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Hispanic Fairgoers: Fairs Keep Up With Evolving Market

8/21/2015

By Timothy Herrick

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U.S. fairs have courted the Hispanic market for more than 20 years. But with the last few years, how many fairs approach the Latin fairgoer has gone from mere dating to a serious, committed relationship. The U.S. Hispanic population is growing in size and spending power and  most fair organizes know for both the present and future health of their event, they have to evolve their marketing strategies, content and even operations to better maximize the potential of Latin fairgoers. 

The reality is that marketing to the Hispanic fairgoer in the 21st century requires better understanding of what has become a vibrant and changing consumer demographic. Claudia Hernandez-Maltes, Director of Marketing & Sales, Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc. who is of Nicaraguan descent and grew up in the Miami, remembers seeing Menudo at the fair when she was a teenager. "Back then there was only one TV station and one or two radio stations," she said. Now you have so many options to reach this market, from more traditional forms like TV, print and radio to social media outlets and reaching people on their mobile phones."

Economic Empowerment
According to a recent study, "The U.S. Hispanic Economy in Transition" from the  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15 percent of the U.S. labor force, is now Hispanic  and is projected to reach 20 percent by 2020. The study also found that Hispanic employment grew 16 percent since 2000 (overall U.S. employment has barely grown 2 percent). In addition, Hispanic purchasing power increased 45 percent in the last five years, and has reached $1.38 trillion. 

Clearly, fairs need to accommodate this growing, lucrative demographic, but Marla J. Calico, CFE, Chief Operating Officer, International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE), cautions that "Hispanic" covers a wide demographic," she said. "In my experience it is absolutely critical that the fair understand their particular demographic in order to have success in their marketing and programing."

Calico's experience with Latin fairgoers goes back a quarter century, when as Assistant Manager of the Ozark Empire Fair, "our entire fair was themed "Fairesta" in 1993 or 1994, with dedicated advertising to the Hispanic market in Southwest Missouri and focused content," she said. "I recall it being discussed as part of program at the 2002 IAFE Management Conference, but I'm sure it was "on the radar" long before that." 

Notably, Fairesta was a theme for the fair, but its impact has lasted longer than just a single summer. "Our fair "theme" changed every year and so we did not repeat the "Fairesta" theme" said Calico. "We did, however, always allocate some part of our budget - albeit small - to marketing to Hispanics. That was split between poster ads and some radio ads. I worked with a local Hispanic cultural group for advice on how to best reach the market segment."   

Educational Process
Dwayne Ulloa of AKA Productions presents, produces and promotes Latin music, specifically  Mexican Regional music, a genre with a loyal followings particularly among Mexican Americans and immigrants. His clients include fairs, as well as other venues. A live music industry veteran, he's been devoted to the Latin side of the music business since the early 90s, when he first saw a real need for more content at the fairs.  His first booking was at the Los Angeles County Fair, which at the time was starting to do some bilingual advertising but had no Hispanic entertainment. "The fair knew the market is growing and they were getting people of Mexican descent going to the fair, but didn't know how to cater to that market," he said.

By the same token, the Spanish-language music acts had little experience in English speaking venues. "They only had contracts in Spanish, and didn't really understand the riders that were in the contracts outside of their circuit. There are a lot of specialty clauses that fairs put in that the Spanish venues did not, and they had to understand them. There was an education process on both sides." 

At first, AKA Productions was mainly a west coast company, and during the early 00's the company presented Spanish-language entertainment in different venues, but returned to the fair business a few years later. The difference was like night and day, said Ulloa. "Personally, I think fairs have caught up with this market. The Hispanic population has grown across the country. We're not having to sell people on the idea. We are getting calls from large and small fairs, and you see in states in the Midwest, from Georgia to Iowa, looking at ways they can cater to the Latin market." 

The increased awareness of this market reached a milestone in 2014 when according to Calico, the Hispanic Market, "was a primary focus at our 2014 Management Conference," which attracted approximately 120 attendees, all upper-management level staff fair of the fair industry. The conference featured seminars on attracting more Latin fairgoers to the annual event, indicating that the fair industry is recognizing this fairgoer constituency. 

Market Spreads
Optimizing the Latin fairgoer population is now happening in what may seem at some unlikely state fairs as organizers respond to social forces of regional population growth. In the early years of the 21st century, the North Carolina State Fair began marketing directly to the Hispanic market with Spanish language advertisements, but by 2013 the fair "really began in earnest with programming specific to the Hispanic audience," said Wesley V. Wyatt, Manager. North Carolina State Fair. "We began with marketing, after that the content came as we saw an increase in the Hispanic population of both North Carolina and our fair."

The North Carolina State Fair now includes Latin bands on our outdoor free stages, and this year we will have our first Latin artist in our Homegrown North Carolina Concert Series in Dorton Arena."

In addition to entertainment content, North Carolina State fairgoers have made it a priority to make Latin Fairgoers feel welcomed. Fair signage, including handwashing signs, ticket booth signs and all carnival signs, are in both English and Spanish. Wyatt added, "we will specifically produce information in both English and Spanish on avian influenza this year.  We do employ bilingual security staff, EMS, Red Cross and public address announcers and information booth attendees."

The Mundo Latino (Latin World) Exhibit, housed in the Women's Museum at Fairpark, has been a part and parcel of the State Fair of Texas for about 20 years, said Karissa Condoianis, Director of Public Relations. This features a special exhibit celebrating Mexican culture - this year, the exhibit is "Guitars of Mexico," but in more recent years, the exhibit has been augmented by a growing vendor contingent, selling items such as silver jewelry, clothing and dishware from Latin nations. In addition, there are now Hispanic categories for competitions in cooking and the creative that are also part of the annual fair. This year, the State Fair of Texas's  social media presence is completely bilingual and a fairground map will be available in both Spanish and English versions.  

"It is important to highlight the range of Hispanics in our area, and the different countries," said Condoianis. "Our fair celebrates all things Texan, and our Hispanic community has been part of our state since its founding. We also think it is important to educate people who come to the fair about our diverse communities." 

Ideal Fairgoer
While there is a lack of specific marketing information, anecdotally fair organizers believe Hispanics are ideal fairgoers, valuing the family experience fairs offer. "We're the largest fair in South Florida, and we have become a tradition, people have come here first as teenagers and now they are coming as families," Hernandez-Maltes said. "We are seeing second, third and fourth generation of families coming to the fair, the parents and even grandparents first came as teenager."

Hernandez-Maltes added that while featuring Latin music and ethnic food certainly attracts more fairgoers, the fair itself is what people come for.  "It is definitely a family day for Hispanic fairgoers, they come for the food, the rides, the opportunity for the family to be together," she said. "Hispanics are natural fair customers." 

Sunday is often the "Hispanic Day" for fairs and in most Latin cultures, Sunday is considered family day. They go to church and spend the rest of the day together, and what better way to spend a nice afternoon with family than at the fair? "Hispanics bring the whole family, the tradition of going to a fair is part of the family experience," said Condoianis. "Fairs mirror similar events in their native countries."  

"Two or three generations of the family go to the fair together," said Ulloa.  He adds that the Latin fairgoer is "a cash heavy market. They buy their tickets on the day of the fair and they are not afraid to spend money at the fair." 

In-house Hispanic Marketing
Fairs with a robust Hispanic fairgoer following are not willing to rest on their laurels and take this demographic for granted.   According to Condoianis, the State Fair of Texas intensified its focus on the Hispanic market when  Mitchel Glieber was officially named the new president of the Texas State Fair  two years ago. Instead of outsourcing the outreach and connection with this demographic, they augmented their efforts with the hiring of a new Media Relations Coordinator, Jessica Arvelo, whose focus is exclusively with marketing and promoting to the Hispanic Market.  

"We communicate with that audience with Spanish language marketing, and it's important for them hearing from somebody on the fair staff, there is a huge asset to that," said Condoianis. "From our research, we also know that the Hispanics are not sitting in front of their computer, they are active on social media on their mobile phones."

North Carolina State Fair has also bolstered staff so they can keep Hispanic marketing in-house. According to Wyatt, the North Carolina State Fair includes Hispanic staff members and when marketing and promotional strategies are being developed "we brainstorm band ideas and promotions that would appeal to a Hispanic audience."

In addition, the has been involved with local initiatives, including "Hola NC," a local showcase for Spanish-language entertainment options - Hola NC is also has a segment at the North Carolina State Fair. The fair also promotes itself at Hispanic events. "We have had particular luck with promotions at other Hispanic festivals in the area. We go out to these festivals and do some giveaways to build awareness for not only the Fair, but for the specific Spanish-language offerings we have."

The Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition has conducted market research that has helped make targeting this market more effective. English language ads may have more appeal to younger Hispanics, but Spanish is generally spoken in the home. To get more families at the fair, Hernandez-Maltes recommends that most fair marketing target the mother.  "The decision maker for how the family spends their entertainment dollar is going to be mom, so you need the ads to be bilingual, because at the end of the day, it is the mom who will want to come to the fair," she said.

Segmentation & Diversification
The most significant change on the Hispanic horizon is that market is that as it grows, it becomes   segmented by nation of origin.  Latin covers a range of countries, from Puerto Rico, a territory of the U.S., to other Caribbean nations like Cuba and the Dominican Republic, to central and South American nations. Texas and California - former territories of Mexico with large Mexican populations dating back centuries - to other areas such as south Florida, where Cubans  dominated while in much of the Northeast, Puerto Ricans were often the majority. But the influx of immigrants, and families moving to different regions has meant that not only are there more significant pockets of Latin fairgoers in most states, but that the tradition Hispanic populations are no longer mono-cultural. Fairs with existing Latin followings are still trying to discover the most effective way to respond to the increase in diversity within this demographic. 

When it comes to entertainment, Ulloa believes there is "really little cross over in the music. I have told fairs that they would better with another act for their Hispanic night if the market is not predominantly Mexican. There are acts like Marc Anthony and Pit Bull that have cross-over appeal, but the market is still very fragmented." 

But to counter this segmentation, Ulloa recommends to the talent he represents, which are mainly Mexican bands, to tour and build audiences in countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador.  "If the group is getting air play in those home countries, they'll attract immigrant fans here," he said. "The more astute fairs are putting on acts from the other countries on smaller stages or as roving entertainment, they are starting to cater to the different groups within the Hispanic population."

The State Fair of Texas is also doing more market research to further identify segments and trends within the changing Hispanic demographic. "We're still a paper ticket system, but as we go to more scanned tickets, we will be able to better track trends among fair goers. We are doing more overall market research. We are looking to better understand all the demographics of who is going to the fair. 

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