Nightclub Promotions: Now and Then
Panorama Productions owner Antonis Karagounis examines changing trends in DC nightlife promotions
Follow me on Twitter @AntonisDC
We used to dance to Ace of Base, do the Macarena, and spice up our lives with everyone’s favorite girl group. Now it’s all about Avicii, “Call Me Maybe,” and LMFAO. In fashion, we’ve traded parachute pants and Jordans for skinny jeans and a resurgence of low-cut shoes.
More importantly, Washington, DC’s population has become younger and more educated. An influx of expendable income has caused significant growth in our city’s hospitality industry. New money has brought gentrification, cleaned up DC’s neighborhoods, and opened new bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels. DC is no longer just a “functional” city, but a “fun” city as well. Case and point, the weekly Glow parties (started in DC in 1999) were listed amongst the top 8 “Best U.S. Clubs” at Winter Music Conference in 2011 and 2012.
Perhaps the biggest change, however, is how we acquire information.
DC nightlife has always been a promoter-driven market.
The “scene” was once dominated by a select handful of event companies, including Panorama Productions, Masoud A Productions, Marc Barnes, Lindy Promo, Event Concepts, Buzzlife and Mad Power Unit. Of these, only Marc, Masoud, and Panorama are still relevant. The list of new clubs and bars, however, continues to grow.
This nightlife boom has ushered in a new mindset amongst workers and watered down what it once meant to be a “promoter.” How and why? Two reasons:
- Social media has destroyed the entry barrier to running a successful party or promotions company.
- Venues are opening without long-term business models or accurate assessments of consumer demand.
The great equalizer? Not exactly.
Everyone and their grandmother has a Facebook page. If you have 1,000 friends and 200 Twitter followers then it’s easy to become a promoter, right?
This philosophy has saturated the market (and your news feed) with an overflow of pointless messages. Unless you’re a “real life” friend of this “promoter,” or actually like the DJ who’s performing, this information provides zero value to you. Simply put, Facebook has become a promoter’s playground.
Social media has basically eliminated the $5-10k start-up money promotions companies once needed for flyers, graphic designers, email lists and a website. Since there’s no longer an entry barrier, most of today’s promoters are “boom and bust.” They might bring a ton of people one night but fail to produce the next. This creates a high turnover rate and thus unpredictable and unreliable events.
10 years ago, a good promoter could bring 400 people to a single party. Today, most club owners are happy if a promoter can bring over 30. Now it usually takes 5-6 promotion groups to get a 400 capacity venue busy.
Differentiate. And please, maintain control.
Far too many club owners have a skewed perception of how effective social media promotion really is. They’re placing the success and future of their venue(s) in the hands of amateurs looking for a quick buck. Kids with a lot of Facebook friends can walk into a venue and get any deal they want if an owner is desperate to pay next month’s rent. But these kids may leave the venue after a couple months. Then what? Without sustainable business models, these places often close down after just a few years.
Armin van Buuren at DC Armory (Nov. 2011)
New venues open and compete for the same crowd. DC is growing younger and deserves great entertainment, but the supply is outpacing the demand.
The list of nightclubs and bars keeps growing. There are outdoor parties, boat parties, pool parties, festivals, stadium concerts and more. Nightlife fans are overwhelmed!
While there will always be a new venue trying to capture a piece of the pie, most are failing to offer a different experience. Too many aspiring owners see another venue’s popularity and try to duplicate it. They’re borrowing (and stealing) the concept, design and even audience.
The best venues are the ones with resolute concepts that provide for a unique customer experience, not the ones who recycle. As the phrase goes, “often imitated but never duplicated!”
My Advice to Owners
As a nightclub, bar, or entertainment property owner, how can you resist letting Facebook all-stars run the show while still maximizing your bottom line? They key lies in your promoters.
KNOW YOUR PROMOTERS
Who do you want at your party? Tell your promoters!
A promoter’s crowd alters the concept of your space. Age, gender, sex, race, orientation, nationality, education, income – Understanding the demographic a promoter brings is critical to running a successful venue.
Telling promoters to “just bring people” without understanding who they bring generally doesn’t work unless your event is already well established.
SET EXPECTATIONS FOR YOUR PROMOTERS
Explain to them what type of clientele you’re looking for.
An all-Latin event can work great on the weekend at Cuba Libre. It’s a Latin restaurant/lounge. Weekend events at Barcode, an American restaurant/bar/lounge, require a top 40 mix. Barcode is, however, capable of hosting Latin events on an off-night. The DJ must work in some top 40 with their Latin mix to accommodate everyone.
Bottom line: Don’t let promoters alter the concept of your place. Cut them slack on off-nights but maintain control.
DO NOT TAKE THE EASY WAY OUT
While giving a night to promoters is an easy way to boost revenue, it’s temporary and dangerous.
You’re allowing someone with no vested interest in your business to control the brand. Next thing you know, your promoters are leaving for a newer, trendier place; or one that pays better. And what do you have left?
NEVER LET PROMOTERS RUN YOUR OPERATIONS
DO NOT let promoters check IDs, hire security, run your table lists, book your DJs, etc. This is your business. You will inevitably lose your liquor license with operations in the hands of promoters.
At many ABC hearings, not surprisingly, I’ve heard owners justify their liquor law violations by blaming the promoters who ran the night.
Is promoting as we once knew it really dead? Not exactly. While remnants of old school tactics still exist, the times have certainly changed. There’s more clutter and a lot more amateurs out there. But the fundamental idea still exists: people want to have fun. They need a resource directing them to the best parties in town. As one of my dear friends, and in many ways a mentor likes to put it:
“The value of a promoter is not what he brings to your business, but what he takes away when he decides to leave.”
— Masoud A
I’ll leave you with this:
Social media is powerful when utilized correctly. Watch out for confident amateurs with lots of friends and zero track record. Before opening a new venue, make sure there’s actual consumer need in both your neighborhood and city. Evaluate whether your property will be a boom-bust craze or a sustainable business.
With so many choices and information thrown at today’s nightlife crowd, only organized parties with strong promotions will remain standing at the end of the day.