Event PR: Fresh tactics help maintain tradition of Fair Saint Louis

Fair Saint Louis has been a popular Fourth of July celebration for locals and tourists since 1981.

Fair Saint Louis has been a popular Fourth of July celebration for locals and tourists since 1981.

With its fireworks, air shows, and concerts, it has become an important event for the downtown St. Louis area, leaving large impacts on the city's finances and reputation. But after 9/11, attendance at the 2002 fair decreased, as did vendors' sales.

Furthermore, research showed that people were growing tired of battling through traffic to attend the fair in high temperatures. For 2003, Fleishman-Hillard and nonprofit group Fair Saint Louis banded together to create a campaign that would reinvigorate the image of the fair and ease lingering security concerns to get the public to come back in record numbers.


To expand the fair's appeal and reach, the campaign team decided that big changes and additions were in order for 2003. One of the biggest was to expand its usual location under the Gateway Arch across the Mississippi River into East St. Louis, IL. To do this, the team linked the fair to the reopening of the Eads Bridge, which had been closed for repairs. The bridge, completed in 1874, was a popular historical site. The effort would be a way to attract visitors from both sides of the river.

"The river is a psychological barrier," says Rich Meyers, executive director of Fair Saint Louis. "We were trying to cross that barrier in people's minds."

In addition, the team decided to reach out to the media in advance to quash the speculation about security that ran rampant in the press just weeks before the 2002 fair.


The team trumped up its promotional efforts with an April press conference to announce the many additions. A barbecue lunch was served to the 150 reporters, volunteers, and sponsors in attendance to build excitement for the new Barbecue Fest. Meyers and others were able to speak more in depth to the journalists who stayed after the conference for the free barbecue. At the conference, the team also announced the events that would go along with the reopening of the Eads, such as a 10K run and the St. Louis parade crossing the bridge on July 4.

Additional media outreach included sending out security information to head off rumors and speculation. An online newsletter was started to keep the fair's volunteer base aware of all upgrades and changes because they were the fair's biggest public advocates.

The team held a lunchtime event called "Flair Before the Fair" to elevate excitement on the first day. Free barbecue was served. Moreover, to get people ready for the Guinness record attempt for the world's largest Cha-Cha Slide, the dance's creator held a lesson.


Attendance rose an estimated 13.5% over 2002. Organizers say 1.2 million visitors attended the fair during its three-day run. Vendors saw a 60.7% sales-per-booth jump over 2002 and corporate fundraising rose 2.7%.

Two hundred articles were printed about the fair in almost all local newspapers and there were 450 broadcast stories before and during the event. Because of the proactive communications with the media about security, coverage that focused mainly on security concerns dropped to a handful, down from 250 in 2002. The website received more than 4.3 million hits, up 58% from 2002.

And a proposal to move the fair from its July 4 slot to Memorial Day this year in order to attract more visitors with the cooler weather was scrapped, thus preserving the tradition.


Meyers says that after the success of 2003, Fair Saint Louis is about to embark upon an evaluation, with Fleishman at the helm. The team will think up ways to attract younger fairgoers, while maintaining older fans.

"We want young people to come to help create memories of the fair and bring their families," says Doug McGraw, account supervisor for Fleishman.

PR team: Fleishman-Hillard (St. Louis) and Fair Saint Louis

Campaign: Fair Saint Louis communications plan

Time frame: December 2002 to July 2003

Budget: $100,000 pro bono

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