The Austin Chronicle Takes the Street-Team Concept to the Next Level

By pairing traditional street-team marketing tactics with an added incentive for potential advertisers, The Austin Chronicle's two-year-old experiment known as the Chrontourage has been a win-win.

Their date books are always filled on the weekends. In fact they’re some of the most popular people in town. Everyone wants them at their events. Concerts, parties, art exhibits, book signings, film screenings — you name it, they’ll be there. And if you’ve hung out in Austin at all over the past two years, chances are you’ve already seen them around.

Meet the Chrontourage — a group that can be found each week promoting The Austin Chronicle and giving out swag at various Austin bars, restaurants, museums, theaters and other venues. But the Chrontourage isn’t just your average street team. It’s also a marketing tool designed to enhance relationships with the paper’s top advertisers, encourage less-frequent clients to buy ad space more often, and draw in new clients who might not otherwise work with the paper.

The concept is simple: advertisers get help promoting their events, and the Chronicle gets the opportunity to promote itself at these events. Begun in August 2005, it was conceived as an added incentive for the paper’s 12-times-or-more per year advertisers. It includes events these advertisers are promoting in a weekly quarter-page ad located in the Chronicle‘s club listings (photos from previous weeks’ events are also published in the space) as well as in a weekly email newsletter sent to more than 5,000 subscribers. It also gives them the added benefit of having a Chronicle street team present at their events to distribute promotional items, or register attendees for prizes like free movies, concerts and other performances.

AAN News recently spoke with Chronicle promotions manager Sadie Caplan to learn more about these marketing initiatives. The paper brought her on in 2005 to implement and develop the Chrontourage and she says it’s grown substantially since then.

“Advertising director Carol Flagg had a vision for a street team for quite some time. They hired me to kind of start formulating it, and it’s grown in the past couple of years to become something that other papers in town have also initiated. So its just snowballing into something that’s quite successful. By giving our advertisers added value and helping them promote their events, we get a presence [at the events]. We can hand out our swag and other items, and we get to be involved out in the community. So its kind of a win-win situation.”

Indeed, advertisers seem to view it that way. There are currently about 20, including live-music venues and art museums, working with the Chrontourage on a regular basis, and more than 100 have participated in the program since it began. The events are already set up by the advertisers, so the Chronicle simply “piggybacks” onto them to “give them the extra push they need.” Perhaps the only difficult part is choosing which events to promote in a given week.

“That’s one of the things people are attracted to with the Chrontourage and our newsletter that goes out on Tuesdays. There’s so much going on, but we try to pick five to seven events per week. We narrow it down by first available, but we have relationships with certain advertisers and they’re in the habit of letting us know if there’s something they’ll need a little extra help with. Or sometimes I’ll do some investigation into where good events are, or look into what’s coming up. [For readers] it’s kind of like you’re in the know of events that are happening, and it’s created a buzz about what’s going on around town. We take photos at the events and post them to the website and put pictures in the print ad, so people will show up at the events wanting to get their picture taken and possibly published in the paper. There’s an involvement aspect of having the readers who show up at the events feel like they’re connected with the publication. The advertisers feel like we add something special to their event, and [attendees] see that the Chronicle is there and think it must be a cool event to be at. At least we try to make it that way.”

So how do you become a member of the Chrontourage? For starters, you have to be a college student, and as the home of the University of Texas, Austin has plenty of those. The Chrontourage is an internship program in the Chronicle‘s marketing department, and new members — usually around five — are chosen each semester. The gig is strictly non-paid, though the hours are flexible, and of course there are the added perks of college credit, industry connections, and resume material. So while the paper incurs no cost employing the street team, they also get hard-working interns who are genuinely enthusiastic about promoting the publication.

“It’s completely voluntary so you can put in as much or as little as you want. The internship is 95 percent outside of the office, so the interns can see the inner workings of how guerilla marketing works, and they get interaction with the paper as well as a learning experience. When I first put up the job description [in 2005] I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, and I think a lot of people just wanted to be involved with the Chronicle in any capacity. But after eight semesters, I’ve fine-tuned exactly what I’m looking for to kind of weed out some of the people who might not want to be involved, and let them know up front exactly what the internship involves. We get less applicants now, but there’s definitely more enthusiasm, because now people apply because they want to be involved with the Chrontourage and not just with the Chronicle.”

According to Caplan, the success of the Chrontourage is multi-pronged. On the one hand, the paper makes money off of a banner ad tacked onto its weekly newsletter, which is sold to advertisers for $150. Then there’s the notion of readership, which for the Chronicle, Caplan says, is skewed slightly towards an older demographic. Since the Chrontourage targets the 18- to 24-year-old age group, a young, hip audience that is highly coveted these days among alt-weeklies, it offers readership-growing potential. Caplan notes the Chronicle‘s readership has in fact increased over the past two years, though she cannot say whether that growth can be attributed primarily to the Chrontourage. The non-tangible evidence of the program’s success is harder to quantify.

“We have clients that aren’t even advertising with us calling in now saying, ‘How can we get the Chrontourage at our events?’ So it’s kind of also been a recruitment tool. People obviously have had good results and they want to have us there. It’s helping to bridge the relationships we have with advertisers and making them feel like they’re not just giving us their money. It’s more like we’re building a relationship with them and having them feel more a part of something. I think that aspect of human interaction makes people feel like they’re connected to the paper on more of a personal level, whether it be having their picture in the paper, or going to more of the events to pick up the Chronicle or see where we’re gonna be next. It’s fun to be a part of that, and I think the Chrontourage has a lot of fun with it too. I think they’re more than happy to go out and promote the paper and these events.”

And what does the future hold for the Chrontourage?

“We’ve talked about trying to get video from different events — trying to record some footage and put it on YouTube and on our website. And we’re constantly trying to increase our email subscriber base. As far as numbers go, we just surpassed 5,000. But there are always things you can improve, whether that’s just trying to get involved with blogging or other stuff like that. We’re just trying to cross-communicate some of what were doing.”

Joe Pompeo is a contributing writer for New York Press and a student at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.