The theme of the Indiana State Fair - The Year of the Farmer - was appropriate to a state fair intent on both celebrating agriculture and injecting new energy into the leading annual outdoor event in the state called the Cross Roads of America.
"Our Year of the Farmer the theme went very well," said Lesley Gordon, Media & Community Outreach Manager, Indiana State Fair Commission. "We definitely pride ourselves on the importance of agriculture in our state, and the agriculture exhibits and 4-H competitions. Every year we emphasize a different food commodity, but this year we decided to place the emphasis on the farmer."
Gordon said that in keeping with the everything agriculture theme educational exhibits on farming, maize, and a Lego construction of farm equipment were featured displays. Through a survey system using interactive kiosks, "over 90 percent of fairgoers surveyed that the Year of the Farmer was a big success and like how the farmer was highlighted in our exhibits."
The Indiana State Fair featured 12,416 exhibitors representing nearly 45,000 exhibits, and recognized 24 4-H youth with monetary awards totaling nearly $100,000. "Celebrating the Year of the Farmer with Dow AgroSciences was a timely recognition for the hard working families that sacrifice to provide the food that feeds families all across this country and the world," said Gordon.
The 2015 Indiana State Fair suffered an attendance dip to 907,342, (down from 954,000 in 2014). "There were a few rainy days, and a rainy forecast that hurt attendance," said Gordon.
The year of the farmer theme also co-promoted two other features of the 2015 Indiana State Fair - the unveiling of a newly renovated Farmer's Coliseum - which hosts paid concerts for the fair - and a new emphasis on locavore fair cuisine among the food offerings. Gordon stated that while she didn't have "final revenue figures," she said that "there was great value in our free entertainment and our concessionaires not being overcrowded."
In spite of inconsistent weather, the fair had several positive signs. "We had a record breaking opening Saturday and the best $2 Tuesday in history," said Gordon. "We had four days having attendance over 70,000. We had steady crowds to enjoy all the new attractions and diverse, free entertainment. "
The fair's theme also continued a more state-wide attendance. "Our overall trend has been we are getting more people from further away," said Gordon. Through an annual third party survey, 66 percent of fairgoers came from outside the immediate metro-area of the fair.
In terms of marketing, the biggest push this year was a "new focus on social media marketing," but she added that the partnering with radio was significant. "We did quite a bit on radio, we spend 40 percent of our advertising budget on radio."
The radio partnership promoted the fact that "with many of the acts we were able set up meet and greets and other promotions that worked out very well. The Indiana State Fair has a reputation for its crew and facility and we have not found this year buying talent was much more difficult than last year."
The Farmer's Coliseum was closed last year, undergoing a $53 million comprehensive renovation. Reopening for the 2015 fair, the eponymous facility "tied really well into our theme, but people in this area love the venue and they were excited to see it open again and see performers on the improved stage," said Gordon.
The Farmer's Coliseum hosted paid concerts, which included Jake Owens and Summer Jam. In addition, the upgraded coliseum hosted A Prairie Home Companion - the host Garrison Keillor is on a farewell tour, and Indiana was one of the few fairs he played this summer. "It was one of our three paid concerts, and it was a near-sell out," said Gordon. "It was very highly attended and well received."
It also meant partnering with local NPR radio stations for additional promotions. "Local NPR stations have come to the fair, but we were able to do a lot more cross-marketing with them, with ticket giveaways and we expanded our exposure to that market," said Gordon. "The fair was featured on a couple of local talk shows, which was great exposure too."
The fair expanded its outreach to the Hispanic market. The first Sunday of the fair is always an Hispanic Music Festival, but on a Thursday they featured the comedian Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, and with both events they tied marketing and promotion with local Spanish language radio. "Our Hispanic fairgoers increase a few percent every year," said Gordon. "We are very tied into this market, and this year was the first time we hit it twice. It worked out very well and will probably repeat the two Hispanic nights next year.
The fair featured 140 food vendors and the fair implemented a clever food promotion that also reinforced the theme of the farmer-centric theme of the fair - the Indiana State Fair ‘Field to Fair' food contest - where all submissions all had to be made with locally grown or produced Indiana ingredients, "the winner was a smoked pig patty sandwich that was a twist on the traditional sausage sandwich," said Gordon.
The fair's signature food item she said was a "deep fried corn on the cob," and other popular food offerings included "deep fried Oreos, deep fried red velvet care, deep fried butter and deep fried macaroni and cheese," she said.
Regardless of the deep fried staples remaining popular with fairgoer palates, "we really didn't go overly into the deep fried foods. They're still popular, but they don't seem to be as popular as they were. We were one of the first fairs to ban all trans-fats, back in 2012, and there's speculation that our fairgoers seem to prefer healthier foods, more vendors were offering healthier options this year."
Case-in-point was the Fresh Market, which featured fresh and healthier items, mostly made with Indiana grown and produced ingredients. "It was our second year and we added a lot more vendors to the market. There was a big demand to bring it back, people loved the fresh deli and other foods. My favorite dish was a turkey sandwich."
The Year of the Farmer had a positive impact on the fair's midway which was provided by North American Midway Entertainment (NAME). "The second Saturday of the Fair was our biggest day we've ever had at the Indiana State Fair in all the years we've played there," said Amy Girton, Director of Communications & Media Relations, NAME.
The NAME Midway featured 54 rides, although according to Girton, the selection had not drastically differed from previous summers. "We brought back Pharaoh's Fury, which has not been there in several years," said Girton.
According to Girton, the most effective promotion was a web-based pre-sale program. "The promotion that continues to grow is the advance online ticketing sales, which was up again this year." Girton declined to say by what percentage revenue was up.
The 2015 Indiana State Fair emphasis on the farmer was deemed a success. "As far as the goal of the state fair commission and the board, the education programs, we reached them." said Gordon "We have a made a very sustainable fair, and we have a successful 4-H program, and we get a lot of new people into the programs this year."
She added, "were an ongoing, self-funded fair, with only about 2 percent of our budget coming from the state government. We are trending well with our visitors and our vendors."