The Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol is almost ready to roll — and not just once a year, as I'd thought.
The van hits the road up to 15 times a year, and the 60-year-old direct marketing company has more going for it than envelopes stuffed with colorful fliers for magazines and gimmicky consumer products.
PCH also has more than a dozen online games of chance, and a prize is coughed up roughly every 10 minutes, says assistant vice president Chris Irving. It even has its own search engine — PCH Search and Win — that does searches and awards prizes. Does Google offer prizes?
The privately owned PCH has given away $327 million since it introduced its sweepstakes in 1967, and 40 percent of its profits go to charity. Beneficiaries include St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the Bronx Zoo, the National Audubon Society, the Alzheimer's Association, the ASPCA, and the Susan G. Komen organization.
That’s enough, almost, to make me order the overpriced RoboTwist jar opener, microfiber bath rug, or four-piece microwave vented divided plates with lids.
During certain periods of the year, many of us will find fat envelopes from PCH urging — bordering on begging — us to buy something. They say buying something doesn’t increase your chance of winning. I believe them, because PCH has been sued a few times for misleading advertising and has cleaned up its act. Your chance of winning a big prize is remote, but not improved if you make a purchase.
“The majority of our millionaire winners did not order with their winning entry,” says Irving, with no trace of bitterness, as he talks to me over the phone from PCH headquarters in Port Washington, N.Y., about 18 miles northeast of New York City. He declined to say how many winners had placed orders.
In April, he says, almost $100,000 in prizes were awarded — $50,000 here, $20,000 there, $10,000 elsewhere — but I wanted information about the eye-popping sweepstakes, such as the current one that offers $2 million in cash, plus $10,000 a month for life, plus a new car. The winner’s name will be selected June 28 and the prize will be delivered June 30.
Contest mailings go out every week, but not to the same group of consumers. The number of letters sent out in mass mailings is “proprietary,” says Irving, but he concedes there have been millions over the years.
Do you get the letters in your mailbox? Do you go crazy finding the stickers that have to be torn off one page and pasted onto another? That’s to force you to look at every page, increasing the chance you may order Copper Fit gripper socks, or Retinol night cream, or a hanging shoe organizer, or a half-pound of Lincoln wheatback pennies (74 pennies for $13.96. How's that for a profit margin?).
This year I noticed something new concerning the Prize Patrol. The Patrol’s reputation is as good as the Mounties': They always get their man or woman.
The something new was a note asking me, should I win, to be “fully prepared to give a ‘TV-worthy’ winner reaction for the cameras.”
Someone hands you two mil and you have to be coaxed to act excited?
Irving says winners are usually excited, though sometimes speechless. Because the Prize Patrol arrives unannounced, it sometimes has caught people not looking their best when they come to the door, including a guy pulled out of the shower with a towel around his waist.
Anything worse than that? Irving won’t say.
The people in the Prize Patrol — a core group of five — have the great big cardboard check. They usually buy the roses, helium balloons, and champagne locally, and then head for the winner’s house.
If the winner’s not there, they may show up at his or her job. If the winner’s in a building with security, they wheedle their way in. Before 9/11, they actually boarded aircraft to make the delivery, with video cameras rolling. These people put stalkers to shame.
Guys: If you show up June 30 at my workplace with $2 million, I will act excited.