Evolving Air Show Marketing Strategies: Are We Evolving Fast Enough?


Virtual Discussion Moderator: Deb Mitchell 


Darcy Brewer, Executive Director, California Capital Airshow
Social Media Used: Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube Evaluating: Pinterest

Brenda Kerfoot, Executive Director, Vectren Dayton Air Show presented by Kroger
Social Media Used: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Bill Roach, Executive Director, Wings Over Houston Airshow
Social Media Used: Facebook, Twitter

Don Nixon, Principal, Creative Spot (Marketing Agency for Stallion 51 Corp.)
Social Media Used: Twitter

Do you Like, Follow, Tweet, Pin, Blog? Have you incorporated digital marketing into traditional analog marketing tools for your event?  Hubspot even challenged the typical “brochure” website, which shares basic event information stating, “Companies that blog have 55% more website visitors.”  The rapid-fire changes can be overwhelming for event organizers, who are continually scanning the market for ways to respond to the public’s craving for aviation, while keeping a keen eye on various revenue streams.  Some air show industry experts share how they’re navigating the digital landscape while keeping traditional media in the marketing toolbox.

Air Show Posters 

The classic air show poster dates back to the early 1900s, but is it still worth the expense and time to print? 

Brenda Kerfoot: We do not see posters as marketing items, but they are valuable sponsor gifts/commemorative items that are still in demand, so we do print a small amount. To garner some marketing benefit, we also print a smaller retail version (11” x 17”) that our beer and soda distributors post on their routes. 

Darcy Brewer:  Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is on the internet all the time. Posters expand our marketing and reach, plus they last long after the show, framed on the walls of attendees and sponsors. 

Bill Roach: They are becoming nearly useless due to new technologies. In the Houston market, the demand is minimal. I use posters as a platform to post a sponsor logo and give them a nicely framed poster with their logo on it.

Don Nixon: Posters can still be a good tool if they are placed in the right locations.  There needs to be a strategy for placement if you plan to invest the time and resources to design and print them.

QR Codes 

From Target to Starbucks, the two-dimensional barcodes or Quick Response codes are seemingly everywhere enticing you to use your smart phone to unlock a coupon, video or information.  While the perennially favorite air show poster may be headed for the recycling bin at some shows, it’s getting a new twist with the addition of QR codes to entice advance ticket sales, share a video or promote a sponsor. 

Darcy Brewer: This is our first year to incorporate QR codes on all of our marketing materials and we are already seeing an increase in early ticket sales. It’s a cost-effective way to reach the tech-savvy air show audience. We put QR codes on everything we print or produce including banners, billboards and even on the hood of a NASCAR racer!

Bill Roach: We did not use this on any of our marketing materials in 2011, but we may in 2012, although I’m interested in seeing others’ experiences.

Brenda Kerfoot: Some of our complimentary sponsor ads in the event program contain QR codes, but we as a show have not used them in the program or poster.

Don Nixon:  QR codes can’t hurt, but expectations for people actually using them shouldn’t be too high.

Social Media

Social media marketing is a mainstay for most companies despite its variable track record or lack of quantifiable analytics. The use of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube seems to be entrenched in the world of air shows, but what about instagram, pinterest, and others?

Darcy Brewer:  Social media is an integral part of our overall marketing plan and expands our reach outside traditional air show fans. If used properly, this is a way to touch the audience and keep them engaged year round. It is definitely not a fad…social media is not going away.

Bill Roach: This is the second year we’re using social media with a specific team to handle it. We started using it originally as a way to reach our fan base. As it developed, we gave special inside info and ran contest give-aways for several things such as tickets, photo chalet tickets plus tickets to other events in the area. We generated more Facebook buzz by offering race and hockey tickets after the show keeping fans tuned in months later.

Brenda Kerfoot:  I think social media definitely increases ticket sales and, as such, is incorporated in our overall marketing plan.

Don Nixon:  Social media can be an effective way to reach your target audience, but there needs to be a strategy for:  1) which social media tools you will use; 2) how you can use them to reach your target audiences; 3) who will be in charge of monitoring and updating.  It’s a great way to spread the word about your event, but it takes time and effort to implement, update and monitor.

Media Deals 

Category exclusivity is a major component of high dollar sponsorships, but are shows still offering it in the media category?  

Brenda Kerfoot: Because of the increasingly fragmented media market, I cannot imagine wanting to offer anyone exclusivity.  Our media outlets get that and don’t pressure us to offer exclusivity.  Competition is good and forces everyone to stay fresh and offer unique story angles, etc. 

Darcy Brewer: For the health, strength and longevity of the event, it is important to have a primary media partner in each medium. We do not exclude anyone from helping us to promote. We feel that it’s all about how you form your relationships with your partners so that they are mutually beneficial. You must have a shared long-term vision for the success of the show and the impact the event has on your community, the event and its mission. However, the primary partner is always given first right of refusal. 

Don Nixon: Depends on the situation.  Exclusivity should equate to “big value.”  If there’s a major player in a market that is willing to provide a substantial package with added value, then it’s worth considering.  If not, then you’re better off approaching media outlets that can diversify your reach across multiple audiences and not align yourself to one partner.

Media Trades 

As with any sponsorship, trades or service, in-kind deals should be a budget-relieving item, including media partnerships. 

Bill Roach: Make sure you get more promotional value than what they say is the ad value, which is generally inflated. Consider exclusivity, if doing so doesn’t alienate other stations that cover the event. Radio stations want to offer something to their fans or giveaways to keep listeners. We give mostly general admission tickets with a few premium tickets for grand prizes.

Brenda Kerfoot: We’ve found that a buy/trade combo seems to give you more control to ensure you’ll have spots running in prime times. Plus, the stations are more likely to get creative with development of promotions. That being said, we do a lot of trade only with radio, particularly in outlying areas. Even with straight trades, you have to make sure the outlet is legitimate and will deliver value for what you have to trade. We are fortunate that our event draws great interest from numerous outlets and that our tickets are valuable commodities for station promos. We have a variety of tickets to offer, from basic general admission to all-inclusive (food, parking, reserved seat, etc.) chalet tickets.

Darcy Brewer: Trades should be mutually beneficial and balanced.  You should not expect media organizations to do everything for free. If you can give them part of your media buy in addition to the trade, it can significantly help the overall relationship. Likewise, show marketers should not feel as though they are giving more than they are receiving in trade.  A great approach we have used is inviting multiple media organizations in for a presentation about the event, and then putting the ball in their court to develop their packages, making them aware that the intent is to partner with several, but not everyone, you are presenting to.  When they know you’re looking at multiple organizations, it forces them to be creative and aggressive with their proposals.  The best resources an air show has for trade are:  1) tickets; 2) promotional “rides”; 3) interviews with performers; 4) VIP areas.

Media: Determining the Right Mix 

With so many options to choose from, how should an air show determine how much of its limited resources to spend on television vs. newspaper? On website/internet vs. “legacy” media? 

Don Nixon: It’s really market and show specific.  Once you determine the budget for your show, do the research to find out which TV, radio and print outlets are best suited for your audience. Because air shows appeal to many types of people, it’s important to have a diverse media mix. Ask potential media partners for ranking information and proposals. Then, look at your budget and determine where you can get the most for the money you have. If print is high in your market, consider not using it and focusing instead on radio and TV.  If you don’t have a network affiliate in TV, look at your primary cable provider.

Bill Roach: For four years, one of our sponsors with a large media presence used billboards, radio and television to promote Wings Over Houston. I believe TV is the best, but also the most expensive, if you were to buy your own TV spots. A sponsor who already advertises a lot, such as a car dealer or furniture store, may buy a year’s worth of time at a deep discount and pass that value on to you.

Brenda Kerfoot: I think you have to look at viewership/ratings to see where you can get the biggest bang for the buck.  For us it’s TV, radio and very little in print. 

Evolution: The Internet

Like all businesses, the Internet has streamlined air show operations, enhanced ticket sales and allowed shows to be more creative in its promotions.

Brenda Kerfoot: Your website is really the old brochure and we are slowly phasing out the printed brochure.  Having a system where you capture many of your ticket purchasers online provides a great database to target specific e-mail blasts. Facebook ads can also provide detailed information on ticket links and general traffic. We are also moving print ad dollars over to viral advertising.

Bill Roach: We’re almost completely out of print except for a couple of travel magazines and a cheap local event magazine. We are doing much more online advertising such as TourTexas.com which is there all year long. Mailing of individual flyers is too time consuming and costly. The need to print posters and brochures is now eliminated, as it is downloadable.

Darcy Brewer: We feel that a top-notch website with multi-media capabilities has unlimited potential to help drive ticket sales and fan engagement. For example, in 2007 we sold an average of 20% of our tickets online. Over the past four years, we have averaged 55%-73% online sales prior to the show weekend.

Don Nixon: Tremendous impact. The ability to sell tickets online, market through social media, capture and retain information for future show marketing and simply inform people about your show is priceless. The internet allows us to market to more people, for less money with greater results.

Best Marketing Ideas

What successful marketing ideas have you used or seen at other events?

Bill Roach: I can’t speak for other shows, but what worked well for us was teaming up with other events in our area…not on the same weekend!  We offer value to our fans with special offers and packages not available to others, such as a chance to win free tickets to four hockey games. You went to hockey.com and entered the promotions code air show for tickets. Need for speed? Noise? We encouraged air show fans to check out Raceway Park [a Houston-area car racing venue]. The other event does the same for your event, costing you next to nothing.

Darcy Brewer: Cross promotions with regional partners are wildly successful for CCA. In 2011, Goodwill Industries offered a two-for-one coupon, which required a potential attendee to donate goods in-store and resulted in a huge multi-station radio buy purchased by Goodwill Industries promoting the show. Our local NASCAR racer promoted our event and ticket sales throughout the summer with jets and air show dates prominently affixed on the hood of the car at each race. But with any good marketing plan, you cannot focus on one single idea. In addition, a show with long-term goals needs to have a multi-faceted marketing, public relations, and media plan.

Best Marketing Tool

If the marketing toolbox only had room for one, what would you choose?

Bill Roach: Radio. We can’t afford enough TV, but with radio you can usually trade tickets for a lot of mentions and ads, stretching your dollar as far as it can go. 

Darcy Brewer: Broadcast coverage. You can tell a story with the largest net you can cast to get your message across and visually entice the audience to attend.

Brenda Kerfoot:  That’s tough. If you count your website as a marketing tool, and we only had one tool, it would have to be the website. It’s the only 24/7, 365 days-a-year vehicle you have and can afford for that amount of time.  If you say beyond the website, we would choose TV right now.  However, I think that answer could change over time as the viral world increases in prominence.

Don Nixon: The internet.  It has the ability to directly reach a substantial amount of people.  It’s measurable and it’s a fraction of the cost of traditional media.

Measuring Success

A marketing campaign of any size should determine the Return on Investment (ROI) or what qualifies as success prior to launch. 

Brenda Kerfoot: We compile an extensive marketing summary every year of every marketing tool we utilize.  This would include total impressions and marketing value as reported by every outlet, etc.  We look at gate results, review how the marketing plan was executed and then begin to brainstorm ideas for the future. 

Darcy Brewer: We review each marketing initiative with a combination of metrics, attendee feedback, and ticket sales, etc. This helps to determine what our marketing initiative will be for the following year.

Bill Roach: I try to  get reliable, realistic impressions and ad values from as many media sources as possible. We look at attendance, website states, fan surveys and reader response.

Don Nixon: As air shows review their marketing campaigns, performers and even vendors can apply similar techniques to their businesses whether it’s incorporating social media, QR codes or videos. Even with the swarm of new marketing tools, improved analytics will ultimately help air shows crystallize what makes their event successful.  What’s on the horizon? RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) on wristbands and credentials for live events such as concerts, and VIP areas at live events. Will it take off with air shows? Stay tuned.

Sidebar: Conversation with a QR Pro

Access Passes is an award-winning company providing leading edge technology for credential services for national sports teams, music artists and concerts, as well as Fortune 500 companies looking for ways to track social media.

We posed some of the same questions to Danny Heinsohn, Partnership Development for Access Passes.

What do you think of posters as a marketing tool in the 21st century?  How can a show see measurable results if they use a QR code?  

Like any other advertising medium, a poster can raise awareness to a fan or consumer.  If placed in a relevant and strategic location they can be utilized to help generate brand buzz.  They should be visually appealing with a clear and concise message.

Content is king in the digital space.  The content of the QR code should have continuity from print to digital.  A call to action is important to help drive the message.

Measurable results of a QR code require the collection of data.  From a social media perspective, a QR code can help increase social currency.  For example, I was at a triathlon event last summer and Mix1 Nutrition (www.mix1life.com) ran an enticing campaign.  For a free bottle of their product, I needed to scan a QR code on their table and “Like” their Facebook page.  I enjoyed the product sample so much that I walked back to my car to grab my iPhone to scan the QR code for a complimentary bottle of my own.  A great call to action example!

Do you use QR codes in other mediums? What was the result?

We use QR codes on a lot of our marketing collateral such as postcard mailers, leave-behinds, and magazine ads.  In some cases, we’ll use them to drive traffic to a micro site to redeem a discount for their next purchase.  They don’t cost anything to generate, and if we don’t include them it could result in a missed opportunity.  In some cases, they have resulted in sales. One of our conference partners uses unique QR codes for attendees to scan each other’s badges to exchange contact information. A virtual business card, if you will.

Do you see value in an air show program?

Whether it’s an air show, NASCAR race or “stick and ball” sport, we’ve learned that a QR code is best suited for post- event activation. In a lot of instances, a QR code might take several minutes or hours to retrieve content due to a high volume of “live event” digital traffic. If that’s the case, a QR code is interrupting an experience rather than enhancing it. Most importantly, a fan or consumer needs an incentive to scan the QR code. A video recap, retail discounts, philanthropic initiatives and “enter to wins” are great incentives for fans to re-engage through a QR code.

Branded hospitality event credentials are the ideal medium to apply a QR code.  For one, they are keepsakes and will always be associated with a unique experience. When your event is over, a QR code can be used to help continue the conversation. For example, “Scan this QR code at the beginning of every month for a video recap, retail discounts, ‘enter to win’ membership incentives, etc.”  If done right, this could be your “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Golden Ticket theme.  Some people want what they can’t have, and that is a great driver just to have a piece of the experience.

If the marketing toolbox only had room for one, what would you choose? 

That would really depend on the marketing objective and target age demographic.  But if I had to pick one marketing tool for promotion, I would choose Twitter.  It’s free, relevant to tech-savvy audiences, buzzworthy, real time, and enables celebrity interaction with fans. 

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Deb Mitchell
Deb Mitchell is a former broadcast journalist who ran the NAS Oceana Air Show in Virginia Beach, Virginia for several years and helped create the Air Show Buzz website.