State Fair Meadowlands: New Ticketing Transforms Marketing, Promotion and the Fair Experience
As one of the first major trade fairs of the summer, many industry observers regard the State Fair Meadowlands as a barometer of the trade fair season, especially the large north-east summer trade fairs. The fact that the fair, like most outdoor events, was canceled due to COVID 19 only exacerbated this year’s review as industry observers look for clues as to what a reopening means and what results to expect.
The trade fair could add six days, which lengthened the business, but above all eased the effects of the weather – 13 of the 24 days were rainy days including violent thunderstorms. Overall, attendance increased slightly and the show hit a record on July 4th, but attendance and spending increased by a long way.
“People came with money and when they were inside they gave the money free,” said Al Dorso of State Fair Event Management. “We opened the gates at 2:00 am and queues formed and we had lines that didn’t stop until 12:30 pm when we closed. We held the gates until 1:30. I am very happy for the concessionaires. They had incredible days, not just the food vendors, but the stalls and game booths as well. It’s been a very tough year for her, it was a real struggle to come back. You can’t get the manpower so every owner works hard. I really feel her and was good to see her smile. In the case of food concessions, the product ran out, how often do you see it? “
With a few exceptions such as public transport passengers, the state of New Jersey lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions before the show opened in June. The green light for the 2021 trade fair remained unlit until March, but the capacity with which it can be operated has not yet been conclusively clarified. The recommendation Dorso received from state officials was to reduce touchpoints throughout the event, but ironically, eliminating one of the most contact-intensive aspects of fair attendance – ticket transactions – changed the fair in a way that Dorso intended to make permanent.
Dorso went for a flat rate of $ 34.99 – available to purchase online only and included unlimited travel, entertainment, and free parking – free entry for young show-goers under 36 inches. Instead of the 45-60 minute time window from the car to the inside of the exhibition center, this was reduced to around 10 minutes – for ticket scanning and metal detection. “People came in droves and were happy as hell,” he said. “Everything was bought on their cell phone, dad didn’t even have to open his wallet until they were inside. People stayed longer and ate more. “
Ticket sales were structured in such a way that tickets were sold on a daily basis before the opening day and on a daily basis during the fair. By the second week, ticket sales became so predictable that Dorso could estimate within 500 people what the amount of the day would be, and then relay that information to vendors and carnival companies so they could adjust their inventory and workforce accordingly.
“There were days like July 4th when I knew the crowd was going to be bigger than usual, so I increased the number of security scanners from nine to 14 to avoid bottlenecks,” he said. Independence Day can usually be unpredictable as many families tend to stay home and stifle participation. Despite the lifted restrictions, many communities that canceled last year’s fireworks displays kept fireworks this year, but canceled or reduced additional events such as parades and free concerts.
Her loss was indeed State Fair Meadowlands’ gain, which attracted 39,000 visitors – about 4,000 more than the previous record, Dorso said. “It was one of our busiest days, I’m not sure why. But I noticed more New York license plates that day than on other days. “
The new system also meant a rethinking of price promotions and other special offers that drove the marketing strategy of previous trade fairs. “It’s not a year for discounts, this is not what people are looking for.”
Instead, the messaging for the trade fair – underlined by the ticketing structure of the Pay One Price theme park – emphasized the experience. The switch to pure online ticketing has also prompted the trade fair to place more emphasis on its social media marketing. The other factor in this shift is the complexity of advertising in the lockdown era.
Given the same dilemma many trade shows have encountered in 2021 – how to plan and implement a marketing plan during lockdown conditions unsure of what the restrictions will be and what the reopening of the region will be at the next trade show time.
Outdoor advertising was one of State Fair Meadowlands’ biggest buys, but with so many home-based commuters, the aisles have shifted. “We used to do a lot outside of the home, billboards, bus back panels, train stations, but we didn’t do buses or train stations, and even the billboards were limited.”
Some cuts have been made to radio and television purchases, but also more targeted placements, such as cable ads in Staten Island and Westchester, which are nearby new markets. Instead, the fair revised its public relations work – press releases and entries in event calendars – and then expanded its social media presence in terms of content, frequency and platforms.
“To be honest, on social media, you spend 10 cents on the dollar and you get more bang for your buck,” said Dorso. “We also spent money on influencers I’m too old to know what they’re doing, but it was very effective.”
The advertising budget was cut by 12 percent, but the social media expansion – reconsidered, set the tone in 2021 and drove the marketing efforts significantly forward. “You need to know where to spend your money and cover all of your bases,” said Dorso. “I think about how much we spend on other outlets. Maybe I spend money on radio and television because I feel like you have to, but I’m old and my marketing team is young and has different ideas and those ideas worked. “
An important aspect of State Fair Meadowlands development is data. By switching to online purchases, the fair has built a huge customer database that is way above the number of customers who signed up for e-blasts via the website.
“We always tried to find out the names of our customers, but now we have their names for 90 percent of our customers for everyone who buys online, but now we have the phone numbers, e-mails and home addresses of the people who go to the fair came to us, now we can look after these customers better next year, ”he added.
Concessions, entertainment, rides, and games rolled over smoothly as of 2019, with very little impact or businesses going out of business due to the slowdown in COVID. The greatest challenge facing medium-sized companies is the labor shortage. “Everyone has a work problem,” said Dorso.
Not only did this mean that the company’s executives were serving food and running rides, but halfway through, two large amusement ride companies and State Fair Meadowlands representatives had to reduce their footprint due to a lack of assistance. Dorso filled in the gaps with contracts with two local carnival companies that were playing for the first time at the largest fair in New Jersey. The Midway had 69 rides, about three fewer than non-pandemic fairs.
This industry-wide staff shortage also put a strain on State Fair Meadowlands employees, as senior management had to fill in the admission and other positions. It was a pure hands-on-deck show. For the first time, Dorso had to hire an outside security company and then get creative in deciding where to station guards and how many roaming guards there should be.
Online unit price ticketing unexpectedly allayed safety fears by reducing the number of teenagers – there have been reports of an increase in violent incidents involving young people at some trade shows, but Dorso said there were no incidents at all at the show. “Not a single complaint was made, there were no reports of the crowds inside or outside the fair, no brawls or arguments, nothing like that. That has never happened before, not a single incident. “