First of all, you’ll need to get that clinging jingle out of your head. It’s the one that begins: “You can do it at a trot, you can do it at a gallop ...”
As time goes by, no longer will you Do the Puyallup.
Come September, you’ll be doing the Washington State Fair.
The venerable Valley Fair, as it was named 113 years ago, or the Western Washington Fair, as it became known 100 years ago, or the Puyallup Fair, as it has been known for decades – has been rebranded.
It wasn’t easy.
“We discussed that on the board for gosh, well over a year. We knew that it was going to be a massive undertaking,” said Jerry Korum, Puyallup business owner and chairman of the rebranding committee on the Washington State Fair board of directors.
“That being said, we went back and forth, the pros, the cons, the cost. We knew that in order to rebrand, things would change besides the name. We started looking at all the things it takes to have a state fair. There was a lot of discussion that led up to this.”
Kent Hojem, Washington State Fair CEO, recalls a discussion about five years ago at the State Fair of Texas.
“One evening, as the board and I were having dinner, it came into the conversation, the phrase ‘State Fair.’”
Which turns out to mean much more than a fair named for a city or half of a state.
“We’ve always identified ourselves with Puyallup. There was some discussion of that,” said Korum.
However much that may mean to locals, being known as the Puyallup Fair didn’t mean a whole lot to the rest of the world.
“When we would call somebody asking for sponsorship, they’d ask if ‘Poo-yallup’ was a city fair. Now, when they realize it’s a state fair, people get interested. When we talk to Ford, Nissan, Coca-Cola, people listen.”
And times change.
“There’s been such a population growth, as people move in it’s hard for them to identify why the Puyallup Fair was special,” said Hojem.
“And certainly, for us to clarify to potential vendors, sponsors and entertainers — if we are the Washington State Fair, there’s an immediate legitimizing. There’s an immediate communication of who we are,” he said.
“Naming is a tricky thing,” said Kathleen Deakins, president of the Tacoma branding, advertising and strategic communications firm Jayray.
“I do think that some people who live in Puyallup may mourn the loss of attention,” she said.
And rebranding means more than designing a new logo or changing a few thousand signs.
“It’s what people do,” she said. “A brand is what you make true every day. Brands are really how customers define you. Whether the name change will be successful depends on if the fair reflects what they do every day, if they act like a statewide fair. If that’s how customers see them, then the name will stick.”
Two Seattle branding firms were involved. The first conducted focus groups, the second developed a strategy.
MBA students at the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington discussed the process and made recommendations.
The fair board debated.
The decision was announced last year.
“When you look at the biggest fairs, they are all named after their state,” said Korum. “It was a no-brainer. The bottom line is — most people think we’re the state fair anyway.”
“The MBA students, they gave us feedback,” said Fair Board President Carl Hogan, a 25-year veteran of fair leadership. “It came out that people liked the name, especially the new people moving into the area. It defines us as a big event. The name change will help us in the King County area. It sounds better and it defines us better.”
“It posed a lot of fun and interesting challenges,” said Janet DeDonato, CEO of the branding firm Methodologie.
“When you’re rebranding an iconic brand, people have a lot of feelings about it and ideas about what a fair is and isn’t,” she said. “Tapping into that in a positive way without losing any of the strong legacy was kind of a challenge. We wanted the process to be not a revolution but an evolution.”
She echoes concerns about demographics.
“You have to look at how populations are shifting,” she said. “The fair wants to continue to be relevant to a broader demographic. How do you keep current? How do you keep it relevant?”
And how do you actually change?
Look for a new Gold Gate, now that the giant cow heads have been taken into storage. Look for a redesigned home for the Grange, floral and agricultural-horticultural displays — called Evergreen Hall — soon to be located in the former Grand Marketplace building near the Sales lunch counter.
Look for a new roller coaster, Rainier Rush, and a fully rebuilt old roller coaster when the Washington State Fair opens Sept. 6 for a 17-day run.
“It’s like you’ve been given license to reinvent yourself,” said Hojem. “The fair has to remain relevant, it has to change. You can’t remain the same. At the same time, your responsibility to maintain traditions, to preserve those traditions, is absolutely important. Fairs have become the keepers of an American slice of life.”
This revised slice of life in Puyallup, and the entire process of reinvention, has been, said Hojem, “in real terms, a million-dollar project.”
“If we’re going to live up to the name, we have added responsibility,’ Hojem said.
He also cited the fair’s mission, to be “the place where Washington comes to celebrate generation after generation.”
“We want to live that,” he said.
He plans what he calls “thoughtful outreach” to the part of the state not west of the Cascades.
So look for some billboards in Eastern Washington this fall. Look for the Washington wine industry — from Yakima to Walla Walla — to be represented in the near future. Add apples, cherries, grains.
“It is our intention that every corner of the state, and every entity that provides a cultural benefit, can have a home here,” Hojem said.
“We’ve got to represent wine, apples, Eastern Washington agriculture,” said Board Chairman Hogan. “We have to reach out to WSU. We can’t say we’re the Washington State Fair unless we represent all of Washington.”
‘THIS CAN’T BE TAKEN LIGHTLY’
“I like where they’re going. It makes sense to me,” said Shelly Schlumpf, president and CEO of the Puyallup/Sumner Chamber of Commerce.
“It makes a difference if it’s the Washington State Fair for those of us who know the history, but when you’re promoting your city and leveraging your corporate resources, it’s nice to say that the Washington State Fair is located in the city our chamber represents.”
Schlumpf recognizes the value of the fair — whether it’s the state fair, the Puyallup Fair or the Valley Fair — as only a native can.
Years ago, her sisters had cows while Schlumpf concentrated in competing in home arts including cooking, sewing and cake decorating.
“We went to the Waller Fair, then the Pierce County Fair,” she said. “For us, the final competition was at the Puyallup Fair.”
Young men and women attending state FFA and 4H competitions have come to the Puyallup fairgrounds for years.
For them, it’s already the State Fair.
For Kent Hojem, this is only the beginning.
“All of a sudden you stop and say, ‘This can’t be taken lightly.’ In the midst of something as fundamental as changing your name, you ask yourself, ‘Are we doing the right thing? Is this in the best interests of the grand old fair?’ I’ve had a few of those moments. In the light of day, those doubts recede into the shadows.”C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 c.r.roberts@ thenewstribune.com