Countdown to Halloween Town 2008

071027htown1021-300x207.jpg

Labor Day means a lot of things to people: end of summer, back to school and down to business at the office!  On my team for four years now Labor Day has meant just one thing: Halloween Town is right around the corner!

Halloween Town is our biggest cause marketing event of the year, which we could never accomplish without our longtime partner iParty.  I've blogged about it quite a bit. You can catch up on past posts by searching on "Halloween Town" in the upper right corner or by searching in "Cause Marketer's Journal" on the right sidebar.  You can also check out a brief promotional video here.

The skinny on the event for you newbies is that it's a huge two-day Halloween party for kids ten and under at Boston's Seaport World Trade Center, which is a 70,000 square foot facility.  Last year's event attracted 13,000 people.  The cause marketing connection comes from the many companies, mainly retailers, that participate in the event in two important ways.

First, leading up to the event retailers sell Halloween Town mobiles in their stores to raise money for our cause and to promote the event.  Second, they participate in the event by having their own Halloween-themed zone where they can promote their brand and connect with families.  A local supermarket chain, for instance, shipped in 10,000 pumpkins last year for kids to decorate and then have their picture taken by the retailer's antique delivery truck.

This year's event will have many of the same ingredients that have made previous years such a big success.  But with a challenging economy and our own ambitious goal to dramatically increase the money we net from the event, here are of the some of the areas we've focused on and invested in so we can make more money.

More partners, but fewer mobile partners.  Retailers are struggling so it's no surprise that we have fewer point-of-sale partners than last year.  It's too bad, because as I've written before, these programs are efficient, effective and lucrative.  To make up for the shortfall, the sales team here has focused on smaller sponsorships of $5,000 or less.  Because Halloween Town has grown so dramatically the past few years and the demographic is so desirable (the four-eyed, four-legged monster, as we like to call it: mothers with kids) we actually have been able to attract a number of good companies in search of sampling and marketing opportunities.  To date, sponsorship revenues are up over 30 percent compared to last year.  And since these marketing partnerships are turnkey, there's a good chance we'll close several more before over the next several weeks.  These smaller sponsorships don't totally make up for the loss of mobile partners--one of which was worth nearly $100k--but they do help.

Maximizing the mobiles partners we do have.  For those excellent mobile partners we do have, we're spending more time figuring out how we can maximize the money they raise for us in their stores.  Regardless of how successful the program is, compliance is always a challenge.  Not every register clerk is asking that all-important question: "Do you want to donate a dollar to help a sick child?".  To increase employee participation in the program, we've reviewed our incentive program to make sure that it motivates employees to participate.  We've scheduled more kick-offs at area stores so that we can educate employees about the mission of our organization and to thank them in person for their efforts.  Perhaps, most importantly, we plan to work more closely with store managers to give them the tools and support they need to ensure the success of the program in their stores.  

Drive traffic with premium entertainment.  One thing we learned from past Halloween Towns is that people will really turn out for celebrities and quality entertainment.  We saw it two years ago when adoring young mothers came out to see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the following year when tweens came out to hear local pop group Girl Authority.  Both of these acts came at no cost to us, but this year we decided to invest in entertainment that we hope will drive traffic to the gate.  We chose musician Dan Zanes for several reasons.  He's well known to the kid demo thanks to appearances on Disney and Noggin.  He's also a New England native who sold out all of his New England appearances last year.  Finally, Dan is a good fit for our organization.  He truly cares about the underserved, immigrant population we serve and has released a CD in Spanish.  While Halloween Town has always attracted a great crowd--attendance last year was up 30 percent from the year before--the World Trade Center at which it is held is a huge facility and can accommodate many, many more people and we want to take full advantage of that.  We think Dan is an entertainer that can help us pack the house.

Charging for things that use to be free.  For the past couple years of Halloween Town we've taken special note of those activities that were always really popular with visitors.  The line for laser tag was always out the door.  Kids and parents alike loved the really fancy face painting that can make a three year old look like a cat or lion.  And we use to give these things away!  People paid one admission price and just about everything inside was free.  This year we'll experiment with charging for some activities in hopes of raising more money (face painting) and to helping with crowd control (laser tag).  The result should be a better, more successful event.