Event PR: Grassroots efforts drum up interest in college band battle

Two years ago, Urban Sports and Entertainment Group, sponsored by American Honda Motor Co., produced an event to showcase the talent of black college bands, uniting historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) around their exceptional band culture.

Two years ago, Urban Sports and Entertainment Group, sponsored by American Honda Motor Co., produced an event to showcase the talent of black college bands, uniting historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) around their exceptional band culture.

At HBCU, halftime is known as the "fifth quarter," says Mark Riggs, senior account supervisor at French West Vaughan (FWV). "The bands are the stars."

The bands' history and culture inspired the Honda Battle of the Bands Tour and Invitational Showcase, says Tom Grabowski, president and CEO of Urban Sports. "These bands have performed for presidents; they've performed at Super Bowls," he says. The program includes two parts. The first - the Celebration Tour - runs from September to November and provides 43 schools with the chance to earn $1,000 in grants for their halftime performances. The second - the Invitational Showcase - is a one-day event in which only the 10 best bands perform. The bands are selected by a voting process involving fans, the commissioners of the four athletic conferences, school presidents, and band directors. The 10 bands receive a $10,000 grant from Honda.

Urban Sports called upon FWV, which helped market the event the year before, to build more awareness of the program and draw more people to the showcase, Grabowski says. The second year's goal was to sell out the Georgia Dome, where the showcase takes place.

Strategy

Although FWV sought to market the program in more mainstream media outlets than the previous year, the agency knew that it needed support from its main base - the students and alumni of HBCU. To stimulate school and voter participation, FWV decided to promote the program on campuses and within HBCU communities. Likewise, the agency decided to drive people to the program website, where they could access tour- date information and, eventually, vote for the schools that would participate.

Tactics

To create local awareness for the program, FWV gathered story ideas from campus PR and band directors for pitching, and sent out press releases to local papers.

In an effort to develop the grassroots awareness vital to the program's success, FWV distributed marketing posters, palm cards, and other literature through student-activities directors, and it worked with alumni directors for inclusion of marketing materials into mailers and newsletters. The agency also employed student volunteers to hand out materials that promoted the program's website, among other interactive tactics.

To specifically promote the Invitational Showcase, FWV distributed promotional fliers at HBCU hot-spot events, such as movie premieres and socials, and it offered discount-ticket deals to local high school bands and youth organizations.

Results

More than 60,000 tickets were sold, and the Georgia Dome was filled to capacity on Showcase day. The website, launched on September 24, 2003, received 165,435 hits on the first day and a total of more than 13 million hits over the course of the campaign - 5 million more than it received in the previous year.

The event also gained national media attention, with features in Ebony magazine and Black Voices Quarterly.

Future

FWV will not work on the event this year, Grabowski says, adding that Honda's internal PR staff will coordinate communications. The third annual program is under way, with plans to revamp the website and possibly air the showcase on national cable TV, Grabowski adds.

PR team: Urban Sports and Entertainment Group (Cornelius, NC), American Honda Motor Co. (Torrance,CA), and French West Vaughan (Raleigh, NC)

Campaign: Honda Battle of the Bands Tour and Invitational Showcase


Time frame: September 2003 to January 24, 2004

Budget: $38,000

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