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Mossy Oak Inc. is known for making its customers disappear - when they're hunting, that is. The West Point, MS-based designer and licenser of camouflage patterns is a sure shot in the outdoor world. But in 2007, at the Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, the company wanted to stand out for more than just blending in.

While Mossy Oak's friendly culture and open, inviting booths have always hit the mark with attendees, in 2006 the company made changes bigger than a 30-point buck. Most notably, the company had melded hunting with high-tech through its new interactive Web site. Furthermore, it had expanded various programs and offerings for its licensees. So at the 2007 SHOT Show, Mossy Oak wanted to present its new Web site, its Base Camp for Partners program for licensees, and its latest camouflage pattern called Duck Blind. But rather than running a bland presentation every 15 minutes in a run-o'-the-mill presentation space, Mossy Oak designed its booth around a campfire theme, and brought its popular and highly recognizable company executives to the show for a three-tiered presentation strategy, all while building a sense of community among clients and prospects.

Having reloaded its exhibiting ammunition, Mossy Oak set out to increase booth traffic from 3,000 attendees in 2006, meet with 80 clients, and draw 1,000 attendees to its presentation on the company's plans for the future. Mossy Oak also wanted to establish itself as a down-to-earth, yet modern and high-tech, outdoor brand.

Setting Up Camp

In preparation for the 2007 SHOT Show, Mossy Oak began an exhibit makeover to bring the booth up to speed with the company's new high-tech image. "We had an older booth, and we had skinned that booth as many ways as we could possibly skin it," says Carolyn Perkins, partner program manager at Mossy Oak. "It just truly felt like it was time to do something with our booth to let our outdoor audience know that we had made progressive changes."

The previous years' over-stuffed camouflage couches and in-booth fireplace had made attendees comfortable, but the low-tech design did nothing to highlight Mossy Oak's new technologically adept image and Web site. "In the past, our version of in-booth technology was one flat-panel TV playing a 30-minute looped DVD," Perkins admits.

Trading tree stands for banner stands, and shifting its focus from the great outdoors to the inside of an exhibit hall, Mossy Oak teamed up with Derse Inc. to create a 40-by-80-foot exhibit that put presentations at the center of the booth. Since Mossy Oak had a lot to talk about, the exhibit needed the perfect presentation space to communicate those messages.

"Part of the thrill of going on a hunt is the time you spend in camp, sitting around the campfire, talking about the hunt, telling stories, and laughing," Perkins says. "We wanted to find a way for SHOT Show attendees to experience this, to blend that good time and the outdoor experience with Mossy Oak's commitment to being an industry leader with cutting-edge technology."

Enter Mossy Oak's Ring of Fire. To bring the traditional outdoor experience inside its booth, it designed the exhibit around a 30-foot-diameter area with orange and yellow triangular patches of carpet directing attention to a faux campfire in the center that released hazer-created smoke effects and an authentic wood-fire fragrance. Realistic-looking log benches and stumps made of epoxy rubber provided comfortable seating.

A circular canopy projection screen floated above attendees and simulated natural conditions familiar to hunters by alternating images of a blue sky, overhead tree limbs, a sunset, and a starry night on its 15-foot-diameter surface. Two trapezoidal towers featuring 21 LED lights changed colors, suggesting the passage of time between daybreak and sunset. During presentations, four 10-by-16-foot curved projection screens transformed the Ring of Fire into a theater-in-the-round, with promotional videos and branding messages enveloping attendees from every angle.

Overall, the booth's special effects bolstered the high-tech image Mossy Oak was trying to create without abandoning the outdoorsy feel for which the company is known. According to Perkins, the booth was an exact structural representation of Mossy Oak's new image. "We wanted to blend where we came from and where we're going," Perkins says. "That's why we had the campfire on the bottom and the technology and special effects overhead."

Once the stage was set, Mossy Oak sent two pre-show e-mail blasts inviting attendees to come to its booth for a press conference and auction on the first day of the show and a presentation revealing its plans for the next 20 years on the show's second day.

On-Target Presentations

As soon as the exhibit's faux campfire was ignited, attendees began gathering beneath the canopy of high-tech tree branches for Mossy Oak's hour-long press conference and charity auction of a limited edition Bob Dixon commemorative turkey vest. A turkey hunter and an original member of the Mossy Oak executive team, Dixon had recently died of cancer. After sharing personal memories of Dixon, current Mossy Oak president Bill Suggs Jr. and Dixon's doctor, Arnold Leonard, turned over the reins to a professional auctioneer who started the bidding on the heirloom vest.

Five hundred attendees packed into the Ring of Fire, watched footage of Dixon turkey hunting on the projection screens, munched on warm pretzels, and sipped soft drinks during the press conference and auction. Within 20 minutes, the turkey vest sold for a $10,000 donation to Leonard's ASL Cancer Research Fund.

In addition to raising money for a worthy cause, Mossy Oak's philanthropic auction helped the company fan its feathers and show its colors. "The auction created momentum for Mossy Oak apparel, and the event showed the company's community-minded spirit, which is a part of its culture," says Carol Martin, director of business development at Derse. "Even better, it generated a great crowd of people to hear about the Mossy Oak story."

1. The focal point of Mossy Oak Inc.'s exhibit was the Ring of Fire, complete with a faux campfire, hazer-created smoke, wood-fire fragrance, and
epoxy-rubber log benches.
2. Camouflaged models positioned near the reception desk stood behind a row of cattails and in front of a picture of the great outdoors. Their occasional movements startled attendees, many of whom thought they were mannequins.
3. Attendees visited kiosks called "family-tree pods," where they used touchscreens to access information about Mossy Oak's new Web site. If they entered their contact information into the kiosks, staffers rewarded them with a Duck Blind hat.

On the second day of the show, Mossy Oak unveiled its future plans in a presentation entitled The Next 20 Years. The 90-minute presentation comprised the second component of the company's presentation strategy and informed attendees about what's on the horizon. For example, using support footage on the projection screens, Mossy Oak's founder and COO Toxey Haas, along with CFO Randy Russell and other key executives, previewed the new interactive Web site, where hunters can watch hunts as they happen, download videos, and share their own images and stories. Officials also talked about the Base Camp for Partners program, a new effort to provide its licensees with the tools and support to succeed in the industry. Gathered around the campfire, a standing-room-only crowd of 1,500 people savored s'mores and hot cider along with tasty nuggets of information about Mossy Oak's plans for the future.

"Mossy Oak is to the outdoor world what Nike is to the sports world," Martin says. "Just think if Nike were to have a press conference about the next 20 years at its major show and all their dealers, licensees, and retailers were there. If you're going to listen to anybody talking about the projection of that market, you'd go to Nike. It's the same way with Mossy Oak and the outdoor world."

While The Next 20 Years presentation enticed attendees with exclusive information, Mossy Oak coordinated a number of more informal executive appearances, which comprised the third tier of the company's three-part presentation strategy.

"Because Mossy Oak features its executives in seven company-produced television shows for sports and outdoor channels, and since the company uses its executives in advertising campaigns, the Mossy Oak officials have become movie stars in the outdoor community," Martin says.

Mossy Oak asked those in-house celebrities to take time out of their busy schedules to sit around the campfire with visitors, to talk about their passion for Mossy Oak, and to answer questions and interact with attendees in a friendly, low-key setting.

"We used the 'Field of Dreams' approach: If you build it, they will come. We built the campfire, put the executives there, and the attendees came," Martin says. The strategy worked as word-of-mouth on the show floor had visitors migrating to the booth for the unscripted, hour-long presentations on topics ranging from the birth of a camouflage pattern to the company's commitment to conservation to Mossy Oak's partnership events. Each segment featured video clips and brand messages on the projection screens to support the executives' discussion, along with upbeat country music playing in the background.

Shooting for Results

Mossy Oak's campfire-themed booth and presentation strategy hit the bull's-eye with results that refuse to blend into the background. Booth traffic increased by 80 percent compared to 2006, and the company met with 26 percent more accounts than its goal. Even better, Mossy Oak's stand-out booth and presentations attracted licensees like deer to a salt lick: More than 68 percent of the company's licensees who attended the 2007 SHOT Show visited its booth during the four-day show, a 36-percent increase over the previous year.

Combining an earthy campfire atmosphere with its high-tech message also let Mossy Oak maintain its friendly face in the hunting world. "To walk into the booth and watch people sitting around, talking, watching video, laughing, and having a great time, seeing the friendship and the family aspect of it was really rewarding," Perkins says. "That's what Mossy Oak is all about, and the booth conveyed that message perfectly."

But the impressive results Mossy Oak garnered at the 2007 SHOT Show were just the beginning. With a successful year under its belt, the company chose to expand its Ring of Fire exhibit last February at the 2008 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, where it introduced its new pattern, Treestand alongside its licensees. The updated exhibit boasted a new, four-hour-long multimedia program featuring promotional video clips, videotaped hunts, interviews, ads, and more. In fact, to make the multimedia presentation hit home for some of its most important attendees, Mossy Oak invited VIPs on hunting trips prior to the show and videotaped those hunts. When VIPs entered the exhibit on the show floor, an on-site audiovisual technical director cued up video of their hunt, making them feel even more at home inside the Ring of Fire.

Mossy Oak also added a couple of new in-booth events into the mix, starting with the Big Game Party, held on the Sunday afternoon of the Super Bowl, the second day of the four-day show. Playing off big-game hunts and the biggest game in football, the Big Game Party featured the Super Bowl live on the Ring of Fire multimedia screens, along with popcorn, sodas, and complimentary Treestand T-shirts for the more than 500 attendees who stopped by to sit around the campfire and watch the game.

Furthermore, the company eschewed the annual press luncheon it had hosted at previous SHOT Shows, and invited media reps to its exhibit for an in-booth press event inside a 30-by-30-foot new-product area that featured more than 450 new products from Mossy Oak's various licensees. "Having the event in the booth instead of a meeting room allowed the writers to see and sample all of the new products on display that licensees had produced using the Mossy Oak patterns," Martin says. "It was a much more dynamic experience than sitting in a meeting room at the Las Vegas Convention Center."

But the biggest change for 2008 was the extra 6,400 square feet of exhibit space. Instead of 2007's 40-by-80-foot space, Mossy Oak's 2008 exhibit was a whopping 80-by-120 feet. Sixteen of the company's licensees set up shop inside the extra space, in everything from 10-by-10-foot kiosk-style displays to 30-by-70-foot spaces. According to Martin, the enlarged 2008 exhibit had an equally enlarging effect on the amount of time attendees spent in the booth. "People really got immersed in the Mossy Oak brand because there was just so much to see and so many licensees to talk with," she says. In fact, the average attendee's visit practically tripled from seven minutes in 2007 to 20 minutes in 2008. What's more, booth traffic increased from an already impressive 5,400 attendees in 2007 to approximately 6,900 in 2008.

The long-term plan for Mossy Oak is to reuse its current booth for three more years, capping a five-year exhibit-marketing campaign revolving around the Ring of Fire concept. Two successful years in, it looks as though, for Mossy Oak, it's open season on sales leads - and the hunt has just begun. e

Elisabeth Miller, associate writer;
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