By: Evan Boyer and Morgan Lang
Ten days of action. Hundreds of thousands of fans. A total cowboy takeover on The Strip. For more than 35 years, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) has been one of the premier annual events in Las Vegas, transforming a destination typically known for nightlife and gambling into the world capital of steer wrestling and bull riding.
Every year, the crowds in Sin City get bigger, the noise gets louder, and the challenge of standing out in a sea of brands and events gets more daunting. Luckily, we not only know the Western lifestyle, we live it and have helped shape what the modern Western lifestyle is today.
Since we opened our doors in 1997, we’ve served as the agency of record for Wrangler, the official jeans and shirts of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). During that time, we have also been fortunate to work with and help grow a number of brands and institutions with deep Western roots, including the Professional Bull Riders (PBR), Pendleton Whisky, Dude Ranchers’ Association, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Justin Boots, Jack Daniel’s, RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo, Denver International Western/English Apparel & Equipment Market, and many others. In addition, FWV helped launch and is an operating partner of the Wrangler Network – the leading destination for all things Western.
This past December, we needed every ounce of the expertise we’ve gained over the last two decades. The 2019 WNFR came at an important time for the brand, as Wrangler was honoring its Western heritage while bringing cowboy cool to the mainstream (see the Lil Nas X Collection and Fred Segal launches for more on how we helped the brand shine in front of new and eager audiences).
After months of planning and some impressive results, here are our secrets for success activating around crucial brand events.
Pay attention to trends in news and industry
2019 marked a huge comeback for Western culture in the national consciousness. After Lil Nas X’s 19-week chart-topping hit, Old Town Road, hit the airwaves, there was a resounding uptick in chatter about the “Yeehaw agenda.” But the buzz didn’t stop there. According to a summer Pinterest study, Western-inspired apparel is on the rise, and it’s made its way far beyond your average fashionista’s wardrobe – seen on the likes of Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Sofia Richie on Sunset Boulevard and Diplo on tour, just to name a few. We were able to use the growing appeal of the Western ethos to piqué the interest of national media like Stylecaster and Paper Magazine for an onsite media tour to cover the topic.
Get started earlier than you think
Our first internal meeting about WNFR was in June. The event itself began Dec. 4. It’s important to allow enough time to understand client goals and objectives (in this case, driving brand awareness through an onsite party, social engagement and quality media coverage). Then, work backwards to solidify budgets, staffing, vendors, and, of course, strategies and tactics to ensure your activation is effective.
FWV has supported Wrangler at the WNFR for 20+ years, but as the shape of the media changes, so too must our approach. Some of the tried and true tactics we used this past year were an industry party, earned media relations and video coverage, along with social and influencer marketing. By the time our activation plan was finalized, it was months later, and we were ready to execute.
Establish a tentpole moment
Hundreds of brands have a presence at the WNFR, from rows of booths at the Las Vegas Convention Center (Cowboy Christmas) to nightly watch parties and out-of-home advertising. When you leave Las Vegas, it’s almost too much to process. People are instead looking for experiences and thinking, “What was the one moment that stood out?” We created that moment for Wrangler through a nightclub party featuring acts of daring and other entertainment, which aligned with the brand’s new “Wear With Abandon” campaign embodying the adventurous cowboy spirit. Guests also spent some time #WithPendleton, Bull Fighters Only (BFO) athletes and other rodeo stars, giving them one final night to relax before the competition began.
Be ready to shift your plans at the last minute
It’s always a good idea to do some contingency planning. What happens if the internet goes down while you are pushing out social media content on the Wrangler Network? What if one of the influencers you’ve contracted with doesn’t show up? Did someone important not RSVP for the party? What if media coverage takes a negative turn? Thinking through all of these scenarios in advance will help you handle them smoothly and professionally if and when they do arise. It’s also a time when having a few great partners in your pocket who are willing to step in at a moment’s notice (i.e., to do an Instagram takeover or fly out to Las Vegas for their sick coworker) are more important than ever.
Don’t forget to track metrics along the way
Now more than ever, our clients are wanting to know how their marketing dollars are performing in real time. Is it better than last year? How are the new tactics we’ve implemented turning out? Do we need to shift dollars to promote an event or activation that’s heating up? How does this translate to sales? We provided daily metrics and a midpoint recap of our social activity in particular to make sure we could adjust as needed, then provided a comprehensive final report following the activation. But even more important than the numbers were the analysis and assessment of what worked and what didn’t.
The road to success at an event like Wrangler NFR takes thoughtful strategy development, planning and execution – and plenty of prep time. We hope these tips will help steer you in the right direction for your next activation.