The PA Home and Garden Design Expo is the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Harrisburg’s annual four-day event that takes place in late February/early March at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. As the largest home and garden show in Central Pennsylvania, this is a well-established and long-standing event that makes up a significant portion of the HBA’s annual budget. It is also an important benefit to home and garden vendors who want to reach the public with their goods and services. The show has had several different names, and in 2019 it expanded to include an outdoor, landscaping, and garden component, so it switched its name to become the PA Home and Garden Design Expo.
Bennis Public Relations teamed up with Mid-Atlantic Media Hub to come together to take on the challenge of growing and promoting the PA Home and Garden Design Expo in 2020. It was important to the HBA that we take a fresh and comprehensive approach that went far beyond placing a few billboards or radio spots, and issuing a press release. Here is a breakdown of our strategy and the results it achieved.
Drive Attendance – First and foremost, our advertising, marketing, and public relations strategy aimed to drive ticket sales and grow attendance at the event. National trends clearly showed that home show attendance has been on the decline for about ten years now. We needed to reach the right audience with the messaging that mattered most to them, and convince them to take action to purchase tickets.
Grow Brand Awareness – Next, we needed to also establish the new name of the PA Home and Garden Design Expo. It was important to communicate that this is the same show Central PA has always known and loved, now with a new name and an expanded garden component. To help do this, we began by establishing this year’s theme as “Fresh Ideas in Full Bloom.”
Provide Value to Sponsors and Vendors – We also needed to find creative ways to bring more value to our sponsors and vendors. When building out our promotional strategy, we found various opportunities to offer key businesses added marketing and PR value through our communications and advertising. Additionally, we made connections between the HBA and potential sponsors and ultimately increased their sponsor dollars.
All while reducing the promotional budget by 25%…- And the biggest challenge yet was that compared the budget provided to the prior advertising/PR firm in years prior, the committee requested we not only maintain a similar level of outreach, but also increase the outcomes all for 3/4 the budget previously allocated for this event. And we stepped into this confidently knowing we could save the HBA money while achieving a better outcome than they had seen in most recent years. Did we hit the mark? Read on to learn more.
Digital Advertising – Digital ads appeared on various key websites often visited by our target demographic; this included both news websites and retail. In total, these ads received over 435,000 impressions and more than 651 hours of exposure. Ads allowed people to click directly to the Expo website where they could find all the necessary information, including how to purchase tickets.
Billboards – Throughout the target market, a total of 10-15 digital billboards were running at any given time to promote the PA Home and Garden Design Expo. We made sure the design of these ads clearly promoted the date, location, and theme “Fresh Ideas in Full Bloom.” The messaging followed travelers from both East to West shores to stay top of mind while commuting around town.
Radio & Television – A robust and diverse radio and television advertising strategy had spots running on the top 6 radio stations in the market as well as various cable network channels. Both :15 and :30 second spots packed a punch as the frequency increased brand awareness and provided just one more way people could learn about the Expo. Additionally, members of the HBA and Expo sponsors were featured on two segments of Good Day PA, Central Pennsylvania’s premier daily lifestyle program which hits our target demographic.
Social Media – Using a combination of paid and organic social media content, over 100,000+ people within the target market saw one or more of the many messages shared on social media about the Expo. More than 25 unique posts were published from each the Expo Facebook page and the HBA’s Facebook page in the week’s leading up to the event. Organic post engagement (likes, comments, shares) increased by more than 20,000%, page views were up 568%, and followers grew by 869% during this time. Social media provided to be an extremely useful and cost effective tool for making people aware of the Expo.
SEO/SEM – Even with a lean budget, we were able to carve out a healthy portion to devote to paid SEO/SEM. This was particularly important this year, because the new name of the Expo required a new website and URL, meaning Google rankings were still being established and the new website was not appearing on the first page of search results. Through these efforts, we made sure the website was easy to find and favorable for SEO/SEM.
Print – Print advertising hit our demographic in several different ways. First we placed advertisements in magazines that specifically reach homeowners of a certain income level. We also covered a lot of real estate (literally) with a spadea feature (a separately printed, unbound broadsheet that is folded around a newspaper) that was included in the main Sunday newspaper the week leading up to the Expo. This advertisement allowed us to provide readers with a ton of content, an outline the schedule of the four-day Expo, and recognize our sponsors and vendors in a big way.
New Vendor Outreach – As part of our scope of work with the HBA, it was requested that a portion of the promotional budget be used for new vendor outreach. We researched and obtained a contact list for key businesses who could have interest in participating in the Expo. All of these contacts received a mailed invitation which highlighted vendor benefits. Additionally, the top 100 businesses that we really wanted to appeal to received a custom, hand-signed greeting card with a 3D floral display inside (upon opening) to provide that extra personal touch and an invitation to be a vendor.
Vendor Social Media Kit – New to 2020, we also wanted to make sure all vendors felt equipped to help promote their presence at the Expo. We created graphics and suggested content for social media, email, and on their website which could be easily applied to their marketing efforts. Many vendors made use of this which exponentially expanded the reach of the Expo’s promotions.
Earned Media – Overall, the earned media value of our public relations greatly exceeded our expectations and helped to earn the HBA a high value of media coverage for no additional cost. In total, 22 press passes were given out to local media who covered the Expo, with new coverage every day. The Expo was also featured among the “10 Things to Do This weekend” by the Central Penn Business Journal, which got the Expo before hundreds of thousands of local contacts and subscribers all for no added cost to the HBA. Below is just a sample of some of the earned media:
Total Attendees Grew by 150% from 2019 – Our biggest metric for success was the goal to increase attendance. In 2019, there were roughly 4,000 attendees so this became our baseline for what we needed to improve upon – and with a 25% reduced budget, mind you! The HBA, its Expo planning committee, and the vendors all took note that attendance seemed robust and consistent over all four days of the Expo this year, which has not been the case in most recent years. The 2020 attendance total came in at 5,800 attendees which is roughly 1,800 more people than in 2019 and 145% growth.
Total Ticket Sales Earned $10k Over Budget – Ticket sales for 2020 came in $48,912, which is $10,412 more than was budgeted based upon 2019 – an increase of 127% for ticket sales in one year. Not only was this a needed boost in income for the overall success of the event, it spoke to the power of our promotions which pushed the sale of tickets. Vendors were given complimentary tickets to give away to friends and customers, so those attending on complimentary tickets are in addition to the number of sold tickets, further boosting total attendance numbers.
Met and Exceeded Sponsorship Dollars – Total amount of sponsorship dollars raised for the Expo came in 120% higher than what was budgeted for 2020. Furthermore, several new sponsors came to the table, some due in part to Mid-Atlantic Media Hub’s and Bennis Public Relations’ connections and input. Additionally there is ample opportunity to grow sponsorship opportunities in the future with added benefits and higher price points.
Many Non-HBA Members Participated – In total, 56% of vendors who participated in the Expo were current HBA members, and the remaining 44% were not. This is interesting and valuable information because non-member booth pricing is higher than member pricing. This means a good number of vendors paid a premium to participate. Additionally, these are all “hot leads” for the HBA to approach about future membership which further grows the organization not only for the Expo, but year round.
1. A new name brings both challenges and opportunities. By changing the name of the show for (at least) the third time in the history of its existence, this posed some significant challenges for promoting the Expo. We had a new website with hardly any SEO or brand value, and we had to be exceptionally clear that this was the “same” show, just bigger and better. The opportunities were that this gave us something to really talk about! It made the HBA’s show unique over other home shows in the region. And it enabled us to utilize the fun theme “Fresh Ideas in Full Bloom.”
2. If you do what you’ve always done, you can’t expect to grow. We came in and needed to shake things up. Sure, we had the blue print of what was done last year, but we essentially tossed it to the side and instead took time to really listen to the committee, understand the history of the show, and develop a new promotional plan that thought outside the box. We eliminated costly and ineffective strategies and replaced them with better opportunities and new technologies that allowed us to reach so many more people for a lot less money.
3. Recognize the current (national) climate for your industry and events. The Expo planning committee was fantastic to work with. They were a collaborative and innovative team who had plenty of ideas to share. They were also realistic about the national trend for home shows where attendance is declining as well as vendor participation. This doesn’t mean we went into this defeated, rather we were realistic with expectations and outcomes. To say we would quadruple attendance in one year simple wasn’t feasible. Instead we set realistic goals, and then from the promotional side of things, we went on to exceed each and every one.
Could your business or organization benefit from a unique and comprehensive advertising, marketing, and public relations strategy to grow awareness for your events? If so, let’s talk! Contact Bennis Public Relations and we can start brainstorming.