Friday, August 22, 2008

Not Fair

Here's a joke. It's an inside joke between my wife and me. It goes like this...

Man: Did you hear the one about the Ohio State Fair?

Woman: No.

Man: Neither did I. I'm in Lima. (Drum kick.)

Every year, the Ohio State Fair chugs along and manages to do nothing for me except sneak under the radar. The Ohio State Fair is the ant under my shoe, the Goodyear blimp flying over my house at midnight, Fred Thompson running for president. It is persona non gratis: I ain't going unless I can get in for free. And even then, I'll probably miss it, because we here in the outback corner of the state never hear about it.

Sure, in Columbus, the fair is a major media event, surrounded by major corporate sponsorships and up-to-the-minute news coverage. Big name entertainment travels to the fair, I guess. The rides are bigger, I'm assuming. And the bullshit gets deeper, that I know.

The Columbus Dispatch reports attendance was up this year. "Our prayers have been answered," fair manager Virgil Strickler told the Dispatch reporter, in reference to the weather. It must've been divine intervention that brought thousands more to the fair this year, because it sure wasn't the advertising in Ohio's other markets. You know, places other than Columbus.

You can't blame the fair management for wanting to put their money where it'll do the most good. With recent fuel prices and a bad economy, a trip to the Ohio State Fair is a low-cost obvious option to families in the Columbus metro. Add to that the Dispatch Group's long standing connections to the fair, and you have built-in media coverage from a major newspaper, WBNS-TV, co-owned radio stations, and The Ohio News Network, which covers the majority of the state via cable, albeit on the higher priced digital tier.

Now, you can't have an event this size in a highly competitive media market like Columbus without the other news media outlets crying, "Me too! I wanna go! Lemme cover the fair!" The result? It's impossible to turn on a TV, radio, or open your eyes in greater Columbus during the fair without on the spot, 'round the clock, team coverage you can count on from the station where news is first, fast, dedicated, live and late breaking reports from the Ohio State Fair. Anchor teams host the news from the grounds. Helicopters provide live shots of the traffic and parking situation. If the Ohio State Fair is the largest state fair in the country, then second place goes to the media carnival that surrounds the fair. I call it the Dispatch Effect.

If you live in Columbus, this is a month or so of OMG media frenzy.

If you live in Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Toledo, the state fair ranks on the agenda somewhere after the sports. It's the kicker... if we have time.

If you live in Lima, the Ohio State Fair doesn't exist.

Airtime devoted to the state fair on WLIO this year can be measured in seconds. There are no ad campaigns, no guests from the fair, no news crews sent to Columbus, no coupons for admission in the newspapers, no links to local websites, no wacky morning show remotes, no billboards, and nobody cares. When was the last time there was a Lima Day at the Ohio State Fair? Probably the last time Bob Braun did his shows there.

OK. If the Ohio State Fair doesn't want rural Ohio citizens showing up and ruining their wine and cheese tasting affair, then that's fine with me. After all, who needs them? After years of shoddy management throughout the 1980's and 1990's, the Ohio State Fair scaled back, downsizing to what has basically become a really big Franklin County Fair, a temporary alternative to King's Island and Cedar Point for the children of Dublin and Upper Arlington. The State Fair knows their audience, and they have to keep their projections reachable. The Dispatch Effect will only work in Columbus; media outlets beyond the Effect will actually expect to get PAID to run commercials for the State Fair, and we can't have that. That requires accounting, fiscal responsibility, and an honest to goodness public relations effort. Forget that. Cincinnati has the Reds. Cleveland has the Indians, and LeBron is in Beijing. Toledo has Jamie Farr. And Galipolis has... uh... beautiful scenery. Let them eat cake.

Hey, did you hear the one about the Ohio State Fair?

They still have one! (Drum kick)

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