Author: Dave Brooks
Date: December 06,2006

LAS VEGAS — Developing a strong web presence can be a
daunting task for fair operators. Between the technology and the
amount of manpower involved, it can be a frightening process full
of talk about bandwidth, web portals and downloading.At least the
hard part is over.“Everybody in the fair business is sitting
on a gold mine,” said web developer Neal Schore during an
Internet marketing forum at the International Association of Fairs
and Expositions conference on Dec. 5. “Fairs already have a
huge community in place. There are companies who would spend
millions to develop those types of online communities. That means
the fairs have already done the hard part — now they just
have to give them content.”Schore points to the recent sale
of YouTube for over $1.7 billion, along with MySpace, which was
recently purchased by Rupert Murdoch for $500 million. Both online
properties sold for enormous sums because they had already
developed large online followings with lots of viewers. Fairs also
have large followings, and the increasing computer savvy of
today’s populations means a large portion of visitors is
likely looking online for fair information. That means opportunity
not only to provide additional information to fair visitors and
expand the fair experience outside of the fairgrounds, but also a
chance for many fairs to generate some additional
revenue.“The web is a natural manifestation of what you do
and everything you try to mean to your fairgoers,” said Mary
Ann Halford of the Fair Network in New York.Either way,
there’s an opportunity for many fairs to begin looking at how
they use their web sites. Here are some easy tips offered at the
session for improving a fair’s web site.Develop additional
content: To keep people coming to their web site, fairs must
develop attractive content, said Schore. That can mean anything
from profiles of exhibitors, to photos submitted by fairgoers.
Publisher Michael Geisen of Progressive Farmer, one of the largest
rural lifestyle magazines in the world, said he is beginning to
offer content from his magazine to fair websites in exchange for
links to his subscription pages. His articles include pieces on
restoring an old barn, how to purchase a new tractor and how to
care for young animals.“It’s stuff that people who live
in the country and attend fairs really value,” he
said.Streamline software: One of the biggest challenges
fair’s face with websites is controlling their computer
applications. Like other companies, fairs often have a program for
handling emails, developing web content, posting web content and
tracking web traffic.“There are all types of solutions out
there and people often find themselves using multiple packages to
get their work done,” said web site developer Michael Geisen
of Ntelligent Systems. His firm developed the web sites for the Los
Angeles County and Orange County Fairs in Southern California. To
make updating the sites easier, his company linked the pages to a
new Adobe application called “Contribute.”Unlike past
programs, where users had to develop content and then manually post
pages online, “Contribute” allows end-users to quickly
update their sites by entering information and then clicking a
button for it to post online. Track your web traffic and e-mail:
It’s important to know who’s visiting the fair site and
how to get hold of them.Google now offers a service called Google
Analytics that provides a comprehensive breakdown of web site
traffic. The application is free and can be matched with
Google’s new AdSense program, which helps users track
advertisement click-throughs.There are also several software
applications on the market for collecting e-mail addresses and
quickly designing e-mail marketing campaigns. California-based
Drive Marketing has developed a survey application that rewards
visitors with coupons in exchange for consumer information —
they collected over 100,000 signatures for the Del Mar Fair.
“E-mails are like gold,” said Geisen. “You can
send them out quickly and get responses almost immediately.”
— Dave BrooksInterviewed for this article: Mary Ann Halford,
(212) 481-0096; Neal Shenoy, (212) 931-0182; Neal Schore, (818)
708-2900; Michael Geison, (714) 425-4970