1. Laying the Groundwork
The Alabama Bicentennial Commission (Alabama 200) set out to commemorate 200 years of statehood beginning in 2017 with a three-year plan which would culminate in a celebration on December 14, 2019, Alabama’s birthday. The executive director of Alabama 200 approached Stamp to help with its mission to educate every citizen about people, places and events in the state’s history by encouraging exploration of the state and its many attractions and landmarks.
As is the case with virtually all projects, Stamp started by working with the Commission to develop a Marketing Action Plan (MAP). Once the who, what and why were defined, we developed a broad awareness strategy and then began creating the marketing materials for this three-year initiative. The first step the communications strategy was to redesign the Commission’s website to improve the user experience while optimizing usability and speed. The new website highlighted upcoming signature events as well as numerous local events and included ways to participate, educational resources, historical facts, statewide partners, media relations, community resources including a toolkit for event organizers, and integration with a crowd-sourced calendar plug-in.
It was decided that the first year of the campaign would focus on people, the second year would focus on places, and the third year would focus on stories. The project would include outreach to all Alabamians especially educators, community leaders, civic groups, history enthusiasts, and mass media partners. The newly designed website and a comprehensive community calendar would be the primary sources of information for the public and for partners to learn how to get involved, submit local events, and access downloadable assets.
The new website became a centralized tool used to store and share the important information ranging from events to teacher education to news releases and an e-commerce component was added in order for consumers to buy Alabama-themed memorabilia. A May 2017 kickoff event held in Mobile, Alabama officially launched Alabama200.org. The site attracted more than 1,000 visitors during the two-day event and in just eight weeks reached almost 8,000 visitors and had an incredible 1,400 people sign up to receive email alerts and ongoing marketing content from the Alabama Bicentennial Commission.
2. Build a Community
The second step is to proactively build a community. The Alabama Bicentennial Commission set out to do this from the onset by building a comprehensive network of event planners. Leveraging strong partnerships in state and county leadership to form committees, establish local celebrations, and facilitate communication, the Bicentennial Commission leaned heavily on organizations such as the League of Municipalities, the Department of Archives and History, the Department of Education, the Council on the Arts, the State Tourism Department, and many others to be liaisons with their respective communities. Assigning a local point person, providing training, digital resources, and awarding micro-grants also proved successful in their community-building and outreach efforts. Generating excitement for community efforts takes time. Ongoing training and refinement of events and programs helped ensure that there was no overlap. It also helped ensure that the local planners understood the vision and implemented their events using properly branded materials.
To help facilitate a consistent brand image for the promotion of Alabama 200 events and programs and to make it easier for their valued stakeholders, Stamp created a shell for event banners, flyers and promotional items as a toolkit for those who had been awarded micro-grants. Alabama 200 held 546 endorsed community events with at least one event in each of the 67 counties. The Bicentennial Commission also issued 60 county grants, 162 community grants, and 46 special grants for event promotion totaling $897,000.
3. Educate the Community
Another high priority for the Bicentennial Commission was onboarding state and local education administrators and teachers at every level. The success of reaching educators depended on assigning a point person to communicate with this target audience. Then, leaders scheduled summer training sessions in three regions of the state that made it convenient for teacher participation. In addition to training sessions, the Bicentennial Commission created student plans and added online resources where teachers could find access to artifacts provided by the Alabama Department of Archives & History.
The last step in educational outreach was to add a “Bicentennial School” program that schools could qualify for if they met certain criteria. Communicating with educators served multiple purposes and helped to fulfill two of the overarching goals: 1) to make as many people as possible in the state aware of the Bicentennial celebration and 2) instill state pride among Alabamians. Teachers, students, their families, and citizens across the state participated to make it successful. Bicentennial School press coverage as well as signage helped to spread the message. Alabama 200 held 20 summer training sessions with 413 individuals attending, generated online views of 75 learning activities and educator resources, designated 196 Bicentennial Schools, awarded 21 Bicentennial Schools of Excellence, and boasted numerous community engagement projects. The Bicentennial Commission website received 129,000 unique pageviews to the educator’s section over the three-year period.
4. Forge Partnerships
In the second year of the three-year celebration, the Bicentennial Commission reached out and formed partnerships with various media outlets including the Alabama Press Association, Alabama Public Television, Alabama Media Group, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, and others. Initiating these partnerships helped establish the media communications component of the program to help spread awareness. As an example, through their partnerships with radio and television stations, the Alabama Broadcasters Association ran 175,593 PEP (Public Education Partnerships) messages which produced 4.6 million media impressions. In addition to these partnerships, the Bicentennial Commission assigned staff to help manage daily social media postings, website updates, and press messages.
Events changed so frequently that many hands had to be at the ready to coordinate information and communicate to the public. Volunteers were a key group of people who were on hand to help during community events. The Bicentennial Commission website received over 2,500 unique pageviews to the community toolkit page offering branded banner templates, press release templates, model resolutions, and everything needed to plan a successful event.
5. Marketing & Promotion
The third year of Bicentennial efforts included an email marketing campaign to promote all community events, endorsed events, and signature events. Alabama 200 sent 27 e-newsletters to a database of 12,000 subscribers to drive traffic to the website. They held 546 endorsed events, 28 signature events, and 379 tourism events totaling 953 events overall. Marketing efforts included the culmination of the Bicentennial with a Grand Finale event in Montgomery, AL on Alabama Day, December 14, 2019. The brand was enhanced with a unique Grand Finale image to stand out from three years of marketing and included flags, beads, vendors, parades, and live music throughout the day. Events helped to build excitement and achieve the goals to make as many people as possible in the state aware of the Bicentennial and to instill overall state pride among Alabamians.
In the first two years the website had more than 171,000 overall users to the website with more than 254,000 user sessions. Social Media was also used to inform the community and garnered 14,761 Facebook likes, 1,597 Twitter followers and 2,493 Instagram followers.
Overall, the Alabama Bicentennial Celebration was very successful for all involved; the state, the Bicentennial Commission, state and local government, schools and administrators, and the general public. With Stamp’s expertise in branding, website creation, partnership building and marketing, the program was well executed and outperformed expectations.
Takeaway: the formula to achieve results with any marketing initiative always starts with a strong marketing plan, and developing a marketing action plan is an excellent process to undertake to build a strong plan. Then work to build community, leverage partnerships, educate, and implement marketing and you will be able to deliver a successful statewide multi-year program.