The Maryland State Fair wanted to increase its appeal to younger audiences in 2015. The marketing team developed a tagline - My Maryland State Fair - a theme reflecting the ownership and personalized attitude that proliferate among Generations X and Y, accompanying a makeover of its advertising strategy and internal change of leadership.
According to D. Andrew "Andy" Cashman, General Manger, "we wanted a new look to our advertising, a more modern look, and we used it though our entire campaign. We wanted something that was very different and fresher, and we wanted to get more 18-to-40 year olds."
The fair's advertising budget remained relatively unchanged and except for a higher use of social media, only a few "different purchases" were made. Mainly, the makeover was inten
ded to be a "uniform, cohesive ad campaign across all media outlets," he said.
The ownership theme was carried throughout the fair - such as promoting its expanded equestrian offers with new My twists-'My Maryland Horse Land' and 'My Maryland Horse Festival.'
"We've always had great horse racing so adding the new horse festival came pretty natural to us," he said. We had a great opportunity to educate the public about horses, we had booths and we offered the whole spectrum, polo games, miniature horse pulls, free carriage rides, mule races and a mechanical horse. We always have thoroughbred horses racing, and it's just one of those things we are known for and are building on."
Another effective promotion was the Baltimore Ravens Village (the team is a fair sponsor). "We set up a little village, had all kinds of contests and places were people could take pictures, and there was a preseason came we broadcasted on large screens," he said
The increased usage of social media - an ideal transmitting system for the fair's 2015 marketing theme and strategy - included promotional contests, such as "Food Fight Friday, Scavenger Hunt, Pick Me Photo Op and a hologram photo op contest."
Unseen by most of the public, the fair also underwent an interior makeover. Cashman was named General Manager of the Maryland State Fair by the Maryland State Fair & Agricultural Society Board of Directors last year, replacing Howard "Max" Mosner who retired from Maryland State Fair after 53 years of service. It turned out that that other key personnel decided to retire or moved on, and one of the first orders of business for Cashman was replacing the staff. "We had people here who had been here a long time and it was time for them to move on, but we essentially had a whole new staff for this fair, we had five new people in key spots, concessions, education, security. We had a lot of growing pains before the fair."
But his final verdict was that "we had a great year. We had tremendous weather, effective marketing and new attractions, it was a perfect storm for a good fair."
The new marketing approach - helped in no small part by ideal weather conditions - "There was not a drop of rain at this year's fair," he said, adding that he had been with the fair 20 years and never saw clear weather for the entire run - positively impacted attendance, which increased by nearly 200,000 attendees, reaching 516,426 (2014 had 354,234) In addition, "Labor Day weekend Saturday, Sunday and Monday were record days for the Midway," he said "Saturday was the largest overall attendance day."
"They did new marketing for the fair," said Heidi Deggeller-Elsperman, Unit Manager, Deggeller Attractions, the carnival company for the fair, . "It was a new approach to the fair, the changed the logo, their tagline, they hashtaged #MyMDStateFair, put everything all over social media and Instagram. They had great ride promotions. On weekdays, they did advance wristband sales with Food Lion. They just did a great job."
In addition, the economy also seemed to boost consumer confidence, aiding attendance. " The way the fair went this year, it looks like Maryland is recovering very well from the recession," he said.
Being a veteran of not just the fair industry but the Maryland event limited the surprises for his freshman year as General Manager, but he admits that that the spokesperson role took some getting used. The attention was increased due to a fair worker tragically dying of an overdose on the fairgrounds. "The things were able to control went well, but we had a lot more interviews because of the unfortunately incident with the young lady who passed away," he said. "We had more press coverage than usual and I had to reassure them the fairgrounds were safe and our security was up to the challenges. The incident didn't reflect badly on the fair, but I did have to talk to the press more than I expected."
Headline concerts, which require a separate admission, are held in festival seating style in the Racetrack Infield, which included Fifth Harmony; R5 with Bea Miller and Jacob Whitesides; and The Latino Music Festival. The fair partnered some local radio stations for some of these shows, especially with local Hispanic radio and newspaper to promote the Latino festival. The most profitable concerts where The Fifth Harmony and R5, and Cashman noted that with the kids in school it "cuts into our midweek shows," he said.
In addition, talent buying continues to become more challenging. Cashman said that just like last year, talent buying is a "Seller's Market. In our market, there is a lot of competition from other festivals and sporting events around the same time."
The fair featured 42 food vendors, and that Food & Beverage revenue was "up, it was a record," said Cashman. The new hot new fair cuisine was a Pork Barbecue Sundae, "it was different and delicious, a variation on pulled pork with a cherry tomato on top." But he noted that traditional Maryland State Fair foods remain the most popular, "the crab patty is always big here and the Ice Cream booths all had lines. The weather was hot and that's what people enjoy."
Deggeller Attractions, the Maryland State Fair carnival company for more than 40 years, featured 46 rides, including an expanded Kidde Land and according to Elsperman, 35 new to the fair rides, including the Mind Bender Roller Coaster, Hang Ten, Cliff Hanger, Magic Maze, Dalton Farm Tractors, and Baja Buggie.
"We had just taken delivery on a Magic Maze Glass House which we had at the front grate, and you could see that from a mile away," said Elsperman. "It's beautiful. We also have a new Cliffhanger with great LED lighting, which we are very excited about. The Supernova did very well, which had new lighting and is a crazy spectacular ride, and the Vertigo was very popular."
The midway layout was changed for more rides, so "we had some extra space and could accommodate more rides," Elsperman said it was a "record midway revenue, up 10 percent from 2014."
Besides the new marketing and spirit displayed by the new team at the Maryland State Fair, she pointed out that the fair itself pushed the envelope resulting in the robust turnout. "You can only attract so many people with just rides," said Elsperman. "They had different genres of concerts, and they used that racetrack better than I've seen in recent years, this year they had action everywhere. Stuff like that is invaluable to a midway, because in the fair business, you have to give a parent two reasons to leave their house on a weekday, not just one."