In the Spring semester of 2021, the UNO Principles of Marketing classes taught by Heather Nelson were given the opportunity and pleasure of working with the Omaha Freedom Festival brought to you by Freedomtainment. The festival was set to happen on June 19th of 2021 in celebration of the newly recognized national holiday, Juneteenth. The holiday stands to represent the liberation of slaves in Galveston, Texas, over years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1st, 1863. Though the festival was initially supposed to happen in 2020, unprecedented events put everyone on lockdown leaving this idea to further ferment until its realization. This article will act as an insight into all the core elements of the service-learning project the students took part in starting from the spring to the day of the festival. The primary points covered will showcase how we utilized a variety of software, creative minds, and analytics to not only reach our target market but to expand beyond our perimeters to reach other audiences. The end goal of this event was to be as inclusive and informative about the newly ratified holiday while creating a sense of community for North Omaha. Different demographics have their own unique celebrations. We see celebrations such as South Omaha’s Mexican Independence Day and Cinco De Mayo, Pride month celebrations downtown, MAHA, and many more. It was time to have a greatly recognized festival for North Omaha, and we believe we accomplished just that.
Narrative - Calvin The Man Behind the Mission
The Omaha Freedom Festival is an idea that took 3 ½ years to accomplish. I wrote this idea down on a piece of paper and showed it to a few community leaders. In the beginning, it made so much sense to use the business model of Cinco de Mayo or MAHA as the blueprint to make the Omaha Freedom Festival successful. There were a few obstacles that had to be overcome due to the deep culture of African American roots in North Omaha being overshadowed by gun violence, gangs, and trust issues between the residents and the civil service workers who work there. Juneteenth happens to be one of the most important holidays to the African American Community and has just recently become a national holiday just a few days before this blog. For the last 50 years, the Juneteenth Parade has been the most important parade in North Omaha. It represents the community and brings a sense of pride and celebration to the African American Community in North Omaha. To me, something was missing: a festival. Why did the parade end so quickly? If this is the most important holiday for my culture, why couldn’t a festival be held in the community where I live? We needed a festival targeted towards people in the community to introduce anyone who lives in the community to African American culture and resources. The most important part was that it had to be free, and that was the hardest obstacle to overcome. This Juneteenth took place while the College World Series and the Olympic Swim Trials took place, so a lot of people were uneducated on the Holiday and its significance to African American culture. More importantly, the North Omaha Community needed its own festival to celebrate the culture. I needed help to get this done so I reached out to various people I knew, and only one person was interested, my Marketing and entrepreneur teacher Heather Nelson. With her help, we were able to partner with the UNO service-learning Academy to get assistance from UNO students to help educate the community on what Juneteenth is and market the festival. To tell you the truth I did not think it would work or that I could get more than 700 to 800 people interested. I was wrong, the secret sauce to this event was that the content was created by a diverse group of students. These students educated their community about Juneteenth and the Omaha Freedom Festival. The inaugural festival had over 6,000 participants. There were 4,442 attendees during the day and 1,526 attendees at the evening concert. We feed 1,725 people for free. Gave away 40 bikes and bike helmets. Although we were understaffed and underpaid, I had nine people who believed in the vision and the results speak for themselves. The Omaha Freedom Festival will be an annual event now. We have interest from the Mayor's Office, Douglas County Commissioners Office, and many corporate sponsors are calling now for next year. I believe that the stars aligned on this project because of the people involved. These people who made this festival happen thought about people other than themselves and that is what non-profit and community work is all about.
The Marketing Plan
When it comes to successful marketing, a strong plan is necessary. During this service-learning class, we all worked together to make sure every aspect of the plan was covered. To make this marketing plan, we needed to consider our target audience, our market research, and how we would end up executing our plan. One of the first topics we covered as a class was how to find your target audience. For this festival, we needed to decide who we were trying to reach and how we were going to do it. We began by choosing locals. Involving the local community in this celebration was essential to its success. Next, we needed to reach outside of the central Omaha area. We needed to make sure that surrounding areas were informed. Our next target areas included places like Lincoln and Kansas City. After deciding on the target audience, we needed to consider what content to put out to best inform our target audience. We decided to begin our marketing by pushing out content about the history of Juneteenth and the Omaha Freedom Festival. We planned to begin by educating the public before posting details about the festival itself. After spreading awareness about the reasons behind the festival, it was time to push out information on the Omaha Freedom Festival. By using our individual talents or, “superpowers”, as Professor Heather Nelson called them, we worked in groups to create content, communicate with the community, and use analytics. Through this, we were able to create the plan that made the Omaha Freedom Festival a success.
Beginning with Blogs
Beginning shortly after class began in January, students began researching and writing a series of blog posts that highlighted pieces of North Omaha history. This part of the project was assisted by Omaha historian Adam Fletcher Sasse who graciously opened his archives on his website to students to conduct research using thousands of his original articles. The blog posts served a variety of purposes: teaching North Omaha history, spotlighting local businesses, educating about Juneteenth, and introducing Freedomtainment and the Omaha Freedom Festival. Each blog was posted onto the Freedomtainment website and the Omaha Freedom Festival website and was spotlighted on all social media channels. Throughout the project, William Scheopner, a UNO Business student, worked on several additional articles. One was in partnership with the UNO Service Learning Academy to highlight what the class was working on and achieving. A second, completed at the beginning of June was an article about the Union Pacific We Are ONE commemorative locomotive and the UP-Freedomtainment partnership. Another student blog was cited by another organization in a post about Juneteenth history. The written material we created served a variety of purposes. For some pieces of material, like our press releases and media kit, the purpose was to provide the right information for publications and other media partners to talk about Freedomtainment accurately. Some blogs were written to teach about Omaha history, while others were focused on highlighting people and businesses in the present day. Other articles were created to help manage sponsors and create publicity in the business and philanthropic communities.
A crucial aspect of marketing is having visually enticing forms of media that can be distributed to a variety of outlets while catering to varying constraints based on the platform. To facilitate this process, we utilized a software called Canva that not only is intuitive to use, it’s also cost-effective… if you stay with the free version. There were numerous designs developed by both classes with ideas ranging from blog covers, event awareness, sponsor appreciation, a map of the festival, and other variants of the prior. While most of our marketing was Canva based, there were other software people took advantage of such as Autodesk Sketchbook and Krita to name a few, these are more drawing-oriented apps. Focusing on Canva designs alone, there were probably upwards of 150 designs developed as each student from both classes was instructed to create 3 designs based on a variety of topics. This doesn’t include color or language variants which could quite easily double the number of designs. Not only did having students create designs give them free will with creativity, but it also allowed them to focus on things they were interested in based on a wide variety. After that, it allowed for a selection process, so the most brand-relevant designs were selected to be published. By that, I mean designs that not only utilized the branding color but meshed with the overall theme of Juneteenth. We wanted our work to be refined with the cultural connotations that revolve around African American and Black icons throughout history.
Buffer/Social Media - Brittany
As marketers, we knew the importance of social media from the very beginning of the class. In this day and age, everyone is deeply connected to their phones and other forms of technology. To best reach our audiences, we used a variety of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. We do our best to constantly put out new content that is up to date with the Festivals plans as well as promotions, ticket sales, and even competitions for people to participate in. Since the festival is done and over we now are focused on post-festival thank yous and what’s to come next year. We have a year's worth of save the dates ready to go out each month leading to the festival. Along with that, we will continue to post/ communicate about anything related such as this blog.
To ensure all these platforms were reached cohesively and timely with the same message we used a software known as Buffer. That allowed us to schedule, promote, and post on all forms with the work of one post at the same time. The creators of Buffer made it extremely easy to use; it was a game-changer. Because we don’t have a premium subscription, I can not view or share the analytics. However, insight into the software and how it is used can be provided.
Above is what one sees when immediately logging into the buffer. You can see the posts you already have scheduled in chronological order as well as all the platforms you have connected to Buffer. You can schedule another post directly from there or click on the “what would you like to share?” portion and a separate more complex post option screen shows up. The screen is as follows:
From here you can select the content you wish to post and write your caption. Once that is done you select the icons above that correspond to the social media you’d like to post to. If you are posting something to Twitter it is almost best to select the media options first and type your caption on that platform because it is the only one with a character limit. From there you hit the blue button and an option to “schedule post” appears and you choose the time and date and voila! That is all there is to it.
Freedomtainment and the Omaha Freedom Festival used many Google platforms to reach and market the festival. UNO student, Josh Bartels, worked the most with the platforms of Google My Business, Google Ads, and Google Analytics. He started by creating a My Business account for both the festival site, as well as a site for the festival coordinator and sponsor, Freedomtainment. On both sites, there were posts and merchandise on those pages that were viewed almost 2,000 times.
Another Google site that was used was Google Ads. There were a total of five campaigns that were created that started 11 days out from the festival. From the five campaigns, 1,040 clicked on the advertisements and a grand total of 16,400 viewed the ad on Google. Since Freedomtainment is a non-profit, they were approved for the Google AdGrant program. This meant that Freedomtainment was and will be able to continue to run Ads for no cost up to $10,000 on Google Search.
To tie all the data and information together, Freedomtainment and the Omaha Freedom Festival used Google Analytics. They started by connecting the website of Freedomtainment, which was a Shopify site. Second, the festival WordPress site was also connected to Analytics. This allowed us to find different metrics including where visitors of the site were from demographically, what led them to our sites, and how they interacted with our site. For 19 days in June, there were a total of 8,900 page views on the Omaha Freedom Festival site. Visitors of these sites came from over 500 cities, and 62 other websites with links to the Omaha Freedom Festival website. The website reached 48 out of the 50 states in the United States.
As the Omaha Freedom Festival came to fruition by the Service Learning Academy course by Heather Nelson and founder Calvin Williams from Freedomtainment, it was clear that for the festival to reach the Omaha metro, there would need to be an online website where the public can purchase tickets and acquire festival merchandise inspired by the Juneteenth holiday. UNO Business Administration and marketing student, Jessica Sanchez, decided to join the marketing team in late May to aid in the e-commerce development for Freedomtainment’s online merchandise display.
As a small business owner for her online boutique, Jessica had prior experience in using the platform Shopify to process transactions, manage inventory, fulfill parcel shipments, and promote products online. UNO students were tasked with finding their “super power” to contribute to the marketing team to gain hands-on experience with a real marketing campaign. She was given two boxes filled with various samples of the Omaha Freedom Festival’s merch - some were designed by the previous students in the marketing team and other styles were selected by Calvin Williams.
The marketing team had a brilliant idea to model the merch as well as promote “The Taste of Freedom” Ice cream at the Omaha Brownie Bar - it was a fun day for the team to destress and provide some professional shots of the merch! Each product was carefully inspected to make sure the pricing, inventory, variant availability, and channel availability were accurate before displaying it online. Jessica successfully uploaded the merch collection which includes a women’s and men’s collection, accessories, and 2-piece embroidered collections. In total, Freedomtainment made $240 from merchandise sales on festival day. Jessica was honored to be a part of the Omaha Freedom Festival and hopes to continue to help manage inventory and upload merchandise collections each year to increase website traffic, merchandise sales, and merchandise promotion.
Constant Contact is a marketing platform used to communicate with subscribers. UNO students used this platform to notify festival subscribers of upcoming announcements and essential information for the Omaha Freedom Festival. Subscribers were migrated by integrating Constant Contact with Eventbrite, Shopify, creating a pop-up link for Omaha Freedom Festival, and manually entering emails. The first thing the UNO student, Heather Williams, did was create the pop-up subscription box and transfer any existing subscribers to Constant Contact’s contact lists. After integrating Shopify and Eventbrite, seven successful emails were designed and deployed to subscribers in June. The first email gave information about the Omaha Freedom Festival and introduced Freedomtainment to the public. The second email introduced the artist that performed on the evening of the festival. Ted & Wally’s whipped up a limited edition Taste of Freedom ice cream available starting June 10th, which was the main focus of our third email to drive sales and attraction. The Omaha Freedom Festival merchandise was available on Shopify by June 15th, right in time for emails to be sent out to all our subscribers informing them of our new merch. Some UNO students were available to model the merch at the Omaha Brownie Bar, giving us a chance to introduce ourselves in the merch email to Omaha Freedom Festival subscribers. A save the date with a special thank you to the festival sponsors was sent out to everyone after the successful festival. The last two emails were surveys explicitly made for guests or sponsors, along with another thank you. Every email had similar branding and templates with images made from Canva. The emails also contained links, buttons, and social tabs to direct subscribers to specific websites or forms easily. After sending the emails a report comes in a few days later, and overall, Omaha Freedom Festival had an open rating of 18% and a click rate of 10%. As for guest surveys, 422 were opened and 70 clicks were collected, and for sponsor surveys, 20 were opened and 10 clicks were collected.
Here are the reporting analytics from the Constant Contact emails sent to Omaha Freedom Festival subscribers. The first email, Omaha Freedom Festival Newsletter, was sent to 2,036 subscribers, 329 emails opened, and 31 clicks. The second email, Concert Performers, was sent to 2015 subscribers, 352 emails opened, and 20 clicks. The third email, Taste of Freedom, was sent to 2,502 subscribers, 335 emails opened, and 25 clicks. The fourth email, Merchandise, was sent to 2,495 subscribers, opened 339 times, and 38 clicks. The fifth email, Save The Date, was sent to 3,101 subscribers, opened 445 times, and had 19 clicks. The sixth email, Guest Survey, was sent to 3,082 subscribers, opened 418 times, and has 70 clicks. The seventh and last email, Sponsor Survey, was sent to 54 sponsors, opened 19 times, and nine clicks.
Guest survey results from Constant Contact: Where are you from? Omaha - 14, Lincoln - 2, Nebraska - 3, Out of state - 7. Rate us? 5 - nine people, 4 - six people, 3 - seven people, 2 - one person, 1 - three people. What did you enjoy the most? Educational resources - 8, Kids zone - 14, Concert - 23, Food vendors - 4, Health Zone - 12, Did you stay at a hotel in conjunction with attending the festival? Yes Friday - 2, Yes Fri- Sat - 3, Yes Sat - 0, No - 22. What can we do better? Educational resources - 4, Food Vendors - 10, Kids zone - 1, Concert - 8, Merchandise - 1, Health zone - 0. Will you celebrate with us next year? Yes - 25, Maybe - 10, No for now - 2, No - 2. How did you hear about the Omaha Freedom Festival? Social Media - 9, Radio - 7, Podcast - 2, Family/Friend - 11, Other - 15. What is your gender? Female - 18, Male - 3, Non-binary - 2, Other - 1. What is your ethnicity? Black - 13, White - 8, Native American - 0, Latino/Hispanic - 3, Other - 1. What is your age group? 18-25 - 3, 26-35 - 6, 36-45 - 6, 46-55 - 9, 56+ - 6.
Sponsor survey results from Constant Contact: What was your favorite part of the festival? Educational resources - 0, Kids zone - 1, Food vendors - 1, Concert - 1, Health Zone - 0. Did you see your company logo in our Marketing? Yes absolutely - 1, Yes - 0, Not as much as you'd like - 3. Will you sponsor us next year? Yes - 1, Will consider, let's talk more - 2, Unfortunately won't be able to - 1. How did you hear about us? Social media - 0, Podcast - 0, Radio - 0, Family/Friends - 1, We contacted you - 9. Rate us? 5 - 0, 4 - 2, 3 - 3, 2 - 0, 1 - 0.
Event planning / Festival Set-up
The Omaha Freedom Festival set-up was a long time in the making. The Freedomtainment team, along with Calvin William's White Rhino Productions had been gathering supplies and lining up vendors and booths for some time before the physical setup began. When students arrived in the afternoon on Friday, June 18th, the Malcolm X Memorial Amphitheater grounds were abuzz with activity. Crews from several rental companies were setting up tents, delivering tables and chairs, assembling the stage, delivering supplies, and placing portable lavatories. By the end of Friday, much of the infrastructure was either set up or staged to be set up on Saturday morning. Bright and early Saturday morning, the set-up team reconvened to set up tables and chairs, direct food deliveries, put up signage and ensure that the festival was ready to run smoothly when the gates opened at noon.
The Day of The Festival
Heather Williams - Walking up to the festival, you could hear music playing and festival-goers riding up the hill in golf carts to the gates. We were immediately greeted with a Metropolitan Community College bag with a festival map, raffle ticket, a bingo scorecard to win a prize, and a bookmark. It was exciting to be handed a bag full of our class’s marketing materials and activities in it! In addition, there was a food truck grilling free food, educational resources giving out information, pool tables, a few merchandise tables, the main stage, and a kid’s zone.
I enjoyed the Omaha Freedom Festival and seeing the work that our class executed. Great job everyone, we did this and I can’t wait to see what becomes of the Omaha Freedom Festival!
Josh - Behind the scenes, team members and staff were working hard to get things in order for the visitors of the festival. UNO Students supervised the Kidz Zone while taking pictures and uploading them onto social media back in HQ. Others delivered food, water, and supplies to those in need of it. Hundreds of cookies made by Target were delivered by hand to visitors of the festival by UNO students. From logistical planning to picking up that night's musical guests from the airport, the UNO team did it all. Professor Heather Nelson led the UNO team and Freedomtainment staff throughout the whole day. She selflessly never forgot to feed her team, give them water, and she made sure everyone was having fun.
Hissam - The festival brought communities and organizations together in celebration of this newly founded national holiday. It hosted a variety of activities and free goods for its attendants and volunteers which was very nice to see. In addition, we were greeted with the hospitality of the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation’s director Leo Louis. I had met him before the event in another service learning academy class where I got to help with the foundation’s community garden. While I had tasks delegated with my peers I got the opportunity to network with small businesses that attended and get to know a bit about their branding which was a great opportunity for a marketing student.
This Service Learning Academy class believes that our mission to promote Freedomtainment and the Omaha Freedom Festival was a huge success. From learning to write a proper blog post to physically setting up the festival, this class put a lot of heart into this project. We had a goal of 750 attendees. A total of 4,240 people attended the festival. As a class, we were able to market to nearly 6 times the amount of people we originally thought we could. The students in this class boast a variety of skills and specialties. Merchandise handling, analytics interpretation, and constant communication are just a few of the things that our students did to make this festival possible. One of our blogs was cited in another history article found online. We received $10,000 in google ad money. We even created the Taste of Freedom Icecream partnership that was a total hit city-wide. Although the work was difficult sometimes, we all persevered to create something that will continue to live on in our community. In total, we exceeded our expectations and believe that our work done in this class will be remembered as a cornerstone of the beginning of the now annual Omaha Freedom Festival.
By The UNO Service Learning Academy