More than 750,000 revelers frolicked at Downtown's Holiday Village in Miami last December, twirling around an ice rink, crooning with carolers, and ooh-and-ahhing at one of the world's tallest Christmas trees.
Some 100,000 braved Miami's Halloween House of Terror in October, hoping to be scared out of their wits by hair-raising attractions.
But that's not why Southeast Toyota went, or Café La Llave, or Pepsi. The companies went to be eyeballed, touched and tasted by consumers.
"It's great visibility," said Gustavo Gatell, media vice president of BVK/Meka, the Miami advertising agency for Southeast Toyota, which had several cars featured and banners displayed at the Holiday Village. "It was very crowded -- and it wasn't too expensive. It was very efficient."
Satisfied customers such as Southeast Toyota are what Miami's Unipro Group, a Hispanic events marketing firm that organized the Holiday Village and House of Terror, is banking on to propel the fledgling company nationwide.
"This is the last missing link in the tremendous growth in the Hispanic advertising and marketing world," said Tomás Johansen, Unipro's chief executive. "There's no reliable Hispanic events firm around."
Locally, the year-old company also organized America's Birthday Bash -- the city's official Fourth of July festival.
Although most of the festivals and shows Unipro has produced so far are not specifically Hispanic, they've taken place in South Florida, which is so heavily Hispanic that any local event essentially has to cater to this market, said Nelson Albareda, Unipro president and chief operating officer.
Unipro is now taking its Miami experience on the road, visiting other major Hispanic markets, such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Puerto Rico, in an effort to tap into established ethnic events and create new ones.
"We tailor events to the different Hispanic communities," Albareda said.
Event marketing is one of the fastest-growing marketing channels. Corporate sponsorhip at festivals, fairs and events is expected to grow 5 percent this year, according to Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report.
For marketers trying to reach ethnic markets, the event niche is proving especially popular, noted Jim Andrews, IEG editorial director. "Sponsors really want to tap into that to demonstrate their commitment to the community," he said.
In general, marketers like event sponsorship since it's usually cheaper than a traditional media spend, and it allows a company to promote a product or service directly to a specific community, experts say. Consumers also tend to like the chance to sample or interact with the product.
"It's becoming very much more common," said Leslie Pantin Jr., president of Pantin JGR Public Relations/Beber Silverstein. "It's a chance for the sponsor to become part of the community and for clients to come up close to the product."
His client Ford Motor Co. used a brand-specific event to market the Ford Focus. Dubbed the Ford Focus Challenge, the company took the car to college campuses and nightclubs, offering test drives and other promotions in a bid to build the brand with the younger set. Unipro organized the events.
"It's very good return on investment," Pantin said.
LARK OF A START
The seed for Unipro started with the House of Terror, which Albareda and Chief Financial Officer Pedro Regalado launched in 2000 as something of a lark. Attracting 25,000 visitors, the horror park far surpassed their expectations.
The following year, the pair moved it from Coconut Grove to the bigger venue of Bicentennial Park along Miami's waterfront, where it's still located.
In 2002, they realized that they were on to something with event marketing and decided to ditch their regular jobs to launch Unipro.
Regalado ran a corporate event planning company and Albareda was local sales manager at Hispanic Broadcasting and also director of HBC's Hispanic marketing group.
Johansen, formerly a vice president and general manager for Univisión stations in New York and Miami, joined the team in December, leaving retirement to take the chief's executive post.
The company also provides logistics services, such as the infrastructure for the Grand Prix race that took place in Miami last fall, and puts on special-interest type events, such as the Pet Expo and Custom Car Show that are planned for August and October, respectively.
As the Hispanic market grows, Unipro hopes that marketers' attention will increasingly turn to events to promote their products.
"Hispanics are very much into going out with their family and like to spend on entertainment," Albareda said. "Using events as a marketing tool is an ideal way to reach them."
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