The Hillarys Blinds Country Craft Competition: the result, the backlash and some awkward lingering questions.

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…

My entry in the Hillarys Country Craft Competition

My entry in the Hillarys Country Craft Competition

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?

Firstly, this is not a personal attack on justpastone, the blogger who won. She chanced her hand at something new and it paid off. Her entry wasn’t to my taste but that’s not relevant here.

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.

17 thoughts on “The Hillarys Blinds Country Craft Competition: the result, the backlash and some awkward lingering questions.

  1. mollieandclaire says:

    Hiya. You are completely in the right on this one. I completely agree with your definition of when a craft blog should have been set up, but I can see this could be open to interpretation, BUT more importantly The wording ‘an original design’ implicitly means that the design has to be ORIGINAL. When I read your post I was really admiring of your effort as I would have struggled to come up with something original. (Your bag was/is GORGEOUS BTW. If you ever go into business selling them I will be an interested customer!) I just checked with my husband whether his understanding of original was the same as mine and he said the winning entry being from a commercial pattern made a mockery of the conditions of ‘original’ design. Ludicrous.

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    • bamcrafts979 says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment of support. I was worried about posting this in case it just came across as sour grapes at not winning but I just wanted something to be said about what an enormous mess this competition was. I still find their assumption that two posts (one of which was about professional design work) as all it takes to qualify as a craft blog pretty insulting!

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  2. fallfromgrace349 says:

    I totally agree with you. The advert for the competition is very misleading and very disappointing from such a high profile company. Your bag is absolutely stunning, if I saw that in a shop I would have to buy it. I really feel for you and its absolutely crazy that the winner wasn’t even creating an original. Dont lose heart petal, yours is gorgeous and worthy of winning ten times over 🙂

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    • bamcrafts979 says:

      Thank you 🙂 I don’t really mind about not winning but I do care deeply that some truly original designs by some very talented craft bloggers were overlooked in favour of someone who took shortcuts with their design. I had been Googling the competition daily as people posted their entries in the run up to the deadline, and I was so excited to see what amazing ideas people had that I was looking forward to losing! I did notice that some had used pre-existing patterns but (wrongly) assumed that would count against them in the judging as this didn’t seem in the spirit of “original design”. When the prize is £1000 I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that the people running the competition have a clear definition of who is eligible to enter and what does or does not fulfil the competition brief.

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  3. lovelucie1 says:

    I completely agree with how you are feeling!!!!
    Having just completed a competition myself and found the voting debacle and the lack of adherence to voting deadlines completely unprofessional (more in a post I’m going to write later) I can quite understand your frustration.
    I too am torn between wondering whether I’m just being a sore loser or am completely justified!
    Although you have been given (like I was) the fabric for free it has still taken commitment, time and a lot of skill and care to execute a unique beautiful project.
    I can only imaging the judges are not of our crafting blogging community frame of mind. These comps are all publicity stunts, after all, to get us, the bloggers, spreading the word for free about their fabric.
    I might enter competitions in the future but only on the basis of free fabric to create a project I would have made up anyway.

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    • bamcrafts979 says:

      What was so disappointing was that the Hillarys competition was supposed to be judged by established bloggers but either they weren’t consulted when setting and interpreting the rules, or their expertise was ignored (I prefer not to believe that they just didn’t bother).
      Also it’s a bit worrying for any designer who works for Hillarys on a professional basis if the company can’t recognise the concept of “original design”! Hillarys obviously have a problem recognising where credit is due, otherwise they wouldn’t have thrown £1000 at someone who picked up their original design for the bargain price of $15.96 (£9.48). It’s even on sale at the moment!

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  4. Bob says:

    Sour grapes….not a good look on anyone – hmmm so your design is not copied from a retro coin purse! Oh but you won’t approve this comment will you. You need to get over yourself, you did not win, deal with it you sad little woman come internet troll.

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    • bamcrafts979 says:

      Why wouldn’t I approve this comment? It only makes one of us look bad and it isn’t me, sweetheart. 🙂

      My point was that I didn’t buy my design, I drew the pattern up myself. It may not have been the best entry in the competition but at least it was all my own work.

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  5. Bob says:

    It still seems to me, the judges made their decision, sometimes we don’t get our own way and complaining about it is just, whatever way you look at it, still a little bit sour grapes and a little bit schoolyard. Personally I believe all entrants should be praised for their talent, picking apart the results and the rules just leaves a bitter taste in the mouth’s of all involved. It does not show the true spirit of the competition and will certainly prevent future competitions and their entrants occurring/entering, and did not reflect the ‘goodwill’ nature of such events. Much like you mentioned towards the winner, I bear you no personal grudge, I just find ‘nit’ picking distasteful and a sad reflection on what Internet based “commentary” has become. I appreciate your response, but still feel the commentary is not painting a good picture of the blogging community as a whole.

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    • bamcrafts979 says:

      My problem is and always has been with the way Hillarys ran the competition, and as someone who entered that competition, I have the right to comment on it on my own blog, and I make no apology for that. If any competition is going to be seen as fair the organisers need to be able to answer questions about who was eligible to enter and how the judging took place. Hillarys Blind were unable to do this. By asking the questions now the terms of any future competition will have to be clearer and therefore fairer. I stand by everything I have written in this blog entry and the comments section, but if you find it that distasteful by all means continue with the name calling that you opened this dialogue with. It does paint such a vivid picture of “Bob” the outraged yet anonymous commenter. 🙂

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      • Bob says:

        I was only passing comment and apologise for the initial name calling. Yes we are all entitled to an opinion, but much like the way ‘ name calling’ made you feel, I just wish people would be more aware of the effect ‘social media commentary’ has on others. I work with charities that have seen the results of such, we often challenge people on their views to raise awareness of this issue, to help people take that step back and see the fact their opinions are directly effecting another human being. Although we may not set out to hurt another, due to the anonymous nature of the media, it can still hurt an individual quite deeply. I apologise if my methods have offended you, this was not my goal, I only hope I have raised your awareness of this issue and maybe you and your followers will think about the consequences and or effect of ‘social commentary’ has on other human beings. We all need to remember at the end of every post is a person and only together can we change it. Take care.

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        • bamcrafts979 says:

          I am not offended in the slightest, merely amused by the hypocrisy you have displayed in this thread by so spectacularly failing to practice what you claim to preach. If I wanted to be safe from all criticism and isolated from other people’s opinions I certainly wouldn’t be a blogger! I am happy to defend anything I post, otherwise I wouldn’t post it on the internet for anyone to read and react to as they wish. Similarly, when I enter a competition I understand that my work will be judged and commented on. That’s just the nature of a competition; you have to take the good with the bad. And if you run a competition you are also open to comment and criticism, especially when the rules are unclear and open to misunderstanding. Although I applaud the good intentions behind the idea of challenging internet bullying, I think a distinction needs to be made between name calling and intimidation, and intelligent debate over differences of opinion. It is also important to cultivate the awareness that to take an active part in any online community is to open yourself up to criticism, insults and negativity, and how you deal with that will have consequences of their own. My personal rule of thumb is to never post something that I would be ashamed to say in person. I wouldn’t walk up to a stranger in the street and start hurling insults at them, so why would I do that online?

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  6. Sally says:

    I agree with you Bob!
    I think there were some great entries to this competition, but at the end of the day someone has to win. You could probably pick holes in every entry if we wanted to. If we are honest there were only a couple that hadn’t followed a pattern or a similar design. Your handbag isn’t what I would call original!! Should your entry not have been allowed? There isn’t a need to buy a pattern for your entry as it is straightforward, but it isn’t original!
    I think you are being very unfair on the winner and I know many people feel the same. I also don’t think you are portraying the blogger community very well. I am not going to get into a debate with you but wanted to show my support to Bob!

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    • bamcrafts979 says:

      My apologies Sally. I only just found this comment languishing away in my spam box. I agree that we could probably pick holes in every single entry, but it is precisely for this reason that there needs to be a clear, coherent brief backed up by a consistent judging policy. That’s not just my opinion, it’s a basic requirement for any competition as set out by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) who write and maintain the UK Advertising Codes, (which are then administered by the Advertising Standards Authority). They say that the competition organisers need to state “the criteria and mechanism for judging entries”, and the key word here is criteria. In the Hillarys competition we were told that the judges were looking for an “original design”. If the brief had been to find an original idea or purpose for the fabric then of course any popular idea (such as bags and cushions) would immediately be rejected, as however original the designs were those ideas weren’t original enough.
      I asked Hillarys what the judges were basing their decisions on, specifically whether they read the blog entries or whether they just picked from a line up of photos which project they liked best. The various brush-offs I was given were: I don’t know, does it matter, there were too many entries to expect anyone to read them all. To me this is completely unacceptable. How can the judges make a decision on the originality of an entry (either its basic idea or its design) if they don’t read the entries? There is information in the blog entries themselves that are extremely relevant to understanding what work went into producing the piece and what makes it really original.
      Please don’t misunderstand the purpose of this post. It isn’t a campaign to get the results of the competition overturned or to generate “you were robbed” statements of support for my own entry. How pointless and self-serving would that be? This post is about how a competition that was advertised as for craft bloggers and judged by craft bloggers was badly administrated, misleading and unfair; and that all the problems that prevented the competition being a genuine opportunity for everyone who entered were predictable and avoidable.
      A clearer brief that stated what the judges were looking for, backed up by rules that defined any subjective terminology, would make for a fairer competition AND answer any questions anyone had about the selection of a winner.
      It’s sad for justpastone that as the winner she is affected by the criticism of the competition she won, but everything about this competition was unfair! I’m leaving myself wide open to name calling, accusations of jealousy and harsh criticism about the quality of my craft work, not to mention the crime of giving bloggers a bad name, all for having and defending what I feel I have proved is a valid objection. Every one of us who entered this competition plugged Hillarys Blinds and their new range of fabrics on their blogs, keeping up our end of the bargain, but Hillarys never even considered taking their end seriously, and for that they should be held responsible.

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