By Lyndsey Douglas
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Over 580 agricultural shows are run annually across Australia. Some have big budgets, big crowds, big ticket entertainment whilst others run on a shoestring and are operated entirely by volunteers. But, they all face a similar challenge around attracting attendance from the local community; promoting a variety of reasons to attend for a broad range of ages and interests.

Here are ten ways; basic marketing ideas, stolen shamelessly from the many shows I attend, that I reckon you can borrow to ensure your community knows your show is around the corner, whilst enticing them to attend.

1. Stage an outrageous preview

No one does this better than Queensland Royal (affectionately known as the Ekka). Their annual media launch is epic. It’s basically a one-hour mini-Ekka staged in a conference hall about six weeks prior to the real event, complete with dagwood dogs, a giant slide, shearing, pyrotechnics, a monster truck, cattle, goats, woodchopping, gourmet lamb cutlets and champagne. Schools kids, families and, critically, the state’s media attend and the exposure that ensues on social and traditional media is unavoidable.

The media kit for the launch includes tonnes of newsworthy announcements spanning reductions in ticket pricing, statistics (for instance, 153,000 strawberry sundaes will be consumed during Ekka and 16 tonnes of manure will be removed from grounds; these two statistics are not correlated in any way), historical milestones and a smartly collated 100 free things to do at the Ekka. Plenty of items that make news angles, headlines and soundbites.

Now, there’s no doubt this probably costs a pretty penny. It’s the biggest show in Queensland, after all, attracting 400,000+ through the gate. It has to be a professionally run launch, but the launch clearly has a worthwhile return on the investment.

Meanwhile, Camden Show, on the outskirts of Sydney is one-tenth of that size, and they also manage to attract huge exposure ahead of their show. The committee found ways, via various ins into the media and tenacious persistence, to meet with Better Homes and Gardens magazine, ABC radio, 2GB, and even the producers at Channel Seven’s popular morning programme Sunrise to secure publicity in the lead up to their event.

Camden Show understood that television programmes need great vision, lots of colour and action, so they staged a show preview the day prior to their real show from 5am – 9am to entice Grant Denyer to do his periodic weather crosses (see video below) from Camden Showground highlighting various elements of the show: whip cracking, oversized vegetables, showjumping, wood chopping.

Everyone involved volunteered (as far as I’m aware), so costs were nominal, and it was so successful that Sunrise came back for the following few years to do the same broadcast.

Proportionately smaller again is Condobolin Show, one-tenth of the size of Camden’s Show. (Full disclosure, this next initiative commenced when I was a cadet journalist in this town). And speaking liberally as a former journo, your local paper can’t just be expected to blindly promote the local show and, if they do, you can expect it won’t be spectacular coverage. Local media needs to maintain and grow their paper sales, the same way you need to main and grow your gate takings. But you can kill two birds with one stone; make a show scene that is worthy of a front page story.

Condobolin Show does this, by having their long-serving secretary Carol-Ann Malouf (who is ordinarily pretty happy to stay behind the camera and away from farcical activities) to stage bizarre and colourful photos promoting a new attraction at each year’s show. It gives the Condobolin Argus, the local rag, a reason to make the front page story the upcoming show.

Like the year the first “The Country Show Cookbook” was released, featuring a home cooked chicken.

Or the year the first “Young Ag Challenge” was instigated and the committee was encouraging local entries (here the president, secretary and showgirl coordinator are pictured).

Or the year after equine influenza had collapsed horse industries and sports across the nation, and horses were once again allowed at ag shows (picturing the president of the day, Tracy Stubberfield and secretary Carol-Ann Malouf).

Or the first year the famous “reptile man” came to the show.

Or the time a new major sponsor came on board and lent us their cherry picker for the media launch.

The point is simple: give the media a lot of colour, options and angles to promote your show, and the exposure will take care of itself.

2. Ask your acts to spread the word

Agricultural shows ordinarily have outside acts in the night show, or major features during the day, brought in from beyond the local community. Those people are also in the trade of becoming more popular, creating a recognisable name and getting exposure to more audiences.

So it makes sense to ask them to do some independent publicity and promotion, on social and traditional media, to get the word out.

One particular act comes to mind. Rooftop Express are great at this. Encourage others to do it.

It’s your responsibility to put them in contact with local media, but they can send their own angles, pictures, stories, multimedia and headlines to generate publicity for their act. And it’s win-win for all. Worst case, you can collate the materials on behalf of the act (pics, videos, info, stats) and do their publicity for them.

3. Spread the show spirit down the main street

Use the exposure of local shopfronts to promote the upcoming show. This is commonly called a ‘Window Display” competition. In the month leading up to your show, run a commercial competition encouraging shopfronts to display show scenes – even set a theme based on a feature of the upcoming show.

This exposes the many locals who wander down the main street during the weeks before your show to get a gentle reminder that the show is around the corner.

It might cost your committee a prize or a trophy, but it’s a small cost for the publicity. In 2018, Camden Show had 22 entries across 6 categories.

Glen Innes Show does it too. Read about their competition here.

Junee Show’s window display competition included entries from the local library and Ag’n’Vet, shown below.

A side benefit is that your local media are likely to report the winners, and the businesses themselves are likely to put their display on their own social media accounts exposing the message of your upcoming to show to their client base.

4. Run a street parade in the lead up

5. Video is vital

If you’re investing in a photographer but not a videographer at your show, I’d challenge you to broaden your scope. Studies have shown that consumers are at least 64% more likely to purchase a product or service that has video representation. By 2019, internet video traffic will account for 80% of all consumer internet traffic.

Create a show promotional video which highlights your activities and the vibe of your show. Don’t have thousands to spend? “See if a local TAFE or school media/communications students could use this as a project or to developer skills,” is the advice of Melissa Neal, a former Victorian Rural Ambassador. Don’t make them long. If you lots of content, make lots of little themed videos.

6. Get local businesses to do your marketing

Give free tickets to key local businesses with a good shopfront location or social media presence as public giveaways for their clients.

Even better, give your local media outlets some free tickets to giveaway. This was in the Townsville Bulletin.

7. Reputation is everything

Encourage online reviews on your Facebook. We’re living in the reputation economy, where the most important influencers are peers. Consumers look at online product reviews before making a purchasing decision, and 90 percent say they’re influenced by those reviews. Another 64 percent say their purchasing decisions are influenced by social content.

Drive attendees and competitors to review your show year round. Yes, they won’t always be perfect reviews and you might have to tackle some feedback publicly, but this rise in public commentary is unavoidable so we’re better to embrace it and encourage it, be receptive to feedback and improve our shows in line with community expectations.

I would love to hear more examples of cheap promotional activities that work for your show.

Lyndsey Douglas, director, Agricultural Shows Australia.