After a seven-year hiatus, how do you bring back an airshow, and add a hands-on, interactive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) expo and a “village” that honors and celebrates Veterans? And then how do you get people to come, with limited budget. That’s exactly the challenge facing the non-profit organization, the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show and STEM Expo.
In 2012, the board engaged in outreach to the US Navy Blue Angels in an attempt to secure their participation in a possible 2014 event. At the same time, they began outreach to local corporations and organizations to begin the process of securing their support and their participation in the event, which was scheduled for May 2014.
Simultaneously, Elasticity created social media channels, media outreach and a marketing strategy that began in late 2012. Utilizing key announcements, such as St. Louis being on the Blue Angels schedule, other acts being secured, and the 2013 winter site visit by the #7 jet, media interest was generated, and social media content was created on an ongoing basis.
Beginning in January 2014, Elasticity launched a heavy media push. CBS Radio, which consists of three radio stations with a wide demographic reach, came on board as a strategic partner with the Air Show, with a heavy media push planned for the final 7 days before the show. Additionally, a targeted Facebook advertising buy was tested, and when the results showed it cost only $0.20 per like, a small online effort was launched targeted towards specific audiences on Facebook.
In addition, working with the volunteer team on the ground and the US Navy Blue Angels and other performers, media opportunities were planned, such as F/A-18 VIP rides, a C-130 “Fat Albert” ride, B-17 flights, a Dauntless honor flight for a 92-year-old Veteran, performer interviews, media live shots on the Blue Angel flight line, media interviews with pilots with local connections, and more. In addition, photojournalists were given 3-days of pre-show access to the “hot ramp” where all the performers and their aircraft were located.
Over the course of the weekend, media was given complete access to the show grounds, and social media was run by a team consisting of a professional photographer, the event spokesperson and volunteers to ensure the on-the-ground and in-the-air experience was communicated via social. In addition, all questions and concerns were responded to on social media as quickly as possible.
With all the plans in place, the non-profit Spirit of St. Louis Air Show and STEM Expo planned for 25,000 people each day of the two-day event.
Saturday saw approximately 75,000 people on the grounds, and many thousands more watching from surrounding parking lots, businesses and homes. Sunday, closer to 100,000 people made it to the airshow grounds and countless others watched from the surrounding area. This was due to beautiful weather, the efforts of more than 1,000 volunteers, awareness across the region of the airshow through the partnership with CBS Radio and the extensive media coverage, solid corporate and organizational support from companies such as Boeing, MasterCard, Emerson and Monsanto, and the low price point of the airshow. Adults were $10 in advance, and children 12-and-under were free, as were active duty military.
Media outreach resulted in more than 100 different television segments, radio interviews and print pieces over the course of 5 days.
The Blue Angels received the largest media turnout at their team arrival in 2014, and their largest audience ever in St. Louis. Professional staff, who had worked airshows for years, at the Spirit of St. Louis Airport noted that from their vantage point, it was the largest audience they had ever seen at an airshow in St. Louis.
Additionally, the success of the event allowed to event to strongly support the efforts in the region to promote STEM education and careers, and to support organizations that work with Veterans.