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Pima County Fair: Celebrating diversity


By Linda Van Slyke

Photo courtesy of Pima Co. Fair

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What do John Denver, Barbara Eden, Erskine Caldwell, Bob Dole, Ray Bradbury, Edward Abbey, Barry Goldwater, Barbara Kingsolver, Frank Borman, Andrew Weil and Geraldo Rivera have in common?  According to Wikipedia, they have all hailed from the fair city of Tucson, Arizona at one time or another.

Tucson, "the second-largest populated city in Arizona," is the hub of Pima County and the home of the Pima County Fair.  The American Census Bureau included these Tucson demographics in 2010:  Mexican Americans 36.1%, Non-Hispanic Whites 47.2%, Hispanics or Latinos (any race) 41.6%, Blacks or African Americans 5.0%, Native Americans 2.7%, and Asians 2.9%.

Honoring All Segments
Within her e-mailed "2014 Pima County Fair Recap," Entertainment and Marketing Manager Launa Rabago sPhoto By Pima Co. Fairtated, "The Pima County Fair feels it's important to go with the flow, accept change, understand our own community, celebrate diversity and do our best to target all segments through the various traditional and non-traditional forms of advertising, promotions and entertainment that we now use."

Rabago further elaborated upon this approach within another recent e-mail.  She explained, "We advertise in both Spanish and in English and offer entertainment to target the Latino attendee.  Some of the other audiences we court are the faith-based communities.  We partner with one of Southern Arizona's largest Christian-format broadcasters, and produce  a faith-based night at the fair."

She continued, "On the other end of the pendulum, we took a risk and booked a band that is known for its activity in the legalization of marijuana movement, which seems to be gaining speed in our state.  We reach out to our senior population and do some alternative marketing to reach the gay, lesbian and transgender community as well." The word "family" is one you often hear concerning fair-related agendas.  Rabago, however, points out that "family" can mean many different things to many different people.  She wrote, "Families have changed.  In addition to the traditional mother-father unit, we find the single-parent unit, the step-parent unit, grandparents raising grandkids, same-sex parenting, multi-racial families, as well as parents who enjoy attending a rap concert with their kids, to name only a few."

Social Consciousness
Honoring diversity also entails giving back to the community in some very tangible ways. Rabago explained, "The Fair waived admission for two cans of food on two days of the fair, collecting a record-breaking 16,500 pounds of food.  This was then donated to the Tucson Community Food Bank - as well as to Impact of Southern Arizona, which services Vail, AZ residents."

She continued, "The Pima County Fair Literacy Program was successful in reaching kids through the Read and Ride Program, in which kids are rewarded with free ride passes for books read.  Nearly 3,000 disabled students and adults were treated to free admission, free rides, free food, and specially scheduled entertainment for the Special Needs Day promotion.  Also, nearly 400 local residents were hired to work during the Pima County Fair, helping to further stimulate our local economy."
Dollar for Dollar
Concerning the overall marketing budget, Rabago had this to say:  "We spend a quarter of a million and get about a quarter of a million people.  Dollar for dollar well spent."

All kinds of  media come into play.  Rabago explained, "Radio and TV get the biggest buy.  We don't do many posters and fliers for our event, but we distribute 200,000 official fair programs into the local convenience marts four weeks prior to the fair, plus another 100,000 in the local paper on the Sunday right before the fair. You can either get a program delivered with your paper or pick one up when you pump your gas."

Social media is a major thrust of the marketing campaign.  Rabago reported that the "social media marketing during the 11 days of the Pima County Fair reached over 500,000 followers."

This reflects a social-network marketing growth of "nearly 46% in two years."  The following social-media strategies were found to be very effective:  encouraging photos and interaction "with some really cool prizes that you could only win by being one of our followers," granting "first to know" status about concert lineups to followers, encouraging concert performers to also invite followers to the fair, and advertising "specials, contests, meet-and-greet opportunities, free tickets to people that liked, followed and shared our sites." Rabago concluded, "99% of our social networking fans were obtained organically, and only 1% were reached through paid target advertising."

Networking Galore
There is much to learn from all of these strategies.  Rabago wrote that this year's fair proudly hosted "industry leaders from across the country as the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, the Western Fair Association and Arizona Fairs Association gathered in Tucson  for an opportunity to connect, share ideas and learn from the Pima County Fair."

When asked about the specific networking that occurred during these gatherings, Rabago replied, "I believe that our fair is the first to have hosted all three organizations at once during a fair (IAFE, WFA, AFA) .  We did presentations and Q & A on our Master Plan and bond, carnival layout, permanent exhibits, recycling and compost program, social networking, entertainment strategies, maintenance program - as well as on our entries program, which is the largest in the state."

Back to the Future
In her recap, Rabago summarized this year's success:  "In spite of rain and wind during three days of the fair, Pima County Fair broke another attendance record with an increase of 2.4% over last year.  We feel that our fair is growing due to several reasons - the Pima County Fair remains affordable, promotions are kept simple, and once a promotion has proven to be successful, we try not to change it."

Nevertheless, Rabago is already penning ideas for 2015.  These include the following:  "changes to the presale program, more website improvements, finding a mobile exhibit that is socially conscious and raises awareness (i.e., bullying, domestic abuse, HIV), update my entertainment offers, and just keep an eye on entertainment trends."

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