The 28th Annual Georgia National Fair endured one day of rain, but like many fairs and outdoor events, sometimes the actual weather is not as bad as the forecast. Attendance totaled 467,584 over the 11 day event, which was down a total of about 70,000 and while the Peach State event had only one day of rain, rain was threatened for several days and that is thought as the main factor persuading fairgoers not to go to the fair this year.
"We had a bad first weekend, there was a chance for a hurricane and we had lots of wind and rain for one day," said Keaton Walker, Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter, Marketing and Sponsorship Director, Georgia National Fair. We also had some really hot days, but our revenues were fine
and in line with previous years. We had a great fair."
She added that food sales were steady, there were new vendors and we saw an influx of new demographics to the fair. "Food revenues are always strong, regardless of the weather."
The Fair featured about 100 different food vendors, an increase of about seven concessionaires compared to previous years. New food vendors included a tater tot purveyor and a "drink from a fruit" beverage vendor, selling potable concoctions within the actual pineapple, coconut, etc. Fair staples remain the mainstay of the fair, including Funnel Cakes, steak tips, country pork chops, corn dogs and sausage sandwiches. "We had a new pizza place that did very well," said Walker.
The fairground layout was redesigned this year, especially regarding the food areas, which meant adding picnic areas, and expanding the food and eating areas in the eastern entrance of the fair, which encouraged more fairgoers to "venture out, so we created different locations to eat, not just single placements. We didn't have food all over the facility, but created more stations top to bottom and side to side."
In addition, the food received a promotion, "we did several live television remotes, and highlighted the food. We talked more about the food on social media, we didn't' necessarily spend more marketing money on food, but we did more promotions with food. People come to the fair for food, and I think the food performed better despite the weather."
The weather's negative impact was more apparent on the midway. The midway - provided by Reithoffer Shows, featuring 88 rides - and according to Keaton included the new Midway Sky Eye, the "largest traveling Ferris Wheel," she said. "We had a good mix of Kiddie rides and the more adrenalin rides like the Zipper and Speed."
The rides were also featured in new promotions "with a bunch of media promotions that we had not had done before, so they were in real time."
This year the fair took a different approach in not just marketing the midway, but brought the marketing content creation and media buys back in house. "We did more strategic planning and implemented new social media marketing. We did changes across the board, and we had more control."
The fair's tagline was Family, Tradition & Memories - which the fair "initiated last year, it was the same as the previous year, but we were able to build on that theme, and gave us more possibilities by building on the motto." The fair spent about $300,000 on marketing, about the same as last year. "But we able to start the marketing for the fair earlier than last year, which was better for ticket sales.'
Spending increased for TV and radio, although costs were off-set by partnering with media companies, and purchased more combined advertising placements that included the online components of radio, television and other media companies. "We did do some packages that included more online digital, banner and placement ads, which include banners along the bottom and popup ads. Advertising purchasing is not static, you look at places that will reach the demographics you want, some stations cater to middle age customers, others to moms, and others to young adults and teenagers. Bringing ad buying in house helped us target the demographics we wanted."
Another more precise targeting methodology came with billboards, placing them in other counties as well as more strategic placements in West Georgia, North Georgia and Alabama. "It took a little bit of studying, but we were well-researched."
The social media was also entirely in-house this year, which included adding an intern and increasing the social media staff. During the 11 days of the fair, there was an individual whose sole job was social media. "With social media, we beefed up the content. We were able to make the posts a call to action, and we were better at monitoring the posts, responding to the feedback, and finding out where the likes and shares were coming from."
The beefing up of content included "showcasing food vendors, rides and concerts. This included mini-documentaries pre-fair, such as "showing the setting up of rides, how long it takes to set up ride, what goes into it."
Actually, because of the fatal ride accident at the Ohio State Fair this summer, like many fairs the Georgia National Fair expanded its safe ride messaging. "Viewers of Facebook Live wanted to know how safe the rides were, so we had to address those issues in our marketing and promotions."
The fair also expanded its Twitter and Instagram posts and added Snapchat. "Bringing the social media in house helped us focus on what we were doing, and what the fair has to offer. We have a lot to offer, and we wanted to make sure we could build momentum. We also used it to showcase the people at the actual fair, who work at the fair and go to the fair. Social media is a big tool now and we used to engage our guests in new ways."
She added, "We also had DJs with live broadcasts and Television stations that did live broadcasts from the facility, and we were able to tie that into other promotions with social media."
Radio promotions were central to the fair's concert lineup, featuring separate ticketed admission concerts, such as The Brothers Osborne and Trace Adkins, and free concerts, including Little River Band and 1,000 Horses. Citing competitive pressures, the fair has scaled back its concert offerings but remains committed to the name entertainment at the event. "It's not necessarily more expensive to book acts, but the music business is more difficult. We are starting earlier," said Keaton.
What was most dramatically different about this year's fairs was a concerted refocusing on agricultural events. The fair is operated by the Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority, and this recommitment to all things livestock was highlighted by an expanded sponsorship program. New livestock sponsors, such as Woody Folsom Trailers - who donated seven aluminum livestock trailers to each of the fair's livestock species champions. In addition to trailers, the Georgia Farm Bureau made a substantial contribution toward premium increases for all livestock showmen. According to the fair's official press release, "these contributions combined with many others, ensures that FFA and 4-H participants will continue the tradition of showcasing their livestock projects during the Georgia National Fair."
"It is because of our partnerships with local and state agencies that we confidently offer a safe, secure and family friendly facility for all of our fairgoers," said Stephen Shimp, Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter Executive Director. "We would like to extend a warm and sincere thank you to everyone who helps make our fairgrounds a safe and enjoyable place for families and friends. The 2017 Georgia National Fair was a huge success and we are already planning for 2018."
In fact, the renewed emphasis on agricultural and livestock programming was all about the fair's tomorrows. "This year during the Georgia National Fair we were able to highlight the hard work and dedication of our youth due to the support of our sponsors and their commitment to helping the youth of today," said Philip Gentry, Youth and Livestock Director. "We look forward to working with each of them for years to come and sincerely appreciate their support of our mission here at the Georgia National Fairgrounds."