Steve Sweitzer

Roots N Blues N BBQ: Creating events to celebrate brands

Steve Sweitzer
Roots N Blues N BBQ: Creating events to celebrate brands

Back in 2006, during the worst recession in decades, Woodruff Sweitzer and Central Bank, a very brave client, founded the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival in Columbia, Missouri.

It was our answer to the challenge by client, Mary Wilkerson, to create something for their 150th anniversary that was far greater than a traditional ad campaign.

You see, Mary's challenge to us was that the bank didn't want to just announce that it had been around for 150 years, it was to thank our customers for supporting them for 150 years.

Well, what better way to celebrate your birthday than to throw a big party with music, food, and 65,000 of your closest friends?

In addition, Central Bank wanted to remind everyone that being a hometown business, they offered much more than competing banks who came to town and opened branch offices.

The battle cry became, "Other Banks Have Branches, We Have Roots"

Although we had no experience in event production, we figured it out along the way. We learned what it takes to create what now has become a major cultural event. Sometimes, you have to follow your passion and dive into the deep end. 

It was a 2-day event. We hired 35 local, national, and international music acts. We developed relationships with city government. We kicked off Saturday with a 1/2 marathon and 10K race. We held a KCBS sanctioned BBQ competition and built a network of volunteers who worked the show and welcomed throngs of fans. We lost a lot of sleep but, it was so worth it.

Bank customers enjoyed the biggest and best birthday party ever. Talk about building brand equity and brand loyalty. Customers responded over time by opening new checking accounts and applying for new home loans.

What started as a birthday party is today, a major cultural event which generates about $4 million dollars to the local economy each year. The festival is now in its 13th year and still growing. Since then, other national sponsors have joined the all-star list of supporters. Product sampling, product demos, and promotions to a live, captured audience ensures brand engagement at its highest level.

Today, Columbia is a perennial music destination every fall. It’s proof that unique artists, great food, and small town charm add up to a quality brand experience that fans and sponsors cherish every year. 

It’s one of the best things I’ve helped to create.

Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival, Columbia, MO