Dark Nights

A street performer at Dark Nights, outside the Staples Center at L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles. 

Courtesy of L.A. Live

Which North American venues made the smartest unconventional promotional moves this past year? The annual Event & Arena Marketing Conference, held at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas from June 13 to 16, will honor the standout initiatives in marketing, publicity and other campaigns during its awards luncheon. From DIY, low-cost efforts that introduced the impact of celebrity-assisted “viral moments” to return-to-form strategies, philanthropic efforts and even a daredevil cross-water motorbike stunt, venues will be recognized for their unique spins on promotions. These initiatives are among the finalists.

Marketing Campaign Finalists

Downtown Dark Nights
L.A. Live, Los Angeles

Beginning as a way to capitalize on off-nights for L.A. LIVE’s trifecta of venues -- Staples Center, Microsoft Theatre and The Novo -- “Downtown Dark Nights” has evolved into a street party meets “giant happy hour.” Re-energizing the DTLA campus with a budget of $11,000, AEG and L.A. LIVE executed three soirees last summer, featuring an eclectic mix of stilt walkers, breakdancers, hula-hoopers, muralists and graffiti artists -- all paired with local vendors, live bands and DJs. “We thought it would be a fun play on words to use our industry term for these types of non-event dates and create a community brand with it,” says AEG/L.A. LIVE senior director of marketing Natalie Y. Matsumoto. The plan aimed to bolster patronage to on-site restaurants, with minimal congestion for its local clientele. The team leveraged the venue’s target audience across platforms, and also tapped local influencers, swapping VIP lounge access for additional grassroots promotions. Each evening had over 10,000 attendees, with restaurant revenue averaging 31 percent higher than typical nights (the revenue earned on May 19 was among the top four for the month). “Amazingly, the restaurant revenue generated during Dark Nights events rivaled or beat the revenue generated during a sold-out [Los Angeles] Lakers or [Sacramento] Kings game night,” says Matsumoto of the 31 percent increase.

Giving Tuesday -- Veterans at the Basie
Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, N.J.
Capacity 1,568

Count Basie Center for the Arts

Exterior of the Count Basie Center for the Arts.Courtesy of the Count Basie Theater

In May, this Red Bank arts landmark announced a rebranding as the Count Basie Center for the Arts. The move keeps its position as not just a performing arts organization, but also a nonprofit, which draws upon its visibility and resources as a historic site to give back to the community. Its philanthropic mission is highlighted by events like “Giving Tuesday” on Nov. 28, the venue’s take on the International Day of Giving founded in 2012 by New York’s 92nd Street YMCA and the United Nations Foundation. The organization -- in partnership with radio station WJLK (94.3 The Point) Asbury Park, N.J., and the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation -- coordinated a live broadcast fundraiser for the Veterans Tickets Foundation called Vet Tix, which provides access to arts events for local veterans who suffer from PTSD. “Veterans are a crucial and often overlooked segment of the population,” says Jon Vena, vp marketing and public relations, who was introduced to Vet Tix through Creative Artists Agency. “New Jersey has a high armed-services population, both enrolled and retired. They sacrifice themselves, they sacrifice time with their families. It’s our responsibility to get some of that back for them.” Budgeted at only $2,000, the 2017 fundraiser raised over $30,000 for Vet Tix. The evening peaked with an intimate set from Melissa Etheridge, who reflected on her own family’s military history with listeners during the broadcast.

Santander Arena & Santander Performing Arts Center Membership Program
SMG-Santander Arena & Santander Performing Arts Center, Reading, Pa.
Capacity 1,800

Santander Performing Arts Center

A concert at Santander Performing Arts Center.Matt Christine

After acknowledging previous setbacks, the SMG team retooled its season offerings into one cohesive membership program that “revived the arts in Downtown Reading,” says SMG/Santander Arena & Santander Performing Arts Center sales and client services manager Tammy Dahms. It began with a back-to-basics marketing approach, budgeted at $26,500, with the team opting to snail mail a full-season brochure to over 55,000 homes in the county, highlighting 40 shows in the coming season and three centerpiece Broadway shows: The Wizard of Oz, Rent and Jersey Boys. “We picked up phones and called past buyers and subscribers and made personal connections,” says Dahms. “We operate in a highly saturated area with several competitive venues nearby. We needed to differentiate ourselves by not just being the best in entertainment options but the best in customer service in a very community-oriented market.” The program (with its lowest tier at $50 per year) brought in a new revenue stream of $7,500, plus $14,500 in sponsorship in its first year, with paying members bringing in nearly $130,000 in revenue, and complimentary members tacking on another $100,000 this year. “Our membership program has re-energized the Broadway audience in our community and led us to the most -successful year in 17 years,” says Dahms. Heading into year two, the team is hosting a “Renewal Party” as a thank you to current members.

Publicity Campaign Finalists

Lady Gaga Mural Art
Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.
Capacity 21,500

From left: Amalie Arena’s Magazzu, Seeley and Lanza with Parker (front).

From left: Amalie Arena’s Magazzu, Seeley and Lanza with Parker (front).Scott Audette

Ahead of Lady Gaga’s sold-out Joanne World Tour stop at Tampa’s Amalie Arena (Dec. 1), local visual artist Cam Parker -- a “Little Monster” himself -- painted a mural of the pop star to help build buzz for the show. The artwork provided an opportunity for a one-of-a-kind gift from the venue to the “Million Reasons” singer. “Our Amalie Arena photographer, Scott Audette, did an amazing photo shoot where we were able to bring in Mari Magazzu, our Live Nation marketing manager; Kim Seeley, our arena event manager; myself; and Cam to create something different and special for Gaga,” says Angela Lanza, senior manager of event marketing at Amalie Arena. The team produced two canvas prints of its favorite images and left them with the singer’s management on the night of the show. “She loved them so much that she posted the canvases on her social media, and signed one to leave behind for our foundation,” says Lanza. The gesture showed the power of a celebrity “viral moment” with zero cost to the venue or promoters.

Backflip on the Thames
Nitro Circus, San Clemente, Calif.

Nitro Circus’ Pastrana performed a barge-to-barge backflip.

Nitro Circus’ Pastrana performed a barge-to-barge backflip.Sam Neill

When deciding how to best optimize its You Got This European Tour announcement, Nitro Circus chose to break a world record -- a standard practice for a company whose unofficial motto is to “always go all in,” says Nitro Circus senior vp/global head of marketing Jolene Pellant. The location: London’s Thames River. The participant: famed action-sports legend and Nitro’s “fearless leader” Travis Pastrana. The first-ever rider to land a double-backflip on a dirt bike, a feat he accomplished at the 2006 X Games, Pastrana was tasked with landing the first barge-to-barge backflip on a motorbike -- via a 75-foot-wide gap between two floating barges, neither tied to the shore or each other. The risky stunt, held on Oct. 5, cost $150,000 and earned 2.7 billion impressions globally. “Travis is still around to tell about it, and we set another World Record, with Ripley’s Believe It or Not there to document,” says Pellant. “It did everything we needed it to do. I was hearing from people in Sydney seeing it on the evening news!”

Thank You Cards for the Troops
SMG/Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Capacity 12,000

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Van Andel Arena’s “Thank You Cards for the Troops” at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.Courtesy of SMG

Inspired by a charitable effort from country WLXX (NASH FM 92.9) Lexington, Ky., morning show Ty, Kelly & Chuck, the staff at SMG’s Van Andel Arena began collecting thank-you cards last November for service personnel overseas for the holidays. “West Michigan is known for its philanthropy, so we knew this would be something our community would get behind and support,” says director of marketing Hilarie Szarowicz. The Van Andel team encouraged patrons to drop off cards at the arena, with participants entered to win tickets to a Dec. 3 Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. The promotion also targeted visitors to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and Civic Theatre, while local elementary schools used the opportunity to teach students about the military. In total, the venue sent out 460 cards. “The holidays were the perfect time to spread a little cheer and appreciation,” says Szarowicz of the no-cost initiative. It caught the attention of Ty, Kelly & Chuck, which offered to kick off the on-sale of the venue’s upcoming Sugarland performance (Aug. 10), creating a Grand Rapids-centric video and giving away tickets to the concert on the morning show.

This article originally appeared in the June 2 issue of Billboard. 

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