With an all-time record of 1,997,320 visitors attending the Minnesota State Fair last year, it’s only natural for fairgoers and staff to want to hit the 2 million mark this year. And with two daily attendance records set within the first three days of the fair—and another one set yesterday—they’re well on their way.
Despite a handful of rainy days, attendance is up from last year by more than 31,000 as of Wednesday. To reach 2 million, the fair needs to attract only 3,000 more fairgoers than last year.
But Renee Alexander, the fair’s deputy general manager of marketing and entertainment, has bigger plans: “I want to blow past the 2 million mark,” she says.
It’s definitely doable. Last year’s attendance exceeded 2016’s by nearly 54,000. With a little help from local media and Instagram, Alexander is confident she can make it happen.
“One unique thing about the Minnesota State Fair is the amount of local media that broadcasts live from the fairgrounds,” she says. (This year there’s about 30 local radio and TV stations broadcasting daily, as well as several print and digital media organizations.) “We look to those outlets to do the heavy lifting when the fair begins.”
In recent years, the fair has received a lot more national media attention too. About a dozen national outlets made an appearance last year, says Alexander, including the Today Show, which did a live broadcast on opening day.
To attract more millennials and expand their reach, Alexander’s team added digital media ads to its advertising portfolio for the first time last year, and this year, they actively reached out to Instagram influencers to help promote the fair.
“We tend to lose people from about ages 22 to 32,” says Alexander, “partially because of financial reasons, and partially because we are competing with a lot of other entertainment opportunities. We’re trying to connect with that group in ways that resonate.”
The fair’s increased social media presence and national media coverage have helped enhance the fair’s visibility outside the state. Using zip code data collected from ticket sales last year, “we had representation from all 50 states, six Canadian provinces, and 20 countries,” says Alexander. That’s pretty impressive considering an estimated 90 to 95 percent of fairgoers live in Minnesota—although there’s no way to know what the exact numbers are, she notes. “It’s all based on information people give us, and we don’t typically collect zip code information for cash sales.”
Other than a small amount of advertising in western Wisconsin, the fair doesn’t advertise through traditional channels outside state lines, yet, it’s the second-largest state fair in the country in terms of attendance. (Texas has the largest state fair, and it runs twice as long.) While social media has helped boost attendance in recent years, Alexander says it’s the staff’s dedication to ensuring every visitor has a positive experience that keeps fairgoers coming back.
We have a very robust guest services department that responds to every inquiry within 24 hours,” she says. Whether it’s sending free tickets to a guest who had a particularly negative experience or driving someone who became ill home, “we want to provide the best experience we can,” says Alexander, which includes great food and beer too. “Minnesotans have a great sense of pride for their fair, we’re merely the gatekeepers who make sure that everything runs smoothly.”
As for whether pride, customer service, and social media are enough to set a new record? We’ll know the answer next week.