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Elkhart County 4-H Fair: Win-win all the way

8/28/2013

By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of Elkhart 4H Fair

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In speaking with Kristy Ambrosen, Marketing Coordinator of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair and Fairgrounds, one thing became readily apparent:  This is a group that specializes in creating win-win situations.

The fair's advertising approach very much reflects this win-win philosophy.  Rather than simply paying media companies for services rendered, the fair leaders came up with an exchange system.  Since the Elkhart County 4-H Fair is "one of the largest 4-H county fairs in the nation, attracting more than 250,000 over the nine-day event" - media companies love the idea of getting their names circulating throughout the fairgrounds via booth space, public announcements, grounds presentations, on-stage presentations, and the like.

Therefore, in 2013 alone, a grand total of $350,000 worth of promotional value was Photo By Elkhart 4H Fairexchanged. This marketing endeavor begins in early March of each year and finalizes in early April (with the fair itself being held in July).  Although Ambrosen explained that there is more work involved with promotional exchanges than with traditional paid advertising, she also emphasized that these exchanges have been "much more effective - with less actual cost to the fair."

In addition to these advertising initiatives, the Elkhart County group "solicits a social media team of volunteers that monitors and conducts Facebook activities prior to, during, and immediately following the nine-day fair."  Ambrosen stated that these volunteers are "well trained and very
qualified to be in this position, and they monitor Facebook constantly throughout that month-long period."  She added, "We have over 15,000 Facebook fans; it's the most effective manner of getting information directly to the people who are interested in knowing it."

Another promotional win-win is the Elkhart County Fair's participation in the International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) Food Drive.  The IAFE website explains that member fairs are being asked to "Dream Big in 2013" by hosting these food drives for their own communities.  This not only helps to feed the hungry, but also forges connections between the communities and the fairs.

Ambrosen also reported that the value received for Elkhart's $8 gate-admission fee ($6 if purchased in advance - free for kids under 10 and for 4-H families) is another all-around win.

Elkhart 4h FairIt not only includes free parking, but also a choice of free grandstand admission (preferred grandstand seating is extra) for top entertainment.  Vince Gill was one of 2013's headliners.  Creedence Clearwater Revisited was another. 

Of course, there was also plenty happening at the carnival provided by North American Midway Entertainment.  The Spectacular Rides included a Crazy Mouse Spinning Rollercoaster with "hairpin turns, lots of spins and big drops" and the Vertigo "that swings riders high above the midway."  Kiddieland Rides included Bumper Boats and a Venetian Swing.

Elkhart County's win-wins don't just stop when the fair is over.  Just as it takes a community to host a fair, it also takes a city and county to insure that people get there.  When you're talking a total of 280,175 people (this year's attendance - Elkhart County's "third best attended fair on record"), the incoming and outgoing traffic can be intense.

Ambrosen reported that action is already being taken to alleviate bottlenecks that were occurring on "the two-lane county road that services all gates to the fairgrounds."  The county very much wants to work on this, but has "budget constraints" concerning the many projects ("lanes, stop
lights, intersections, etc.") that would need to be done in order to ease traffic along.

The city is also pitching in quite a bit.  In exchange for some fairgrounds property, it will be providing "a large walkway and bike path from the middle of Goshen to the fair."  Ambrosen further explained, "That's beginning real soon - they're already starting to dig things up and make the utility changes that are needed to get this going."

She added, "The city has also committed to a portion of our road becoming three-lane.  They're going to add a flexible turn lane that can accommodate either incoming or outgoing traffic, depending upon the time of day."

Both city and county well recognize the win-win value of these efforts.  Ambrosen reports that the Elkhart County Fairgrounds are "in operation twelve months of the year.  Basically the month of July is dedicated to the fair, but during the other 11 months of the year we operate as a regional activity center."

She then shared a very moving account of what the fairgrounds have meant to this region during the recent economic downturn.   Ambrosen explained that Elkhart County, Indiana had been hit real hard, so hard that it was the talk of the nation for a while.  President Obama had even visited there because it was "such a depressed area" at the time. 

She continued, "During 2009, MSNBC set up shop at the Elkhart County Fair and did a nine-day coverage..."  CNN, John Stewart, CNBC and other major media also reported on the economic challenges of the area.  Nevertheless, the fairgrounds managed to be a "bright spot" throughout it all.

Ambrosen added, "We were booked solid with RV camping events throughout those entire seasons.  RVers wanted to come back to our area because the majority of their RVs were manufactured right here in Elkhart County.  They wanted to tour the factories and learn more about how the RVs were produced, and how they can be well maintained."

She continued, "When RVers convene at our fairgrounds - as they continue to do every year - they support our restaurants, our gas stations, our retail stores, our community organizations, and our tourism spots."  This helps the city and county tremendously.

"What goes around, comes around" therefore applies to things greater than even the midway Ferris Wheel (which is pretty impressive in and of itself).  When you give at least as much as you get, big dreams have a way of coming true for all involved.  The Elkhart County 4-H Fair not only dreams big, but also succeeds big.  Sounds like 2014 - with its improved traffic flow - could be the best year yet.

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