CHICAGO On Saturday and Sunday, the Printers Row Lit Fest covered five downtown blocks with book-filled tents. Now in its 25th year—and operating under the ownership of The Chicago Tribune for the past six—the event was previously known as the Printers Row Book Fair. But according to Sarah Doyle, the Tribune's event marketing producer, the festival's former name sold the happening short.
“After last year, a few members of the production team and I did some research at the event and after the event about who comes, why they come, and what they think the event is,” Doyle said. To conduct the research, the team surveyed guests on site, and polled reps from chambers of commerce and business districts in nearby suburban areas. (Eventually, festival organizers may expand the event to take place in Chicago's surrounding towns, as well as in the city.)
The results of the research? “The majority of the people that we spoke to thought that [the festival] was a book fair, where you come and purchase books,” Doyle said. ”They weren't getting that we have over 200 authors who lead book discussions and panel discussions.” The event also offers wine tastings, cooking demos, poetry slams, live music, activities for children, and writing workshops.
In short, “It's not just a place to come and buy books,“ Doyle said. “It's more a celebration of literacy and the written word. We just thought that the name Lit Fest encompassed what the entire event is about."
Doyle and her fellow event producers ramped up this year's marketing efforts in order to spread the word about the fest's various components. Of course, the event's association with the Tribune made scoring local media placements relatively easy. With the Tribune Company “being a media company and not just a newspaper,” said Doyle, “we utilized [our properties] WGN radio, WGN TV, CLTV, Red Eye, Metromix, and our Spanish newspaper Hoy. We have the Chicago market in our hands.” Doyle and her planning team also created a Facebook page and a Twitter account for the festival, and developed a partnership with nonprofit organization Open Books, which hosted an on-site book drive and invited its audience to attend the event.
Doyle said she and her team do “unbelieveably in-depth recaps“ about each year's fest in the weeks that follow. Although they won't have an exact read on the weekend's crowds—and the effectiveness of their new marketing efforts—for a couple more weeks, she estimates the audience roughly equaled last year's 125,000 guests. Though Saturday saw slow foot traffic due to rain and unseasonably chilly temperatures, “Sunday picked right back up,“ Doyle said. “I had the chance to talk to a lot of our booksellers, and they told me that it was their best show of the year."