Explore Lawrence’s Final Fridays advertising bringing in out-of-town visitors

In this file photo from August 2014, patrons view art during a Final Fridays event at the Lawrence Public Library.

Explore Lawrence’s targeted advertising toward people attending arts events in major Midwest cities has been able to attract visitors to the city’s Final Fridays events, according to the organization’s marketing analysis.

Since 2017, online advertising for Final Fridays has been seen by close to 3 million out-of-town web users, with at least 2,500 of those users making a trip to Lawrence for the monthly arts and cultural event.

“We’re pleased with the marketing and it’s doing exactly what we want it to do,” said Michael Davidson, director of Explore Lawrence, the local convention and visitors bureau.

The Lawrence Arts Commission asked Explore Lawrence to take over advertising and marketing for Final Fridays in 2016. Prior to that, the city had a “rudimentary” marketing plan for Final Fridays, which it had been operating in Lawrence for more than 10 years, said Porter Arneill, director of creative resources for the city of Lawrence and liaison for the arts commission.

“We’re pleased with the much-expanded effort from Explore Lawrence to market Final Fridays,” Arneill said. “It’s nice to get a baseline perspective of what that looks like.”

He said the results also give Explore Lawrence and the arts commission a better idea of what’s working and new avenues to consider to market the event. He’s also noticed more businesses are expressing interest in getting involved in Final Fridays, suggesting the event has been beneficial for locals.

Andrea Johnson, director of marketing and communications for Explore Lawrence, said one of the marketing methods the organization has used to attract out-of-town visitors is targeted advertising to mobile phones of people who are attending similar events in Topeka, Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago.

Through a process called mobile geofencing, Explore Lawrence is able to target advertisements to the mobile web browsers of the people in the area of those events. It can also see how many of the people who viewed the advertisements later attend Lawrence events.

The advertising was specifically targeting Chicago because there are a lot of University of Kansas alumni living in the Chicago area. Johnson said the organization has found Denver, Dallas and Minneapolis to have large KU alumni populations as well.

Davidson said the campaign did not seem to bring in as many Chicago visitors this year as the organization had hoped, but he added that Explore Lawrence may be able to attract more people by sending reminders to them further in advance. The organization was sending advertising reminders the week of the event, but people more than a couple hours away might appreciate more notice, he said.

“We want to keep working that market,” Davidson said. “We’ve got to promote a little further out for them. Topeka and Kansas City may be more of an impulse kind of thing, but St. Louis and Chicago (visitors) may need to plan it out a little more.”

The marketing method costs the organization about $20,000 a year, Johnson said — Explore Lawrence calculated that it costs $40 to reach each out-of-town visitor. But the campaign brings more money into the community, she said.

“Those people are spending more than $40 when they are here,” she said.

photo by: John Young

Artwork is displayed in Phoenix Gallery Underground during a 2013 Final Fridays event.

Although the one-day visits are nice, Explore Lawrence also wants Final Fridays visitors to stay the night in local hotels. This year, the organization expanded and focused its marketing on what visitors can do after the Final Fridays events — such as shopping, dining and other weekend cultural events.

A blog that markets those activities, called Final Fridays-turned-Weekend, has received more than 4,000 page views this year and has kept online visitors on the Explore Lawrence website, according to the organization’s data.

“When they read the blog, they aren’t leaving the site,” Johnson said. “They are exploring a little more and they are engaged users.”

The organization’s Final Fridays webpage has seen a significant increase of web traffic in 2018 compared to that of 2017, including a 60 percent increase in unique page views. Most of the increases in web traffic came in June, July and August, which are common vacation and travel months, Johnson said.

The results are encouraging and important for Explore Lawrence. The organization receives most of its funding through the transient guest tax, which is collected from guests at local hotels and goes toward initiatives to promote tourism. By encouraging visitors to stay the whole weekend, Explore Lawrence helps increase funding for tourism initiatives and helps outside visitors spend money at local businesses.

The organization is currently working on its 2019 marketing plan, which will likely be tweaked to help bring in more Final Friday visitors, among other local tourist attractions, Davidson said. Additionally, the KU Hall Center for Humanities recently applied for a grant that could be used to conduct scholarly research on Final Fridays, which could help Explore Lawrence expand its methods in a more efficient manner.

“This is valuable. We know it is,” Davidson said of Final Fridays. “We can enhance it and bring more things to it and keep adding value to it for visitors … That’s what we want to do moving forward.”


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