In the last Sunday of October, readers found the glossy 2019 Pet Calendar in their copy of the Santa Fe New Mexican, the culmination of an annual contest that has proved a reliable revenue-generator since 2007.
The New Mexican’s Pet Calendar Contest began those 11 years ago as a way to feature pets in a Santa Fe animal shelter, with readers voting on their favorites.
Soon enough, though, it became a contest aimed at pet owners, who have enthusiastically pursued the goal of landing their beloved pet dog—or cat or lizard or parrot or other household animal—on the cover of the annual Pet Calendar or as a feature of the month.
“We encourage (unusual pets). We had a big lizard that won last year, went as a month winner, and a parrot went on the cover (of the 2018 calendar),” said Laura Harding, classified advertising manager.
The contest offers a number of revenue opportunities, including sponsorships, entry fees and—especially—voting fees.
“It’s absolutely crazy how much money people will put on voting for their pets—it’s mind-blowing,” Harding said with a laugh.
The Pet Calendar Contest kicks off in early to mid-August with call-for-entry ads in the print news paper, on santafenewmexican.com, and on a dedicated pet contest website operated by its third-party vendor 360 Photo Contest.
The entry fee is $25 for pet owners to submit a photo, along with the name of the pet and other basic information. After about a month, the initial entry phase ends and the New Mexican publishes photos of all the pets and their assigned contest number in the print newspaper and on the web.
This year’s contest attracted 152 entries, about average over the last few years, though in 2017 proud owners submitted 190 photos.
With the publication of all the pets begins the rounds of voting. The first round lasts for two weeks and costs $1 per vote. Twice a week, the newspaper publishes the ongoing tallies.
Those entries are then narrowed down to the top 25 vote-getters for the second round of balloting—which costs $2 a vote and runs for just one week with ongoing tallies published on the Wednesday and Friday of the voting period.
From those 25, 13 pets make the calendar, the top vote-getter, which goes on the cover and the other 12 who each get a featured month in the calendar.
The New Mexican offers local businesses three levels of sponsorship opportunities—each with pet-appropriate names. The highest level, with four available spots, is for Top Dog Sponsors, followed by the Caring Companions level, with three spots, and Furry Friend, with two spots. Sponsors appear in the calendar and get their logos on all digital and print promotions, including rack cards. This year, the newspaper took in about $13,000 in sponsorship revenue.
Sponsors and advertisers during the contest extend well beyond the pet stores that might be expected. This year’s businesses included a high-end jewelry store, a clothing retailer, a Lexus auto dealer, a pizza parlor and a funeral home that also cremates pets.
Between sponsorships and the mind-blowing voting, the calendar reliably generates at least $30,000 every year. This year was nearly a third higher, Harding indicated. Ten percent of the proceeds of the contest is donated to two local animal shelters.
The calendar itself is a high-end glossy, with the photos of the winning pets taken by a professional.
For the record, the 2019 Santa Fe New Mexican Pet Calendar cover pet was Calamity Jane, a Shih Tzu and Chihuahua mix. Owners Joan and Nissim Mesznik say in the calendar that she loves her toys, especially Lamp Chop (her favorite), Mr. Fox and Blue Dawg.