Advance Ticket Sales and Marketing

“Sure, great achievements could be realized if you just had the means to have a year-round staff, but what about those fairs that, for one reason or another, don’t?”

By this time, most, if not all, of us in the fair industry are aware of the myriad of benefits that a well orchestrated and successful advance ticket sales campaign can deliver to our events. The list of reasons to develop such a program includes but is by no means limited to:
  • Insurance - Advance sales allow you to guard against the possibility of not just weather problems such as rain but heat, cold, tornadoes, hurricanes, and so on, but also unforeseen national, regional, or local tragedies or security events.
  • Great Word of Mouth Advertising - Ringling Brothers says that for every day a customer holds an advance ticket that they tell 10 other potential customers that they already have their tickets and plan to attend. Thus, sales momentum is built.
  • Deliver Additional Value to Your Current Fair goers - In today's marketplace, everybody is looking to save money, and rewarding your present customers with still another chance to save money is just plain good business.
  • Sponsor Involvement -Advance sales campaigns can be custom designed to offer many opportunities to include your current or potential corporate sponsors.
  • Media Involvement - If approached correctly with the right campaign, the media can realize numerous benefits from involvement in advance sales.
  • Increase Your Attendance - Due to the savings that discounted advance ticket sales programs offer the public, you will realize increased attendance from a market segment that previously felt themselves unable to afford your event.

"That's all well and good, you say, but I don't have the budget to hire any new employees or reassign any that I currently have so just who is supposed to make all this happen?"

Good question. Thinking back to my early days as a fair manager, I can remember how envious I was of the large staffs that many of my colleagues had at their disposal, especially when it came to the all important duties of advance ticket sales and marketing. I came up the ranks from such an organization where I served as ticket sales coordinator for the South Florida Fair. After all, it was there, with my friend and mentor Buck Christian, that we developed the much-lauded "Partners In Education" advance ticket sales program. (See Fairs & Expos, January/February 1993).

The initial and continued success of the "Partners in Education" program is testimony to what is possible when a fair has the ability to employ a full-time staff dedicated to specific purposes such as marketing and advertising the fair or the development and annual execution of a successful advance ticket sales program. Sure, great achievements could be realized if you just had the means to have a year-round staff, but what about those fairs that for one reason or another, don't? In the past, your options to such staffing dilemmas were limited to say the least but all that has changed with the growing use of what has been referred to as the most important management development tool of the decade - "outsourcing."
…to stay competitive in today’s market and to maximize their advertising and promotional dollars, fairs need a sales strategy that includes alignment with proven industry specific marketing and promotional professionals.
Outsourcing is when your company chooses not to, for whatever reason, employ a full-time in-house department to perform a specific business function but rather chooses to take the activity and contract it out. Outsourcing should be looked upon as an opportunity to develop a strategic partnership with an outsourcing "provider" who has the experience, knowledge, and resources to do a better job with certain critical activities. Most likely your fair is already engaging in and enjoying the benefits of some forms of outsourcing. You probably are currently very comfortable "outsourcing" some of your annual departmental needs such as security, parking, and sanitation, but what happens to that comfort level when it comes to the all important development and implementation of marketing plans and advance ticket sales programs? Fairs, even more so than many other businesses, tend to be reluctant at first to outsource sales programs, many times feeling as though these programs are akin to "the family jewels," when in actuality they are like any other business activity. Most fairs can achieve marketing success to a certain level by maintaining the status quo, but to stay competitive in today's market and to maximize their advertising and promotional dollars, they need a sales strategy that includes alignment with proven industry specific marketing and promotional professionals. "What, let outsiders tell our fair how to spend our advertising dollars and how to sell our tickets?" In short, the answer is a resounding "YES" if certain critical conditions are met.

Those critical conditions for selecting a company for outsourcing marketing and advance ticket sales really fall into two important categories, the first being "professional competency" and the second being "industry specific experience" or to put it more simply, "Does this outside firm know the fair business inside out and what kind of track record do they have?"

A list of qualifications to consider for would be:
  • Specific Industry Knowledge - How long have they been connected with the fair and exposition industry? Are they well versed in working with fair boards and staffs as well as carnival management? Do they have a grasp of not only what works but also what doesn't work for all concerned?
  • Ticket Sales and Marketing Specialists - Are they well experienced in developing advance sale programs that exploit all advertising and promotional possibilities? Do they exhibit absolute proficiency in leveraging marketing dollars and opportunities so as to maximize the event and/or carnival's advertising budget? Does their portfolio contain national contacts that can save the client money and deliver quality when it comes to advertising and collateral materials?
  • Proven Track Record - They should be able to site numerous examples of past successes at fairs and events of various sizes in a variety of market sizes and a list of satisfied clients including events, media, sponsors, and ticket outlets, along with midway owners and management.
  • Operations and Security - Do they know how to be proactive in protecting all involved against losses due to possible counterfeiting and theft? What measures do they employ to ensure the campaign's success in regard to media and ticket outlet support and performance?
  • Internet Presence - Do they bring to the table the ability to increase your event's presence on the Internet with both on-line sales of your tickets and informational web pages that can include your event, its sponsors, and the media?

These are all important considerations for you to make when you consider entering into a business relationship concerning your event's ticket sales and marketing. When you decide that there are legitimate reasons for you to explore the expanding of your event's economic and promotional potential, then consider contacting a company who specializes in event marketing and advance ticket sales campaigns. Talk to them and see if "outsourcing" such a program might be right for you. If they are true professionals and confident of their abilities, they should be willing to work for a percentage of the revenue they generate and/or media they place. In a financial scenario such as this, you literally have nothing to lose and an awful lot to gain.

Reprinted with Permission: FAIRS & EXPOS NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2003
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