Some people say less is more, but sometimes more is more. Turns out the latter was the case for the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair and Exposition, which extended this late winter/early spring fair three extra days.
The fair had a 7.7 percent increase over 2014 attendance figures, reaching 653,281, the highest attendance in 10 years, according to fair organizers. One reason for the increase in turnout was the schedule coincided with a spring break period for the regional school system as well as days off during the Easter holiday break. Fair organizers estimate the fair generated $11 million in Youth Fair Revenue and $1 million in Fair Expo Revenue.
"The entire Youth Fair team is absolutely thrilled with our 2015 successes and sincerely thank everyone for making this year's event our largest in 10 years", said Bob Hohenstein, President and CEO. "The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair is the largest fair in the state of Florida, the 30th largest fair in North America and, indeed, is larger than 36 of the United States' state fairs. We could not achieve what we are able to without the wonderful support of the people of Miami-Dade County."
The event ran March 17 through April 5 - with four days off during its 21-day run - and the weather was classic Miami, warm and sunny with only a day or two of rain and even then - "we had rain but it did not rain the entire day," said Claudia Hernandez-Maltes, Director of Marketing & Sales, Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc.
How well Mother Nature cooperates is undeniably a major factor determining the degree of success of any fair. But this year, the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition made two significant changes to its marketing and advertising that had positive results almost as effective as clear skies.
Hernandez declined to give the exact marketing budget, saying that it only increased slightly from last year. The media allocation was approximately 10 percent buses and outdoor; 36 percent television 23.5 percent radio, print 5 percent, internet/online radio 3.7 percent with the remainder - about 25 percent - going towards production.
Hernandez shifted marketing spending and approach in what seems subtle but as it turned out, significant ways. Last year, the fair advertised in the shelters, stops and stations for the Miami-Dade Transit Buses; this year the fair expanded to the buses themselves, and instead of just one set of adverts, there were two. "We had one, The Fair is Coming, leading up to opening day and then after the fair opened, we changed that to The Fair is Back. People throughout the area were seeing those ads two to three times a day, and changing the ad made it more noticeable."
Another new addition were commercials on radio streaming service Pandora. "It is relatively inexpensive, and more kids are listening to music online," she said.
The fair kicked off the advertising more than a month earlier this year. According to Hernandez, the fair generally begins marketing the fair in January, but this year, ads and other marketing were released in early December. "We released them before the (Christmas) holidays, took a brief hiatus for the holidays and then come back strong right after New Years," said Hernandez.
But even before the Creating Memories (the 2015 marketing theme/tagline of the Miami-Dade County Youth) appeared in the real world, the virtual world was proliferating fair publicity months earlier. "We began running social media promotions on Halloween, and had a tie in with Thanksgiving," she said.
The most effective social media promotions were contests, with prizes being free admission and/or armbands for specific fair days. "Now-a-days it's a must to start creating excitement as early as possible," she said.
The fair gained more than 47,000 Facebook likes, 1,4000 Twitter followers and 1,000 Instagram followers "We doubled the number of people who follow us on Instagram from last year," she added. "In 2015, we have cross promoted our social media channels. We have tried to give that 'personal touch' by answering almost every question and tagging the person as well. We wanted our followers to realize that we were answering their particular question and hope for them to have noticed that it was not a general reply for a particular post."
The online presence also helped pre-fair ticket sales. "People, especially young people, like to buy everything online. The social media promotions hardly cost us anything, but they do increase our sales."
In addition, the fair altered the social media to a year-round online marketing platform for not just the fair, but the fairgrounds which include Arnold Hall; Edwards Hall, 49,000-square foot Darwin Fuchs Pavilion and, the FairExpo Center. These facilities host dozens of events year-round, and the social media is used to cross market the fair and these other invents. The fair had another impetus to publicize themselves early and often in 2015. In local news, the adjacent Florida International University wants to purchase the property, which has caused a bit of a local squabble with county officials. The fair is actually a tenant of the county, according to Hernandez, its position is secure, and the annexation of the grounds by the university has been indefinitely postponed "but the controversy caused some confusion so we wanted to make sure everybody knows that the fair is here, and will be here to celebrate our 65th anniversary." (The fair turns 65 in 2016.)
The extra days and new marketing strategies boosted the 2015 midway. "We had a good run at the Miami-Dade Youth Fair," said Tony Diaz, General Manager, North American Midway Entertainment (NAME).
The NAME midway featured 99 rides and revenue was up 5 percent. "The weather was good, and adding the extra days meant we had a an extra weekend. It worked very well, and the ability to play a longer engagement means you can better rotate the staff."
He added, "we played Easter, which was a very good day for us. This fair is a big event, it's an urban fair, it is a great food fair, and the concerts really drew the people out."
NAME continued the extension of unlimited ride armbands on the weekends for the second year. "Give the people what they want," said Diaz. "It is a true value, and the serious riders want the armbands. We are seeing this at more fairs."
New rides for NAME at the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition included a Screamer and Monster Truck and the most popular rides according to Diaz were NAME stalwarts Crazy Mouse and Fire Ball. A few years ago, a layout change enabled the addition of a second Kiddie Land section of family and children rides. "There is a trend towards more family rides, rides where the whole family can go on together. We are including more family rides this year on our routes."
The lower fuel costs this year has had a positive impact on the Midway, although for now more on the consumer confidence side than as a factor significantly reducing overhead. "The cheaper fuel helps, but let's see where the price settles at," said Diaz. "It is putting more money in people's pocket, and they can see at the end of paying their weekly bills they are putting less money to gasoline. The economy is a littler better. They are more willing to spend money, have a little more money to spend and are coming to the fair."
The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair takes an economical approach to entertainment for its 21-day run. Nationally known acts are featured only on weekends at the fair's main stage, and were chosen to target specific genres. Five concerts were held: Rodney Atkins (Country); Shannon, Judy Torres, Nice and Wild, Johnny O (Freestyle); Kool and the Gang (Disco); Brandon Heath & Danny Gokey (Christian); and Oscar D' Leon & Gente de Zona (Latin).
Hernandez considers this year's concert series a success and the acts were "very popular," and while she wouldn't quite categorize the talent buying market as more of a sellers market compared to previous years, "we start earlier and earlier to confirm dates. Ideally, you want all the contracts signed by late December so we can start with the promotions. There is more back and forth with the artists before a date is finalized, they want more things in writing before they commit. The booking process is much longer for the acts to sign and commit than ever before."
On weekdays when no major concerts are held, the main stage is used by other entertainers, which included StreetbreakZ and Bruce Sarafian - The World's Record Juggler. Using strolling entertainers creates flexibility, "we put them on the stage and that creates excitement. During our concert days, they are still here as strolling entertainers."
New Fair Foods
The fair featured 170 food vendors. The fair always promotes new gastronomic creations, which often are the premier for new fair cuisine that will appear throughout the season. The most noteworthy and popular mouthwatering examples of the 2015 fair food included: The Funnel Cake Burger - a 1/2-lb. hamburger with toppings and trimmings served between two funnel cakes, Funnel Cake Weenie, described as "signature western sausage dipped in funnel cake batter...drizzled with powdered sugar and...maple syrup, Deep Fried Avocado, Miami Madness - homemade Lime homemade ice cream with pie crust pieces in a parfait glass, topped with lime zest (Miami is known for everything and anything lime) and Sticky Pig on a Stick , Two Krispy Kreme donuts stuffed with soft strawberry custard dipped in rich chocolate fudge and rolled in Applewood smoked candied bacon.
"For generations our guests have come to expect 'you can't find it anywhere else' food at The Youth Fair," said Hohenstein . "This year our food concessionaires have truly taken our new foods to a completely new level. I always tell our guests to leave their diet books at home for a day and have fun, sit back, relax and enjoy the most unique and mouth-watering food that can be found anywhere in South Florida."