Grassroots Events Leverage PR – BIG TIME!

Louisiana seafood festival Grassroots events
Louisiana Seafood Festival fills City Park's festival grounds

Grassroots Events Make an Impact

5 Seafood Marketing Events That Started Small and Grew:

The Louisiana Seafood Board had a very small operating and marketing budget, less than $375k when I arrived that we grew significantly over time.  The question gets asked, how do you grow the budget without turning to an industry that’s already strapped?  Answer:  You leverage what you have.  You build relationships. You get creative. You build grassroots events to drive PR.  With a ton of hard work, success comes and the resources follow. You never know what’s possible or where the journey might take you till you step out in faith.

Below are 5 events that started small.  Each one helped to lay the foundation for a multi million dollar marketing campaign that led to billions of impressions driving billions of dollars in seafood sales.

Pre-K (Katrina)

1. ACME World Oyster Eating Challenge

Rich Shea Sonya black widow thomas oyster

(l) Rich Shea of MLE. Sonya the Black Widow holds the world record – 46 dozen oysters in 8 minutes

Problem: Tiny Seafood Board budget limited participation in major events.

Solution:  The very first grassroots event I did with the board was a humble little oyster eating challenge that started on a sidewalk along Canal Street – with no budget.  The following year we partnered with ACME OYSTER House. Over time, that collaboration led to national media attention including the David Lettermen Show with Crazy Leggs Conti to a series of world records.  Sonya the Black Widow holds the record to this day with 46 dozen Louisiana Oysters in 8 minutes. Today, the event is officially sanctioned by MLE and  is now called the ACME World Oyster Eating Challenge serving as a qualifier to the famous Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Challenge every July 4th on Coney Island.  This event laid the foundation for the Louisiana Oyster Festival.


2. Great American Seafood Cook-Off

ewell smith john folse dean max great american seafood cook off

Ewell Smith with Jeff Corwin and Chef John Folse crown Chef Dean Max of Florida the winner of the Great American Seafood Cook Off

Problem: No platform for domestic seafood promotion nationally

As crazy as this sounds, the oyster eating event led to the credibility of the Board hosting events to get the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) attention.  

Solution: NOAA commissioned us to conceptualize and produce the Great American Seafood Cook Off which gave birth to qualifying grassroots events/ state seafood cook off across the United States.  Over time, that one event brought in two million dollars in funding to the board and tremendous exposure to millions of viewers on Food Network and PBS.

The Great American Seafood Cook Off created an unintended benefit.  Due to the extensive network and relationships built working with chefs, in times of crisis following Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill, the chefs gave generously and graciously serving as spokespeople for the recovery of the New Orleans and our fishing communities.

See Louisiana Seafood Cook Off

Post-K (Katrina)

3. Worlds Longest Po-Boy

World's longest oyster po boy

340 foot po-boy on Bourbon Street – New Orleans

Problem:  The world thought the French Quarter was flooded, out of business and the fishermen were gone.  Issue –  many fishermen still had the ability to fish and the French Quarter never even flooded.

Solution:  Let’s build a 340 foot long oyster po-boy  – one whole block of Bourbon Street.  How many oysters does it take? Click here.

Three results:


4. Louisiana Seafood Festival

Louisiana seafood festival

Louisiana Seafood Festival fills City Park’s festival grounds

Problem: People were hurting emotionally following Katrina for a variety of reasons.

Solution:  Festivals provided a sense of normalcy, even if the escape was just a few hours. We partnered with the Jazz and Heritage Foundation to create the first seafood festival along with our restaurant leaders.

The 2007 inaugural event was called the New Orleans Seafood Festival drawing 20,000 people in the back of the French Quarter at the Old US Mint.  Today the festival is called the Louisiana Seafood Festival and had to be moved to City Park’s festival grounds to handle the crowds driving tourism, seafood consumption and awareness.


5. Let the World be Your Oyster  – DC Mardi Gras

DC Mardi Gras Let the world be your oyster event

Hollywood – Amce Oyster House’s most famous shucker front and center (red apron) @ the Let the World Be Your Oyster Event in DC.

Problem: How to address laws and regulations that hurt the seafood industry?

Solution: Walk theHill annually and produce an event to engage the legislators in a light hearted way.

We adopted the Let The World be Your Oyster event and grew it from 250 attendees at the Hotel George near Union Station to the go-to- red-carpet event at the Acadiana Restaurant drawing 800 to 1,000 attendees (congressional members, cabinet members, industry and media)  annually featuring chefs from Louisiana during the Annual DC Mardi Gras.


Each event we did built upon another. Creating grassroots events: 1. open opportunities to partner with others leveraging their resources, 2. create opportunities to generate press coverage.  Over time, we went from a $375k operating and marketing budget to doing large multi million dollar marketing campaigns to media events at the Super Bowl.  What an amazing journey.

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