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Will Your Event Survive?

Updated on September 21, 2012
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Upgrading your Fair, Festival or Event

How do we increase attendance? How do we attract more sponsors? In some cases, how do we attract any sponsors? In a lot of cases I hear statements like “ we’re a small fair” or “that works for you, but we could never get that to work at our fair” or “that would be too expensive for us” or “we just have volunteers to put our fair together.” Whether you are a large or small fair, the real answer to overcoming attendance and sponsorship challenges is in the way you perceive and define your fair.

The fair genesis was an agriculturally based annual harvest and social event. The local farmers and ranchers celebrated the end of another season. It was an event that included quilt making, sewing, canning, baked goods and livestock shows, and auctions. In those earliest days, before automobiles, video games, television, concerts, theme parks, and movie theaters, these “annual harvest events” were one of the main entertainment events of the year. Horse – drawn carriages, wagons and horseback brought the community together for a social diversion that later became a fair.

The modern day fair, although steeped in America’s traditional agricultural tapestry, has evolved into just another entertainment event that struggles for a market shore of its community’s interest, attention and money. It has become a business-an entertainment business.

Webster’s Dictionary defines entertaining as “to entertain: a) To show hospitality b) Entertaining, providing entertainment.” A look at the definition of entertainment says “the act of entertaining, something diverting or engaging as a public performance.

What does this have to do with attracting more people to our fair? The answer is found as soon as we change our traditional perception and definition of what a fair is today.

What worked for the big bands in the forties won’t work today. It would be too lackluster to attract large audiences. It wouldn’t have enough “production” lights, sound systems, choreography and costuming. When was the last time you went to a night - club and watched a “live” band? I’ll guarantee you left the club telling yourself that the experience wasn’t like you remembered from your younger days. That’s because of your exposure to MTV, VHI, television and live concerts loaded with production and sound reinforcement that we never experienced while in our “club” days. The same thing holds true for the fair industry. We have to redesign and redefine the fair to attract a larger audience and more sponsors.

We have an obligation to our ancestors and future generations to keep the traditions like the agricultural aspect, but to add the new elements that make the fair experience exciting, compelling and customer friendly. As you step back and look at your fair as an entertainment event, you will begin to see new possibilities. If you add the “new” while still getting your attendees to experience the agriculture that is so important to every fair, you are really developing a continuing heritage that is the American Fair.

By definition a fair is a host to attendees for the purpose of diverting and engaging them. This means that we have to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Look at MTV, concerts, major TV sports events and watch how they are produced. They are fast paced and loaded with excitement, moving lights, pyrotechnics, and “eye candy.

“Eye candy” can be anything from flags blowing in the breeze, colorful signage, flashing lights, grounds acts, picket fences, awnings on vendor booths, new paving, or even some kind of fair uniform. It’s anything that assaults the senses as you enter and stroll through the fair. Some of the better midways have already moved in this direction. They realized a long time ago the lure of loud music, chase lights, flashing lights, colors, flags flapping in the wind and the necessity of dressing their employees and upgrading the look of their midway. They have become more user friendly for the fair attendee. They’ve added impressively lit midway entrances that are bigger than life. If you’ve ever attend the IAFE convention in Las Vegas, you have already experienced what Las Vegas has known for years, the value of “eye candy.” Walk into any casino and listen to the myriad of bells, sirens and whistles resounding throughout the room. Look at the chasing, blinking, flashing lights that permeate the room. It’s a complete assault on your senses. That’s entertainment! It’s designed to help you leave your reality and move into theirs.

Sponsors love events that sizzle because those events tend to attract a large number of people. If your fair adds sizzle to the grounds, the event, advertising and marketing elements, the business community will find it a more attractive sponsorship venue than it may be today.

Some of the possible ways to add “spice” to a fair may be:

¬ A new “techno” attraction like an interactive video game exhibit featuring Play Stations and Xboxes where attendees play the latest video games free. (Could this be a sponsorship opportunity?)

¬ The use of parking lot flags sponsored in sections or totally.

¬ A tie-in with a trailer manufacturer whereby the manufacturer donates the use of one of their trailers for one full year to the winner of “Grand Champion Steer”?

¬ Sponsorship of a new outdoor stage doing an “American Idol” type competition for the length of the fair. (Sponsorship opportunity would be preliminaries and applications located at a local retailer or auto dealer)

¬ Try adding plants, flowers and more flags inside your fairgrounds

¬ A sponsored veteran’s walkway honoring veterans from all of the past conflicts. (Get the flags lining the walkway or the paved walkway sponsored)

Ad sizzle, add sizzle, add sizzle. Remember, your fair is competing with every other area event. The more interactive grounds acts you can afford, the better off you are. There are two ways to increase attendance. Bring in a huge number of new people and/or begin to develop your fair to the point that your core attendee is coming back multiple times. If you do both and are able to keep your traditional elements like agriculture, your fair will grow and prosper will beyond your wildest imagination. People want to be entertained! They want to escape into a world of fantasy, if only for a short period. This is the 21st Century fair.


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