#PBSNerds and WGVU International Art Festival

Last Updated by Natasha Hilton | Senior Associate | Development Services on

Nerd-Page-Mockup_01.jpgArtPrize is an art competition each fall in Grand Rapids, MI, that draws artists from around the world to participate Over the course of three weeks, visitors can view and vote for their favorite art installations and exhibits in venues around downtown Grand Rapids. Cash prizes are awarded to both winners of the public vote as well as a juried competition. The event attracts between 400,000-500,000 people.

With this natural fit of arts and PBS Fall Arts Festival programming, WGVU decided to build off it’s success of the 2014 Nerds walk and new and create an event more directly tied into the Artistic roots of ArtPrize. “We wanted a fun crazy vibe” explained Tim Eernisse, Director of Development and Marketing. 

The Bob Ross look-alike contest kicked off the 7th annual ArtPrize opening celebration. WGVU promoted the event on-air and online beginning ten days before the event. The first 500 registrants received a Bob Ross wig, and t-shirts were also given out. Funding for the wigs, shirts, stickers and tent promoting the PBS Fall Arts Festival came from a grant from PBS and some local sponsorship revenue.

The five finalists received a complimentary WGVU & Grand Rapids Museum memberships and invited to a number of events. They also could come to station for a tour and to tape a spot in their winning look.

And the winner…. well the pictures speak for themselves….”He could have been Bob Ross’ son! The hair and beard were his, he has a pallet and everything!” Commented Tim. “People really got into it and had fun."

WGVU’s involvement in ArtPrize didn’t end there, for 21 days, a graphic of Bob Ross and the #PBSNerd logo on the side of the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) and WGVU-FM broadcast from the museum as well. WGVU staff and volunteers manned a tent in a park square at the center of the event handing out #PBSNerd stickers with a call to action short code on the back, “Nerd Out with WGVU! FInd out more: text PBSNerd to 51555. Over the course of the festival 1000 people signed up for the alerts, an increase over just 200 in 2014.

The strategy for engaging this group will be sending them text messages about events and other station information, and warming them up to a year-end ask. 

WGVU also conducted a Bob Ross look-alike contest online. For 10 days of ArtPrize, they conducted a bracket challenge of Bob Ross look-alikes to generate social media buzz. Community and business leaders were pitted against one another and asked to tweet and post the contest to their contacts to vote. It provided another level of engagement and promoted the station to a wider audience.

So how to top this for 2016? WGVU is planning on sticking to the #PBSNerds theme, and work to find more community partners and sponsorship revenue on top of any grant funds they receive. They’ve also talking with other local non-profits about working together next year.

Nerd out.jpgTips for a successful #PBSNerds Event 

  1. Make it fun, “Don’t be afraid to try something new and a little crazy”.
  2. Work with partners to engage the community. By partnering with local arts organizations like the museum, symphony and other community-minded businesses, you can introduce your organization in a new way to people who are familiar with your station, but not very engaged. #PBSNerds is a fun way to surprise people about what think they know about your station and PBS.
  3. Find a focus. Since this was ArtPrize, WGVU focused on promoting their Friday night Arts programming lineup, Upcoming PBS Fall Arts Festival programming, and of course, Bob Ross was also a natural fit.
  4. Define your goals and plan for follow-up. What data do you want to gather from event attendees? In the case of WGVU it was signups for their text alerts. What do you plan to do with that after your event? Map out your future touchpoint for building a relationship with event participants, and think about how to advance them towards becoming a member if they aren’t already.

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