Lynn Lilly is the founder of Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events. She started Blackout Productions about 1 1/2 years ago with the goal of changing the landscape of events in Atlanta by focusing on innovative event marketing, production and design that closely aligns with clients’ objectives and target demographics. These have been created to be distinct, buzz generating, “must attend” events that people don’t want to miss and will talk about the next day, with an emphasis on the restaurant industry and nightlife. Her clients have include Three Olives Vodka, Whiskey Park, and Straits, with event participation into the thousands.
About 4 months ago, she created Lilly White Events to address an under met demand for similar services for the private event market – events for corporate, bridal and non-profit organizations. These are events with a greater need for planning than promotions, but for both companies, the focus remains on client centered services and showing results.
In this interview, Lynn discusses her experience getting “butts in seats” for her diverse client list with each having a different target audience. Listen to the entire interview below.
Blackout’s clients include restaurants, clubs, boutiques, and alcohol brands whereas Lilly White’s clients are mostly corporate (real estate agents, doctors, lawyers), non-profits and bridal. This is a wide-ranging base that has an equally diverse target audience varying from women interested in high end fashion (Jedal Italian Fashion in Phipps Plaza) to nightclub goers (W Hotel’s Whiskey Park in Midtown Atlanta) to brides.
These audiences require individualized promotions, although the tools used are fairly consistent.
To entice these audiences, Lynn creates cutting edge, innovative events unlike anything people have seen in Atlanta, creating must attend events. With both Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events, she emphasizes that she will take the headache out of having an event while providing metrics to prove success. This has built a reputation for her that has led to a referral-based sales channel.
Promoting to these audiences is not just an issue of getting people to show up, but reaching the audience that matches the client’s desired demographic. Someone attending an upscale event for high end fashion that can’t spend $1,000 on shoes is not a successful attendee. This is a tough challenge and Lynn uses a multi-pronged strategy.
The Personal Touch
In some cases, to make sure that the right people show up for events, Lynn takes a very active personal approach. For example, when Skyy Vodka Pineapple Infusion launched, they wanted to reach influencers at bars and restaurants so she sent personal invites to owners, managers and bartenders to make sure they showed up. In some cases, she visited businesses to deliver the invitation personally. It’s all part of understanding your audience and making the connection that most influences them.
When she first started, Lynn’s initial efforts focused on handing out flyers to reach her audience. Now that she has a strong reputation and an impressive database of contacts, this practice has tapered off.
Social media is one of the principle ways Lynn promotes and when a client hires Blackout Productions, they aren’t just getting a great event, but access to Lynn’s sphere of influence. Facebook is a great tool for this. Lynn will help build out a client’s Facebook presence to promote their event while encouraging her contacts to become Fans. This has lasting value beyond the event, providing the client with a receptive audience for future messages. Additionally, Lynn encourages attendees to look at pictures from the event on the client’s Facebook page and tag themselves… of course, the ability to tag photos requires users to become a Fan first. All of these tags propagate to news feeds that help to further promote the client even after the event.
She has used paid ads on Facebook when trying to reach a very targeted demographic. Most relevant are ads for bridal events through Lilly White Events to reach women in Atlanta that have a relationship status of “engaged.”
Lynn promotes events on Twitter through her personal account as well as Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events. The viral nature of re-tweets can not only get feet in the door, but increase the client’s number of Followers.
Lynn describes herself as being hard to sell to, but she was convinced to subscribe to Citysearch’s service. It was a terrible experience:
- Delays in Getting profile setup. Blackout Productions had to rely on Citysearch to put their content online, so they submitted all of their information (photos, video, copy, etc) a week prior to their first month of service, but the information was still not right 2 weeks into the month (wrong logo, no content or wrong content, etc.).
- Budget overages. Of course, Citysearch was still charging them for traffic even though the information was wrong or incomplete, but instead of the agreed upon budget of $25/day, they were being charged $50/day.
- Lack of communication. Lynn was sold, in part, by the sales person’s description of Citysearch’s excellent customer service. However, she was given inaccurate information about where to send content (leading to some of the delays) and phone calls and emails went unanswered. All of this led to a battle for a refund from Citysearch.
The sales person was very good at selling, but the responsiveness, customer support, and effectiveness they had been promised was a huge disappointment. Lynn canceled their subscription and has no plans to use Citysearch again. Her experience with local search left such a bad impression that when Yelp called a few weeks later, she immediately said “not interested.” She would recommend social marketing to her clients 100x over before recommending local search like Citysearch.
Lynn has considered using Google Ads, but hasn’t had time to investigate in detail. She has heard good things about it, though.
Lynn uses her contact database to email event announcements to relevant demographics. Similar to her efforts in social media, she encourages new subscribers to also register with the clients’ newsletters – providing residual value that lasts well beyond any single event.
Blogs and Online Publications
Blackout Productions has had great experience with blog and online publication posts about their unique events. Lynn uses Google the day after an event to track what’s being said and connect to those contributing to the buzz. Influentially writers get added to her media list.
Blackout Productions has paid for some print advertisement with publications like 6 Degrees, but Lynn doesn’t think there’s a lot of value to the print promotions. However, in many cases, these outlets provide additional promotions through their website, Facebook pages, email lists, etc. that Lynn does think have a lot of value and reach. Summation – it’s OK to pay for print if it gains access to a big online presence. (Sounds like print publications are selling the wrong thing)
Television and Radio
Lynn hasn’t used paid advertising on television or radio because she hasn’t felt that it was suitable for any of her events to this point.
Other Online Advertisement
Lynn leverages Word of Mouth through a number of viral, online tools. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs all generate content that is easily shared and email campaigns give people an easy way to forward information to friends. It’s a multi-channel world and you have to take advantage of all of the avenues available.
She is constantly looking for new tools that can increase her ability to harness word of mouth, although the challenge has been that each new technology is yet another place that she has to manage information. Keeping up with all the tools is becoming more and more of a challenge, but pays great dividends.
Social marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter have been great at connecting to people and keeping them informed about upcoming events, leading to “butts in seats.” The only monetary cost is related to the paid ads she posts on Facebook for bridal events – generally a few hundred dollars – and isn’t that significant .
However, there is a significant time-cost promoting with these tools, which takes away from time she could spend on “creating a better event or spending more time on event design or cultivating new business.” Time is money.
“It’s a lot of repetitive work. It’s the same thing over and over again for each site and it’s time consuming and it’s boring and it drives me nuts.”
Lynn has been fortunate enough to find vendors that she can trust when putting together events. Knowing her partners are reliable reduces the number of things she needs to worry about and helps simplify the number of spinning plates she has to manage.
One of Lynn’s biggest challenges is managing all of the avenues of social media marketing. Updating websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc takes a lot of time (although I did recommend she look into solutions like Tweetdeck to consolidation her efforts a little). One thing she does to simplify this some is integrating her Facebook status updates with her tweets.
For RSVP’s, Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events use a dedicated email account designed for responses and then checks people off at the door as they arrive. They also track people that show up off the street and use that as an opportunity to capture new email addresses.
Lynn is a big numbers person. One example involves monitoring the ratio of received RSVP’s to the number that actually shows up. This provides her with statistical information so she knows how many people to expect based on responses – categorized not only by the type of event, but by factors like weather (if it rains, how will that effect turnout) and the day of the week. When a client says they want 1,000 people to show up, she knows how many RSVP’s she needs to secure based on this information.
That method is great if you focus solely on head count, but for organizations like restaurants, bars, clubs and lounges, it’s all about the bottom line. For these clients, Lynn looks to other tools, such as POS systems. For Whiskey Park at the W Midtown Atlanta, she’ll look at bar sells by hour as well as a break down of what drinks are being ordered – especially important when she partners with a liquor company.
The numbers are there and, by analyzing them, lessons are learned about how to make every event more successful than the last. Additionally, by following trends, Lynn is able to provide clients with proof that their efforts are paying off as well as give them insights about their patrons’ behavior.
The biggest challenge is promotions. It’s difficult to reach the right audience and takes a lot of hard work – you have to be creative and keep up with the latest tools. In all of your efforts, you also have to have the right team that is driven and represents your brand well. Finally, always measure your metrics.
Friday, December 18. Winter Wonderland event at Whiskey Park to benefit Toys for Tots and co-sponsored by Van Gogh Blue Vodka. What’s not to love – Van Gogh Blue Sno Cones, a gelato bar, and midnight lingerie fashion show by LiviRae Lingerie.
August 2010. Atlanta Food Rave. A huge culinary event that is still under wraps, but will feature a number of Atlanta’s top chefs.
- Whiskey Park – a great client that is driven to succeed and works closely with Lynn, in large part due to the GM – Brad Wyatt – and the great team at Gerber Bars.
- Jeremy Brown at 944 Magazine
- Justin Epstein at Premier PR
Connect with Lynn Lilly, Blackout Productions and Lilly White
Blackout Production (map)
15 Lenox Pointe NE
Atlanta, GA 30324
- Blackout Productions – www.blackoutproductionsatlanta.com
- Lilly White Events - www.lillywhiteevents.com
- Facebook Group – www.facebook.com/BlackoutProductions
- Lynn Lilly on LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/lynnmlilly
- Twitter - twitter.com/blackoutprod
Lynn has been planning events for non-profits since high school. This continued through both her sorority and student government when she attended Auburn University – sophomore year, she planned the biggest fundraiser on campus, raising $40,000 for breast cancer research in one night. As a junior and senior, she was responsible for handling 3 events and PR for the Student Government Association.
After college, she went into advertising and marketing in Atlanta while networking every night of the week. This allowed her to build connections that led to her first event – promoting Ludacris’ Straits Restaurant in Midtown Atlanta. Blackout Productions has been growing ever since. Some of her honors include:
- Featured in 6 Degrees magazine
- Trendy Atlanta wrote about her as an up and coming young entrepreneur
- Her work with Lilly White Events led to her being listed in CRAVE Atlanta‘s first book as one of Atlanta’s top 100 young entrepreneuress that you have to know
- Lilly White was selected as a sponsor and the event planner for Save A Smile’s Atlanta Holiday House