world

Leah Cevoli

About Leah Cevoli

Leah Cevoli is a multi-talented entertainment professional whose work stretches across many genres. She is a rock ‘n roll enthusiast, body image activist, a certified yoga teacher, and fan of all things horror, Leah's acting credits include appearances on high profile tv shows like HBO’s "Deadwood," and voice-over on the Cartoon Network hit "Robot Chicken". Leah is a contributing writer for Ms. In The Biz and the founder of Body Image & Women’s Issues in Entertainment, a group of women who speak on panels and at conventions nationwide. Leah has a reputation for crowdfunding success and social media magic. To date, her company, has managed 50+ campaigns, and have been instrumental in raising over $5,000,000 for indie projects. Her latest projects include: the feature-length documentary "Remember The Sultana" narrated by Sean Astin, the gritty feature-length drama, "Girl Lost," distributed thru Cinema Epoch, and the light hearted comedy, "Dance Baby Dance". All three films were released in the spring of 2018.