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Marketing the fairgrounds

There’s not much of an advertising budget available for the Kitsap County Fairgrounds and Events Center, but there are some strategies for increasing the number of bookings there.

For starters, instead of staff-produced promotional materials from the county’s Parks and Recreation department — which oversees the fairgrounds — there’s a new brochure being produced by Outlook Writing and Design of Belfair.

“We decided to go with an agency to have a more professional looking brochure,” said Billie Schmidt, the Parks and Rec operations manager who has as much to do with marketing the fairgrounds as anyone.

The 40-acre fairgrounds complex includes the Kitsap Sun Pavilion for big events and expos, the Presidents’ Hall that has a seating capacity of 1,000, and the Eagles Nest that can accommodate about 100 people for meetings or other gatherings.

Mike Walton, executive director of the Kitsap Public Facilities District (PFD) — which has funds to invest in improvements at the fairgrounds and other sites — said not having a full-time marketing person on the Parks and Rec staff makes promoting the county venues more challenging.

“So the PFD has engaged the (Kitsap Peninsula) Visitors and Convention Bureau on a contract basis to assist and work with the the parks department in promoting the facilities at the fairgrounds,” Walton said.

Actually, Walton said his organization re-engaged with the VCB since Patty Graf-Hoke took over as executive director. She’s working with county parks director Jim Dunwiddie and his staff to get more information about activities at the fairgrounds posted on the VCB website, Walton said, and she publishes an e-newsletter that goes out to 17-18,000 people around the Puget Sound area.

“We’re basically trying to channel people into our website,” through cooperation with the VCB and through ads on the Kitsap Sun website through a sponsorship agreement, Schmidt said.

She said the VCB recently steered an online contact to the parks department that resulted in booking a multi-day event, the Just Between Friends Sale on Sept. 13-15 in the Van Zee barn. It’s a children’s consignment sale, and Schmidt anticipates the event could grow and become an annual event needing a bigger space such as the Presidents’ Hall.

The next step in improving online marketing for the fairgrounds is adding a software program on the website by the first of next year to allow direct booking of facilities. Schmidt said website visitors will be able to see the floor plans and other detailed information about the various venues, and check to see if it’s available on the date they need.

“It’s customer-friendly, and the customer will be able to decide if the venue fits their needs,” she said.

Another issue at the fairgrounds is limited staffing due to the county’s tight budget. To address that, the parks department has put out two RFPs (Request for Proposals), one to sign up an exclusive vendor for sound and lighting services at big events in the pavilion, and another for a pipe and drape vendor.

Having those services handled through vendors whose costs would be included in the rental agreement would accomplish two things, Schmidt said. A sound and light company would have more expertise and could provide better service than the fairgrounds staff, and the staff would have more time to devote to needed maintenance work at the facilities.

All those strategies should help meet the revenue-generation goals the county has for the fairgrounds complex.

“We’re trying to increase the amount of revenue beyond what the budget is,” Schmidt said. “We met it last year, and we want to exceed it.”

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