We all talk about Public Relations and marketing like it is a mysterious force somewhere out there that, if harnessed, is the magic that delivers large happy crowds to our annual Fair. It's not that enigmatic. The truth is closer than most of us know. We spend thousands of dollars on marketing, public relations, advertising, branding and imaging to help us deliver our message with outside organizations each year. Has it occurred that we may have neglected a major source of positive public relations and marketing?
Take a long look at your office and facility and ask yourself "what am I missing here?" The item most of us tend to overlook is our most important asset; our employees and Board members. If we can train them to see the big picture and show them how important they are to helping us promote our Fair/facility, we could create a mystique that most events and festivals would envy. People respond in direct proportion to how they are treated. It's very similar to throwing a ball against a wall. The ball bounces off the wall and comes right back at you. If treated well that's the response you will get back. If you're enthusiastic it's contagious and "bounces" back to you. If, on the other hand, these assets are mistreated and overlooked as being a viable and an important aspect to the growth of your Fair you will get a negative "bounce" that becomes counterproductive to everything that your trying to accomplish with your slick marketing, advertising and public relations campaigns. If your message talks about fun, excitement and newness, or says come out to the most fantastic Fair you have ever seen and meanwhile your employees and Board members are bad mouthing each other, the Fair Manager and the Fair because of the negative environment that the office provides for their employees, volunteers and directors, your message becomes diluted and contradictive.
I've done some fun, interesting and different things to affect Public Relations. By the way, Public relations do not always mean the "Public". It can stand for any type of relationship building endeavor you may try. While at the Anderson County Fair and Nevada State Fair I initiated a media night at the fair. While Manager of the Anderson County Fair, I invited all of the media in the upstate of South Carolina to our media night, which was also our opening night. I think it's pretty obvious that we did that because of the "word of mouth" a successful media night would give us early in our ten day Fair. One thing we did that really gave this event some real impact was invite not only our media representatives and talent but also support personnel and their families from each medium invited. We did it for my last two Fairs in Anderson and repeated it here at the Nevada State Fair in 2008. In Anderson, the turnout was good about 150 to 200 people. Everyone that came was given free admission to the Fair an unlimited Ride Band and we fed them dinner (meal was traded out with caterer). At the 2008 Nevada State Fair in Reno the event was a huge success. It was held on our opening night which was a Sponsored free admission night. We had over 415 RSVPs and I figured about half would show up. After all that was the about we had experienced in Anderson. I was totally wrong because just about EVERY person who responded showed up at the festivities! The upshot of this Public Relations/marketing promotion is the long term impact it had on all of the media. They are still talking about how much fun the night was and how the Nevada State Fair was the only event in Reno that invited support personnel to a special night just for them.
Another thing that is not expensive but creates a lot of word of mouth and Public Relations good will is the Fair mascot and sidekick character walk a rounds. We own two costumes and have a local family with a couple of boys that love to put the costumes on and go out and represent the Fair. I team them with radio stations that are doing remotes and other promotions around town and I try to locate other events that will allow me to have my Fair mascots appear at their event. The mascot (Nevada a very large character of a cowboy) and his side kick (a large pink pig) go to these events with tickets and other give a ways. The event and/or the radio station love it because the walk a round characters add ambience and fun to the event as well as some free give a ways. It's great for the Fair because it's a good chance to promote the Fair and create some great Public Relations at the same time.
The FREE breakfast give a way promoted by Denny's was a terrific Marketing AND Public Relations move. The timing was right, the promotion was right and Denny's received more media attention with this promotion than they would have been able to afford.
Another Public Relations/Marketing concept is something that most of us do consistently and that is becoming involved with community causes from the Boy/Girl Scouts, Big Brother/Big Sister, local church groups, Orphanages, Police athletic leagues, Little League Baseball, Local schools and Universities. As most of you realize, the more involved these different groups become in your Fair/festival or event the more attendees you will deliver through the gates. If you're helping these different groups reach their goals, you will attain yours.
There is a very successful 35 year old Advertising Agency here in Reno, Minor Advertising that is owned and run by Jim Minor. He has been involved with the Nevada State Fair for years and handles other small, medium and large events every year. I asked him to comment, from his perspective and experience, on Marketing and Public Relations as it relates to the Fair, Festival and Event Industry. I thought getting some insight from a different perspective would help all of us grasp a better understanding of the subject matter. Here are his thoughts:
"The Branding of a Fair starts with Mom, Apple Pie and The American Way. After all, a fair is the basis of all good things that happen in America. It takes us back to our roots of working hard and enjoying what this great country is all about. A carnival of good times with friends and family.... a ride on the ferris wheel, the gleam in a child's eye after raising a small animal for a 4H project.... throwing the ping pong ball into a gold fish bowl, sticky cotton candy and impressing your favorite gal with a ring toss around the milk bottle... A fair is something you should never forget... And if branded properly... that will happen.
Listed below is a simple recommended outline of what steps should be taken to BRAND AND MARKET a Fair.
First the board, body or management of a Fair should decide what its goals are. This can be accomplished through a Creative Brief. These answers can be brief, but it is important for the Fair Board to be on the same pageas towhat their goals are! The Fair must answer these questions:
- What is the assignment (What are we advertising?)
- What is the objective?
- Who is our audience?
- Why would this audience come to the Fair?
- What will the consumer believe about the Fair?
- What are our assets?
- How do we compare to our competition? (other events)
- Where will we market our Fair?
- Tone of Message? (Factual, Serious, Humorous)
THE BRANDING AND ADVERTISING PLATFORM
Once the above questions are answered by the Fair Board, a creative plan to brand the Fair can be designed by your Advertising Agency. It is the agency's job to take the objectives and budget of the State Fair and best utilize the ideas and dollars available. The agency's job is to build a brand that has legs and a personality. This personality must come through in every piece of advertising and collateral that the Fair puts out. A Brand must be multi-dimensional and should encompass a series of ideas, highlighting a variety of promotional activities at the Fair. Your brand is made up of the Fair's philosophy, a tone of voice, an overall feel and approach to your audience. These attributes can be depicted visually, some with audio and music.Now a campaign is presented and approved and then targeted through one or more mediums. Specific audiences can be targeted through email, web, direct mail and event marketing. Then a mass media plan is executed through television, print and/or radio, again depending on
the size of the budget. Your creative should start with a big idea or theme and make sure it is easy and clear to understand. The consumer must "get it" immediately. Then you can move into details through events and shared sponsorship marketing. Your ad agency will present an approved budget and creative campaign and then execute accordingly.
There are two elements to successfully marketing a fair: ADVERTISING & PUBLIC RELATIONS.
We have addressed the advertising portion of the plan, and now we must execute a Public Relations plan.
Public Relations covers a wide variety ofduties. The most basic of any PR plan is a standard press release that will be available to all media. A well-written press release includes the basic facts of the Fair and isreleased at specific times before and during the event. Listed below are several PR tactics thatcan be executed:
Continuous contact with the local media through press releases and invitations to broadcast live from the Fair are imperative. A Fair is a FUN place to be (and broadcast from) and the goal should be to have a different media outlet covering each night.
This is an invitation to the media the night before the actual Fair begins. Seek out a sponsor for media night and invite the media and their support staff to a BBQ and complimentary carnival rides. This invitation should be extended to sales, news and production reps and their families. If you can expose the media to a great experience, they will certainly convey the message to the general consumer in a positive light. What better way to get your message out.
Before making your media buys, your ad agency and management should have commitments from television, radio and print outlets to set up onstation visits and interviews. This is an opportunity to get free exposure in news segments in broadcast and interviews in print.
Along with cash media buys, the Fair can offer ticket trades for media time and space. This is with the understanding that tickets are given away on-air to listeners.
PARTNER SPONSORSHIP MEDIA EXPOSURE
All State Fairs will develop partner sponsorships with community businesses.
As part of the sponsorship, those partners also advertise in the mass media. They will often times TAG their own advertised message with a mention of the State Fair. This is often times at no extra cost to them, as they may already be advertising their product. It can simply come in the form of a 5 second tag in a radio or television spot or a mention in a weekly print ad.
In the month leading up to the Fair, representatives of the Fair should go out into the community and attend other events. Take your mascot to local businesses for weekend appearances. Malls, car sales, grocery stores, Farmers Markets, garden shops.
Public relations is just that... HOW THE PUBLICITY OF THE FAIR RELATES TO THE CONSUMER.
The Fair staff and sponsors should work "the Fair" into each conversation and activity in their everyday life. Beginning with the way the telephone is answered: "Good afternoon, Johnson Chevrolet, Home of the Alaska State Fair Mutton Busting... Good Afternoon, Minor Realty, home of Minor Realty Destruction Derby..." Local merchants (employees) could wear t-Shirts during the fair with specific logos. The mascot could attend other community fund raisers, charity runs, Boys and Girls Club functions, etc. Make life fun again. Back to our roots at a time when America needs Mom and a good 'ol fashioned piece of Apple Pie... An Affair to Remember... always remember, you are creating great life time memories for your guests.
Public Relations and Marketing are broad subjects that have been the basis for many books. The excitement and constant discovery within these two elements make for a terrific experience for not only us as promoters but ultimately our guests, media and perception regarding our event.
John Owens is currently the General Manager of the Nevada State Fair in Reno, Nevada. He was the Fair Manager of the Anderson County Fair & Expo Center where he increased gate attendance 52%, gate receipts 58%, ride gross 42%, the Fair P&L was up 117% and sponsorship participation by 2600%. In 2006 his Facility rentals have increased 110% over the 2005 season.
He received his CFE (Certified Fair Executive Certification) in 2006. He was elected to the Board of Directors for the South Carolina Association of Fairs and the South Carolina Events & Festival Association. Currently John is President of Sertoma and a member of Rotary. He also ran for Anderson County Council.
His book is available at Amazon or on his web site at www.johnwowens.com. His articles have been published in "Cable News", Fairs & Expos and many other trade publications.
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