The biggest change in the annual Bentonville Film Festival since its inception in 2015 is it keeps growing, and so does community support for the event, said Wendy Guerrero, president of programming for the BFF. She participated in a discussion on how area businesses can participate in marketing activities surrounding this year’s event, set for May 1-6 in downtown Bentonville.
The other speakers at a luncheon on Thursday (March 8) at 21c Museum Hotel were Kalene Griffith, president and CEO of Visit Bentonville, and Graham Cobb, president and CEO of the Greater Bentonville Area Chamber of Commerce. Andy Schuch, owner and CEO of Schuch Up Sales, moderated the discussion.
Organizers expect 75,000 attendees at the 2018 festival, slightly up from the 73,000 who attended in 2017, according to a previous report from Visit Bentonville. Another change this year is more visibility on the national and even global levels, Guerrero said. The festival recently got mentions on Good Morning America and on the red carpet of the Academy Awards.
Griffith said her team puts a publicity value to anything they are promoting, and the estimate for those two television spots is that it reached 53 million people.
Cobb said there is opportunity for businesses to promote themselves alongside BFF — and that’s even if they don’t have a storefront on or near the Bentonville square. Those businesses can bring their promotional and marketing activities outdoors
“Give people a reason to stop, and make that experience uniquely Bentonville. They’re here to experience our community. If you draw in some artists, or maybe you have some crafts or some food, or something that tells something about you or Bentonville, put it out there. It’s a time to magnify that. It’s a time to show the world how awesome we are, and that, in turn, will help your business. Consider aligning your brand with the interests of those attendees. Just get out and have people want to come and be a part of what you’re doing,” Cobb said.
For businesses closer to the BFF action, Cobb said there is potential in offering places where attendees can get away from the crowd and the noise.
“When everybody else zigs, why don’t you zag? Instead of having some huge thing going on, maybe you offer some free respite. Maybe you have five minutes of mindfulness. Maybe you have a little quietness, a cell-free zone.”
Above all, Cobb encouraged business owners to look for fun ways to engage attendees.
The theme of BFF is inclusion and diversity, and Cobb said it was apropos for Thursday’s discussion on marketing around BFF fell on International Women’s Day. Guerrero said the organization’s focus is using the media as an inroad for improving inclusion and diversity in society.
“We feel like storytelling is important in all these areas to increase the diversity in content. Our motto is really, ‘If they can see it, they can be it.'” The goal is for females to see themselves “represented on screen in a meaningful way … [where] characters that look like them are having the same experiences as maybe a male or a boy character — [where] women are seeing themselves just as adventurous and just as strong as a lot of the boy leads,” Guerrero said.
BFF film submissions are accepted not only based on diversity in their casts, but behind the camera.
“It’s not only about the content on the screen. It’s about the people who are making the content behind the screen as well,” she said.
The festival this year hopes to capitalize on a new movie theater that opened in the city in 2017. It was the first cinema to show movies in the town since the 1980s.
“We’re hoping to engage even more now that we have a theater here that we can bring some programming year-round and really start to work with the businesses and the community year-round, so it’s not just a week-long event where we come in here the first week of May and then we go away and you don’t really hear from us again,” Guerreo said. At the same time, she hopes it will result in a “deeper dialogue” with the community.
In terms of visitors, BFF aims to attract those in a six-hour driving radius. Within those communities is where “we’ve seen people are saying, ‘Oh what is this festival? I don’t have to drive to LA or NY to experience something unique like this. I can drive with my family to NWA and take my family and make a trip out of it,” Guerrero said.
In 2017, 80% of attendees were from the NWA region, according to Visit Bentonville. Griffith said between 2,000 and 3,000 hotel rooms were rented during BFF, and Visit Bentonville estimates the direct impact of last year’s festival to be about $3 million, and the indirect economic effect to be $7.5 million maybe $8 million. Visit Bentonville previously estimated the direct economic impact on the community to be about $1.3 million, but Griffith at the time called the figure “very conservative.” Sixty-percent of attendees were repeat visitors.
The festival’s organizers estimate the impact of the 2017 event to be about $7.5 million. About 73,000 attended the festival, and 80% of participants were from Northwest Arkansas, according to organizers.
In terms of investment for 2017 BFF, the city helped with marketing and advertising for this year’s Bentonville Film Festival to the tune of $18,000. BFF organizers footed the bill for most other major facets of the operation, including added services from the police and fire departments.
In addition to economic impact, the festival has created an atmosphere that shows NWA is welcoming to the film industry. For example, the latest season of the HBO series “True Detective” is being filmed in the region as a direct result of BFF, Griffith said.
WAYS TO ENGAGE
Cobb said there are many ways for companies to be part of the marketing effort for BFF, including through printable posters available as PDF files on the BFF website. The posters have a blank space at the bottom that will allow businesses to add promotions. For example, businesses could offer customers 25% off if they show their BFF ticket.
Dorry Lea Davis, owner of HandWorks in downtown Bentonville, said she intends to do the 25% off promotion. This will be the second BFF since her store gift store opened off the square at 106 S.E. A St., Suite 4, this past April. Like last year, Davis will have an artist paint the storefront window. The store also will offer refreshments and have live music.
Davis met two fellow female business leaders at the luncheon, and they plan to collaborate within the BFF in a number of ways, including through a shared hashtag they plan to develop that will represent women and diversity. The other two owners are Deborah Wright, franchise owner for Cruise Planners, and Becca Peterson, host of the Imperfectly Perfect podcast.
Hope Cavell, general manager and assistant buyer at Lola boutique which has downtown locations in Fayetteville and Bentonville, also attended the luncheon. Lola has had a store off the square at 110 N.W. Second St., Suite 108, about two years. The store’s involvement with the event in previous years has included dressing BFF co-founder and Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis, in addition to hosting promotional events and offering refreshments. However, the store’s main focus within BFF is putting its best foot forward, Cavell said.
Visitors are sometimes impressed, for example, by the brands Lola offers, she said.
“They see there is a fashion scene here. I think people are often pleasantly surprised.”