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Member Spotlight: Jennifer Schuder

TITLE & ORGANIZATION

Senior Vice President, Marketing at State Fair of Texas

LOCATION

Dallas, Texas, USA

FOUNDING SMA MEMBER SINCE

2022

Tell us about the State Fair of Texas and your highlights. 

The State Fair of Texas has been one of the largest state fairs in the country, operating since 1886. We run for 24 consecutive days starting the last weekend in September. Our fairgrounds are 277 acres and located in the middle of the nation’s most extensive collection of art deco buildings, which creates a unique setting for a fair. It’s Texas, and we like things bigger and better, which includes a 55-foot-tall cowboy, Big Tex, that welcomes our 2.3 million visitors each year with, “Howdy Folks!” I am fortunate to work at the State Fair of Texas and help creative memories for our visitors.

What sponsorship event are you most excited about for this year’s fair? 

Throughout the last several years, we rolled out additional “soft areas on the grounds.”  Seating and shade are a premium on the fairgrounds. We wanted attendees to have great spots to sit, rest, and enjoy amazing Fair food. The Fair identified underutilized areas and the right food and beverage partners for the areas and built the necessary infrastructure. The result has been an enhanced customer experience and increased food and beverage sales.

In 2022, the sponsorship team partnered with our food and beverage operations to identify “seating areas” adjacent to several of our soft space operations that could be utilized for brand activation. Adult beverage companies could activate by integrating branding throughout the seating and creative sampling or promotional activities in the designated areas. The idea was to create an opportunity that was more than just a booth at the fair; it provided a connection to the brand.

The result. All the areas were sold to various beer brands. They created an immersive brand experience and provided the fairgoers with an opportunity to discover new products and flavors. These activations had a meaningful impact for our brewing partners and fairgoers. Fairgoers enjoyed authentically interacting with the brands.  For the brewing partners, the mini-sampling locations were adjacent to tap areas or beer gardens, making it easy for consumers to purchase a whole pint after sampling.

It was a pilot program in 2022, and several brands excelled. Due to its success, we continued the program in 2023, and there was some friendly competition between a few beer partners, which only enhanced the customer experience. The biggest challenge for our team now is to find more space to expand the program.

What is the best or most exciting partnership you have ever participated in?

Chevrolet has been a long-time fair partner for more than twenty years and has a robust integration. They sponsor our mainstage and have a 148,000-square-foot, ride-and-drive, which is a central part of the fair experience.

For 2023, we conducted a complete mainstage redesign. Our goal was to better the space around the mainstage to increase utilization all 24 days of the Fair. The team worked with our new producing partner, Romeo Entertainment, and Chevrolet to expand the genre offering and placement of larger bands on weekdays verses a traditional Friday or Saturday.

The mainstage is a festival stage, and all concerts are included with admission to the fair. We creatively programmed the mainstage with video elements, viewing content that will allow us to conduct giveaways, integrating VIP experiences into Chevrolet test drives, and a DJ that ignited dancing in front of the stage. We’re also including fun and engaging cover bands on key dates, which helps draw engagement for anyone attending the fair but might a concert was not on their radar. Who doesn’t like to sing along with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Overall, we invited people to gather at the mainstage and enjoy various entertainment across the 24 fair days. The imaginative and strategic planning with Chevrolet and the producing entertainment partner was inspiring and exciting, and we were thrilled to create a new, memorable experience for fairgoers.

What sponsorship marketing strategies have you implemented that are vital to the fair’s success? 

We are very fortunate with our long-term partners, and our sponsor renewal rate is high. Throughout the past few years, one of our strategies has been to convert many partners into multi-year contracts. That is a win-win for all of us, as we’re not spending time each year renegotiating a contract, and we can focus on better service for our partners. That has been a big focus of our team since I started my role. About 64% of our sponsors are now on multi-year contracts, most of which are 3-year or 5-year commitments.

We have found that going year to year, does not provide us with the same opportunity to expand and enhance our partnership. Our philosophy is to support the partnership by finding new opportunities to support our partner’s KPIs during the commitment term rather than negotiating an annual contract.

What is the secret to your success with partnerships? 

It is about building solid relationships. This year, we looked inward and realized we could improve our year-round communication with partners and do a better job of describing the impact of the fair’s nonprofit mission.

Partnership with the fair is more than onsite activation or a sign on the grounds. Proceeds from the fair go back into the community through our scholarship program, the youth livestock program, and our Big Tex Urban Farm  A working farm located on our Midway, which donates all the food to our South Dallas community.

Our communications also included celebratory information, such as “Happy Valentine’s Day – check out this fun event we did with a vendor for the holiday,” highlighting a new fair attraction, key dates that sponsors needed, or an event showcasing other sponsor activations to entice them to want to learn more about how they can do that with us.

The goal is to engage with our sponsors year-round, so our communication is not limited to the business side of remitting payments, needing their insurance certificates, etc.  Our ultimate goal is to continually build solid and everlasting relationships.

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