Spring Break is weeks away and nothing is going according to plan. Two sponsors have dropped out, three more want in. You’re short on field staffers, and your equipment truck is stuck in customs at the Mexican border. Did we mention they’re forecasting a hurricane mid-month or that the area hotels are already overbooked?
No one ever said it was easy to plan a month-long beach-side party for thousands of college revelers celebrating a week’s break from the books by soaking in the sun and (ahem) local culture. But catching a view of the preparation process from six weeks out can hopefully help marketers avoid — or deal with — some of the aforementioned pitfalls. When done properly, a Spring Break promotion gives that relaxed group of young consumers from a vast cross-section of the country something to talk about back at the dorms.
PROMO caught up with marketers from agencies, brands and the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau to discuss their vacation plans.
AMP Agency (the promotional marketing arm of Alloy, Inc., New York City) will stage all of its Break activities in Panama City Beach, FL, where it is the official marketing partner of the local Convention and Visitors Bureau. AMP and its half-dozen sponsors will take over 100,000-square-feet at the Spinnacker Beach Resort Night Club and the beach behind it for its Fantasy Island-themed village, complete with tiki huts for sponsors. ABC Daytime (see sidebar) and Panasonic USA will be on-site promoting All My Children and a four-in-one audio/video device, respectively.
Meanwhile, New York City-based on-campus TV network Zilo Networks is hauling in bike ramps, jet-skis and rock walls for its All Terrain Challenge: Air — Land — Sea (December 2002 PROMO). In its second year, the extreme sports competition for students returns to Cancun, and will also take place simultaneously in Panama City Beach. Coca-Cola’s Powerade is the official sponsor. Teams can win as much as $20,000.
Countdown from March 1
Final measurement time. No, not your bathing suit, the event location. According to Eric Hoover, VP-proprietary events at AMP, this is when the agency maps out what sponsors are going where and how much space each one needs. Being a part of a themed environment — instead of randomly sampling on the beach — is key, says David Williams, senior manager of Panasonic Consumer Electronics’ brand strategy group. “There is a main stage event hourly and massive amounts of kids come through the area before and after,” he says. “I see vendors further down the beach randomly and it’s just not the same.”
Build-out begins. AMP hires a local contractor to construct the main stage area and huts. “It used to be tent city, like a circus coming to town, but now we are building modular areas that directly meet the clients’ needs,” Hoover says. “If you look at the tours that go around to college campuses, students are used to seeing great set-ups and they need to be wowed.” The personalized areas also mean students hang out longer. “In the past, they would stay 30 to 45 minutes, if you were lucky, but now we can’t get rid of them at the end of the day,” he says.
AMP’s full-time management staff (12 to 16 people) heads to Panama City to hire field staffers. Some 30 to 50 local staffers will work each day. “Staffing is one of our biggest issues,” Hoover says. “If it’s a pool of 120 people, we will probably lose half of them along the way.” Local staff is gleaned from talent or modeling agencies and students who sign up for a free trip — many of whom will work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day running events and games and manning kiosks, and then go out and party all night, he notes. Hire more than you’ll need.
Final, final, final stages. For Zilo and its Cancun events, shipping is the main concern at this point, as customs can hold things up and it’s harder to outsource in Mexico. Zilo sends multiple trucks full of ATVs, ramps, banners and other materials across the border.
Elsewhere, Panasonic is tweaking the training process for its field staffers. The company will be sampling its MP3 players and the new SV-AV30 device (which, among many features, plays MP3s and takes digital photos). Beach teams will cruise around asking students to try samples, and students can stop by the Panasonic hut and borrow the product for free as they roam for a few hours.
Crunch time. Just when everything is on the road, a few last-minute sponsors want in. “We’ll take them as late as we can,” says David Isaacs, CEO of Zilo. “Ideally, we wanted them signed up last year, but a lot of them wait until they get their new budgets in.”
Meanwhile, the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau is checking up on all of its accommodation partners and making sure their “spring clean-up” went according to plan and that they can meet room demand. “Some students show up without having booked rooms, which can make things tight,” says Jayna Leach, director of sales and marketing at the bureau, which works with nearly 20,000 rooms at various locations.
All staff is on site. “The truck is probably at the border and we’ll have our customs agents on hand,” Isaacs says. “You hear so many stories about people who try to FedEx their stuff down and it gets left at customs; you just can’t send it down there like that.”
Also be prepared to ship extra supplies. Powerade learned its lesson last year when its samples were so popular in the Cancun heat that they ran clean out by the second day and had to air-lift in more.
Assuming your Spring Break trip is a success, be prepared to renew plans for another year. Powerade had never done a Spring Break promotion before last year but found the fit so natural, they came back to work with Zilo for the double-header events in Cancun and Panama City this year. “We’ve been approached for years to belly-flop Spring Break programs, but we never really had an opportunity that fit with our position of power and energy,” says David Preston, senior brand manager for Powerade.
Now, don’t forget the sunscreen.
Spring Break Soap Dish
THE DRAMA OF SPRING BREAK could fuel quite a few soap opera storylines. After all, it gives MTV two months of programming filming scantily clad, boisterous co-eds. This year, ABC Daytime is hitting the beaches to use the youth-filled environment as background material for its popular All My Children soap opera.
AMC characters Greenlee (Rebecca Budig) and Kendall (Alicia Minshew) are seeking the “sexiest man in America” to promote their new cosmetics company. The two actresses/characters embark on a real-life cross-country tour, blurring reality with fiction, as soap fans pick which contestant (chosen from on-site, online and mailed-in entries) will score a walk-on role on AMC in September. The Sexiest Man Search will visit at least five markets, including collegiate hot spot Panama City Beach this month. ABC Daytime secured the appearance through a sponsorship with Alloy’s AMP Agency.
AMC fused the real-world with make-believe last year when it cast Revlon into its script as a part of a multimillion-dollar advertising buy (August 2002 PROMO). “Product placement is so commonplace that sponsors are looking for more creative integration,” says Valerie McMichael, VP-marketing and promotion at ABC Daytime.
The search begins this month on-air and solicitation for viewer votes begins in mid-May and goes through July. The field will be narrowed down to 25 semi-finalists and for five weeks, fans can vote at abc.com or via cell phone.
“This all came about when we were thinking of ways to take advantage of the growing interest in reality TV and it fit right in with the characters,” says Maxine Levinson, producer of the Sexiest Man Search.
Timing wasn’t too shabby either. AMC typically attracts a younger viewer audience during the summer months. Print ads, radio and TV spots, as well as posters at more than 250 colleges support the program.