"I need a ride to the CMJ Music Fest in Cleveland" announced fliers plastered in underground clubs and bars this spring. The handiwork of a desperate music fan looking for a ride to Cleveland's first major rock festival? Not exactly.
The phone number on the tear-offs at the bottom of each flier in fact reached an answering machine message saying that the "fan" had already secured a ride, but that the caller should check out the festival, too.
The brainstorm of PR firm Marcus Thomas, the faux flier was just one of myriad devices used to attract non-locals to the CMJ/Rock Hall Music Fest, which came to Cleveland after 20 years in New York.
"Our charge was to drive in as much traffic from out of town as possible," explains Christina Gurnak, SAE at Marcus Thomas. "The Rock Hall had the greater Cleveland area covered, so they wanted us to target audiences in the largest cities within a five- to six-hour radius."
Barbara Siss, marketing director at the Convention & Visitor Bureau of Greater Cleveland, a cosponsor of the event, along with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, says the PR effort was a change of direction for the city.
"Instead of just marketing the city, we were anchoring [the campaign] around a reason to come," Siss says.
Understanding the festival's demographic and targeting previous festival-goers were essential. Because the festival moved from New York to Cleveland, the PR team sought to make sure people in the region who attended in the past would come to its new location.
"Because this was a new music festival [for the city], it was important that we got out a message that reached the right audience," says Todd Mesek, senior director of marketing communications at the Rock Hall. "This is a young, 20- and 30-something hardcore music fan that we're going after. The bands that are on our lineup are not household names, but they are known to a young, sophisticated audience. So we had to do two things: We had to reach them where they were, and we also had to come out with a credible message."
Marcus Thomas opted for a guerrilla marketing campaign that could be carried out in the five-week time period allotted.
"We had to move quickly, and we knew with this audience, word-of-mouth was the best way to reach the most people in the shortest time," says Guvnak.
Street teams traveled to Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Toledo, and smaller cities, where they visited underground clubs, music stores, coffee shops, and college campuses. There, they handed out postcards, T-shirts, and guitar picks, and at some venues, spray-chalked sidewalks and buildings with the festival's logo and posted the "I need a ride" fliers.
The campaign continued online with the firm helping the festival's 100 bands promote the concerts to their fans. In exchange, the bands provided free songs for interested visitors to download. E-mails to music fans and college students, a podcast featuring a musicologist at the Rock Hall, and postings on more than 50 music blogs helped spread the word even more.
The festival attracted 17,800 music fans, and through back-end research, the CVB estimates that more than 50% of attendees came from outside the Northeast Ohio area. The subsequent economic impact on the city was substantial, with $3 million spent on tickets, hotels, food, and transportation.
Individual aspects of the campaign also drew attention. The online efforts - including the blogs, viral marketing e-mails, and podcast - yielded 325,000 impressions. And 375 generous fans called the "I need a ride" number, only to find that their services were no longer needed.
Planning for next year's festival is in the works, with all partners on board. For those looking for a ride, try making a flier.
PR team: Convention & Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Marcus Thomas (all Cleveland)
Campaign: CMJ/Rock Hall Music Fest
Time frame: May to June 2005