A sore loser is only really an embarrassment to themselves, but someone who keeps asking questions as to how and why decisions were made can be a more persistent problem for the organisers of any competition, particularly when there is an attractive prize.
Which brings me to the Hillarys Blinds Country Craft Competition with its first (and only) prize of £1000 cash. Billed by Hillarys Blinds as a competition for UK craft bloggers to be judged by a panel of influential craft bloggers (ukcraftblog.com, thenewcraftsociety.com and liveitloveitmakeit.com) the brief seemed simple enough…
Choose a fabric from the four available designs, and then Hillarys sent out a free sample of the chosen material. The rules stated that you had to make an original craft design and publish a blog post with pictures describing how you made your entry.
Sounds straight forward.What could possibly go wrong? Well, I suppose that all depends on your point of view. The winning entry was posted on a blog that was created after the announcement of the competition but to be fair there were two entries on it: one relating to the blogger’s experience as a professional prop maker building a set piece for the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, and the other based on a project that she’d pulled from her portfolio for a children’s craft project.
So, what’s wrong with that? It may seem an unfair advantage to allow a prop designer to enter, but there was noting in the rules that prohibited entries from any particular profession.
Well, it turns out there’s quite a lot of things that aren’t covered in either the competition brief or the accompanying terms and conditions. I dearly wish I’d taken this up with Hillarys before submitting my own entry but it was only after the winner was announced that it became obvious that many things I had taken to be common sense or implicit in the language of the competition brief were in fact open to wildly different interpretations. It took several emails and a forty minute phone call to Hillarys Head of Online to get any clarification on any of these points and I still have a lot of unanswered questions.
Lets start with who was eligible to enter: craft bloggers. This seemed the least ambiguous term to define. The competition blurb was pretty clear:
“Hillary’s have set up the Country Craft Competition with the aim of showcasing the talents of the UK craft and DIY blogging community. If you have a crafty/DIY blog this competition is for you!” – from thenewcraftsociety.com
“Do you craft? Do you blog? Do you like fabric? Do you want the chance to win £1000???? We know that a lot of you guys do, so today we have a little craft competition especially for you, courtesy of the lovely Hillarys Blinds for the chance to win £1000!” – from liveitloveitmakeit.com
The language is clear: are you a craft blogger? Yes? Well this is for you! No? Don’t have a craft blog? Then sorry, this is not for you. Common sense would say that whichever was true at the time of the announcement would separate the actual craft bloggers from those who only thought about starting a blog. It’s a neat, fair cut off point that is easy for anyone to verify because it’s a simple matter to check the publication date of the first blog entry.
Hillarys didn’t agree. As long as you could show them a blog with a craft post at the time you applied for the fabric sample, that was good enough for them. It seems like the kind of thing that should be outlined clearly in the term and conditions but it wasn’t.
Okay, my logic was different from theirs on that one. I’m not happy about it but when I was persistent enough Hillarys did confirm that it didn’t matter to them when the blog was started. I still think this should have been covered in their terms and conditions but they disagree.
So assuming anyone who has set up a craft blog, no matter how last-minute, can enter, what about the entries? Again it looks straight forward: “an original design”, that’s got to mean something you designed yourself, right?
Well, no. Quite a few entires, including the winning one, used commercial patterns, ie ones that were designed and sold by someone else. My interpretation of “original design” relied on the assumption that using someone else’s pattern would be unacceptable. There was nothing explicit in the rules to prohibit the use of a bought pattern but it was right there in the brief “original design”. I won’t insult your intelligence with a lengthy dictionary definition of the word original but I think this covers it:
“not copied, imitated, or translated; new; fresh; genuine”.
Hmm, sounds like something the judges should rule on if it wasn’t explicitly stated in the rules, right? I mean, the winner clearly stated in her blog entry that she had bought the pattern for the puppet, and there was even a picture of it with the logo of the company clearly visible and a link to the Project Puppet website where she bought it, so it wasn’t like she was trying to hide the fact she was using someone else’s design. She was honest and up front about it so it was judges call, right?
Well, maybe. Even after speaking to someone at Hillarys I’m still not clear on what the judges even based their decision on. Did they read every competition entry or were they just shown a picture of the finished item? Some context is relevant if it is left up to the judges to define what is “an original design”. I was told that as there were so many entries they couldn’t guarantee that the judges had read every entry but that they would look into it and see if there was a more definitive answer to my question.
So what’s all this complaining and nit-picking all about then? What am I hoping to achieve?
My issue is with Hillarys Blinds and the way they handled this competition. You could drive double-decker buses through the loopholes they left in the competition rules and it was never a level playing field because they left the terms of the brief so vague.
I was asked if it really mattered, if I would have done anything differently had the rules been spelled out more clearly, and my answer was a resounding YES OF COURSE!
If I’d have known I could just buy a pattern and followed the instructions with minimal changes and still be in with a chance of scooping up a £1000 prize you can bet your life that’s exactly what I would have done! There are some stunning patterns out there by designers and crafters far, far more experienced and accomplished than me and I would have loved to have taken a crack at one of their projects, but I was under the silly impression that my entry was supposed to be my original design, you know, by me!
I never really expected to win this competition but I did expect to have just as much chance as anyone else. I don’t speak on behalf of everyone who entered, and I have no doubt that a lot of the others have just shrugged their shoulders and put it all down to experience, but I feel we are all owed a promise from Hillarys that if they run this competition again in the future it will be more carefully planned and run fairly, because this one was a car crash.