Christy Bobo has been the director of the City of Tuscaloosa River Market since January 2012. Three years ago, Bobo was chosen by a board of directors to manage a new farmers market that would open in May 2012. Since then, she has managed day-to-day issues by overseeing vendors, collecting fees, keeping a close eye on safety regulations and developing venue policies to ensure a well-rounded market. Bobo works with many managers and directors of city-owned facilities to support local events in the Tuscaloosa area and continues to provide assistance to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheatre.
The Farmers Market Authority controls all farmers markets in the state of Alabama. There are over 100 certified farmers markets in Alabama and are categorized by county. The Tuscaloosa River Market’s website is recognized by Geotourism in the National Geographic, and was rated in the top 8 of all farmers markets in Alabama. In stating this, it is evident that the river market has come a long way since its opening in 2012, and it is important to understand why. A campaign for the opening of a new farmers market was needed so that the community would be more aware of what the Tuscaloosa River Market was and how it would benefit society.
This case study shows how the development and implementation of a strong public relations campaign can create a stable environment for the city of Tuscaloosa. Good communication, organization, and dedication are all present throughout this campaign and have continued to help the market thrive. The director of the Tuscaloosa River Market initiated this campaign at the beginning of 2012 that continued until late 2013. A long span of time was needed, because gaining recognition throughout the community was a slow process. Not many people knew about the market, so plans continued to change and more people were hired to help. The director worked with the leaders of the Homegrown Alabama Farmers Market along with the director of the Northport Farmers Market to coordinate an effective plan. Media lists were gathered, social networking systems were created and a strategic plan was laid out.
Before any kind of plan could be implemented, research was needed in order to understand society a little better. Most of the research consisted of how individuals were accessing their news, and what kind of payment methods would prove to be the most effective. People are changing the ways in which they read their news, and great decision-making skills would be necessary in order to reach target audiences.
The main goal for the Tuscaloosa River Market was to gain recognition among the community and to help the market grow internally. The objectives for this campaign were to bring in more farmers as well as consumers. This meant that more people were encouraged to attend the market and organizations were encouraged to reserve rental space for dances, receptions, weddings and any other celebratory events.
As for a few strategies, the director of the Tuscaloosa River Market decided to partner with The University of Alabama and its athletic department to host gymnastic meetings and events at a discounted cost to further promote the abilities of the market. The director set up the Tuscaloosa River Market to be featured in the Tuscaloosa News, Druid City Living and the Tuscaloosa Bridal magazine. Radio stations and WVUA news promoted awareness of the market; and the river market made a plan to educate the external publics on how the market would be beneficial to all ages. Faculty and staff went to elementary schools to give out reusable grocery bags with EBT information to describe the different payment methods that they provided. T-shirts for the river market were made in June 2012 and the director also decided to launch a quarterly newsletter. In addition, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Pinterest became available for the Tuscaloosa River Market that is easily accessed on its web page. These social media outlets provide information on day-to-day operations, special events and some of the vendors’ recipes.
From 2012-2013, the number of vendors increased from around 6 to over 30 by the end of the campaign. There was a 50 percent increase on the amount of customers that attended each Saturday and the goal for the campaign was reached. A significant amount of farmers and consumers helped expand the market’s growth and led to many successful events. However, the director did mention that the market did not benefit from having a newsletter. Individuals that had previously signed up with email unsubscribed from the Tuscaloosa River Market’s quarterly newsletter. Parking issues arose as more people came to the market and traffic became a serious problem as a result. According to the director, people in the Tuscaloosa area still claimed to know nothing about the river market.
In my opinion, the reusable grocery bags and partnership with the university was a great idea. The social media proved to gain recognition and news of the market seemed to increase. However, the faculty and staff could have done a better job of formatting the newsletter. I would assume that the community would want to be up to date on what is going on at Manderson Landing; it just depends on how the workers get the message across. Posters and brochures would help spread more awareness of the market and more important news should be addressed in the newsletters.
What I Learned
After evaluating a public relations campaign in Tuscaloosa, I have learned that it is most important to do a substantial amount of research before organizing a campaign. Surveys of how people would like to receive updates seems like it would be beneficial for the public as well as the organization. Going to schools proved to be a great way to reach younger audiences and churches could also be a good opportunity. Another concept I learned was that design is also so important in campaigning. Looking out how the Tuscaloosa River Market’s fliers progressed really stood out to me. Some of the event fliers seemed too wordy or unorganized, but they swiftly came together in the end.