CAMPAIGNS: Event PR - Drawing crowds to Memphis is an art

Client: South Main Association, Memphis, TN

PR Team: Archer/Malmo (Memphis) and a volunteer committee of PR and

marketing professionals

Campaign: Second Annual South Main Arts Festival

Time Frame: Three months leading up to the April 28 festival

Budget: $2,500 for expenses, PR work pro bono

Scores of travelers once frequented South Main Street in downtown

Memphis, getting on and off trains at historic Central Station. The

neighborhood grew up in the first two decades of the 20th century, but

as the train station deteriorated, owners gradually vacated many of the

nearby buildings.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 assassination at the neighborhood's

Lorraine Hotel accelerated suburban flight from the area.

In recent years, however, developers converted many older structures

into lofts, often with shops and art galleries occupying ground


The renovated train station reopened with Amtrak service in 1999, the

city christened South Main its arts district, and boosters organized the

area's first street festival in 2000.

Cynthia Ham, EVP of Archer/Malmo, lives and works in the area, and was

recruited to head up PR for the second annual South Main Arts


Her goal was to attract interest in the overlooked neighborhood from

city leaders, potential developers, and Memphis' general citizenry.


Organizers strove to position South Main as a unique neighborhood,

highlight its history, and showcase its business potential. They also

wanted to top last year's attendance of 2,500.

Choosing not to bet on raising money through concessions and attractions

at the free-admission event, Ham's crew sought sponsorships to pay for

performers and facilities. Organizers also moved the festival's date to

attract more attention. In 2000, the event took place during the second

week of the city's month-long Memphis in May festival, competing with

other activities.


Ham promoted "Memphis in May" in years past, and called on that

experience and her extensive contact list to recruit sponsors. Her team

secured stage sponsorships from the University of Memphis and Michelob

Light, and lots of free air time from Clear Channel Communications,

which runs six stations in the city. The alternative weekly, the Memphis

Flyer, also printed an insert about the festival, which the

association's meager budget partially funded. The sponsorship value

totaled $40,000.

Media relations activities began months in advance, when the association

announced a poster design contest. The winning poster was unveiled six

weeks before the festival. Marketing committee volunteers prepared press

kits and positioned themselves at festival entrances to assist


The association also hosted a VIP party for city leaders, and Ham's

group put together a Web site,, not only to promote the

festival, but to provide year-round information about the



An estimated 10,000 visitors attended the festival, drawing record

business to neighborhood shops and galleries.

"It's just a shame we can't do it four times a year," says Pert

Whitehead, proprietor of The Charcoal Store, which sells grilling

supplies and yard ornaments.

"It brought a lot of new people into the store."

A couple of local TV stations covered the festival heavily. The city's

daily paper, The Commercial Appeal, wrote about the poster contest and

ran advance features, but did not cover the event itself.

Organizers circulated a survey among businesses and sponsors, and got

mostly positive responses. The association made enough through

concession sales and attractions to purchase light-pole banners for the



Two businesses interested in title sponsorships for next year's festival

have contacted Ham, and the association authorized her to negotiate with

them. She plans to be a consultant for 2002, but will turn most

nuts-and-bolts PR work over to others.

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