November 23, 2017

American Express and Foursquare on the path to justifying location based marketing

In June, AMEX announced it was going to partner with Foursquare nationwide to do some cool discount deals tied to check-ins at some national chains. Then they decided to help out small businesses with a Black Saturday deal. Consumers could:

  • Link their Foursquare account to their AMEX card
  • Go to a small business with the AMEX deal ($25 off if you purchase $25 or more with your linked card)
  • Checkin on Forsquare
  • Pay with their AMEX
  • Get a $25 credit on their AMEX bill

This was pretty clever and I used the deal at a local pub, Edgewood Tavern. I didn’t have to show my phone to the server or anything, it  just happened behind the scenes at AMEX.

However, last night I was at Pure Taqueria in Inman Park (Atlanta) and saw there was a $10 off deal from AMEX if I checked in on Foursquare. I’m in pretty tight with the folks over there, so I asked the GM how he set up the deal with AMEX – were they splitting the discount cost a la Groupon or what.

Here’s the thing. He had no idea the AMEX deal existed. Apparently, it was all on AMEX. What? (inflection should go from low note to high note)

I opened up Foursquare again and started scrolling through all of the local businesses around me. It was like an Oprah moment – everybody had an AMEX deal! After leaving Pure, I went to Savi Urban Market and got a $10 discount on a bottle of wine to celebrate (they had no idea the deal existed either).

What’s going on and why?

So, in it’s simplest form, I’m buying $10 worth of stuff, the business is getting $10 (minus AMEX transaction fees), and I get $10 back. Who’s paying for this and why?

Word on the street is that the program doesn’t drive any revenue to Foursquare, but it represents an initial foray into going “beyond checkins,” an effort that might soon roll in deals from Living Social and Groupon. That will be interesting, but who is paying for the AMEX deal? It seems like AMEX.

I found some insights here and there, but I thought I would add my own.

The arrangement in its current form doesn’t make sense. Foursquare doesn’t generate revenue and AMEX is having to cover the cost of all the discounts. Currently, it only would work for AMEX if the effort increased the number of AMEX users (driving revenue from annual membership fees), increased the frequency users chose their AMEX card over their Visa card (driving revenue from increased transaction fees), and/or dramatically increased the average transaction size for an AMEX user (again, increased transaction fees). Even if the deal included Foursquare sharing user check-in information with AMEX, what would it tell them that they couldn’t already get by tracking other card charges… except maybe if the user checked in at non-businesses like parks and transit stations.

Foursquare gets closer to being able to claim that its online marketing drives consumer behavior and leads to local business revenue. If they gain access to transaction amount data, they get some awesome insights on the value of this marketing. Of course, in my case, I was at two of the businesses uninfluenced by Foursquare… but my new bottle of wine was effective marketing. Also, Foursquare needs to generate some revenue from all of this.

The Future of Foursquare

Here is my prediction about where all of this is going. Foursquare is striving to be the clearinghouse of location based deals. It will remain focused on doing everything it can to gain adoption by users and then aggregate local business deals from whomever can make them – AMEX, Groupon, Living Social, local news papers, etc. Foursquare gets to focus on technology and lets all of these other guys field the sales force.

AMEX (and potentially other credit cards) will move away from eating the cost for their local deals and begin generating revenue from local businesses paying for these promotions – similar to the daily deals sites. This will be a marketing cost for the local business, but with Foursquare in the loop, they will gain more insight to user behavior, such as:

  • Was the deal redeemed by a new visitor or returning visitor (in Foursquare terms, a Newbie checkin) – works regardless of who sold the deal to the business
  • Did new customers redeeming the deal ever return (tracked through subsequent checkins) – works regardless of who sold the deal to the local business
  • Automated tracking of average customer spend, lifetime value, etc tied to the credit card (in AMEX’s case), regardless of what POS they use – only works if a credit card company sold the deal to the local business

That is pretty Rock and Roll!

Getting Started with Twitter

For us that deal with social media on a daily basis – Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, RSS feeds, etc – there is a risk that we become disconnected with understanding where the rest of the country is in their understanding of the tools we take for granted. This point was emphasized to me last week through a conversation I had with Bob and Carol Marek – owners of American Period Furniture on Ponce in Atlanta.



Bob and Carol are great people that have run the store for years. As with any business owners, they want to reach their target audience – they have a high quality product with great service and know there are patrons that would love to find them, but the challenge remains how to reach them? They have heard all of the buzz about online promotions, but don’t know where to start – what is Twitter, what is Facebook, what are blogs, what are iPhone apps? More importantly, how does an organization use these technologies and which ones are best suited for changing needs? This conversation has inspired me to write some very basic posts about this new world… starting with Twitter.

What is Twitter?

To answer this question, I refer people to my post for a super basic introduction – This covers the topic in a very easy to understand way. My next post in this series will cover the topic of how to gain Followers on Twitter (

What is the value of Twitter?

In my conversation last week, I emphasized that tools like blogs and mobile apps are more about delivering unique to people and not direct advertising. Twitter, however, seems like a good place to start for someone that is used to traditional promotions, but wants to move efforts online. It’s a place to start building a more intimate relationship with patrons, but can still be used to announce special offers and business-focused news without offending Followers. Twitter is a way for organizations to connect to patrons real-time (or close to it). Users choose the people and organizations they want to Follow – they want information from you!

Setting Expectations

  • Your Followers will not see every announcement you post (called tweets).
  • Your Followers are looking for short posts that tell them what is new with your organization – upcoming sells, new shipments, change of hours, special events, etc.
  • Your Followers will not respond to every tweet they read. They won’t come in for every sell, event, etc., but you will have a way to keep them informed.

Think of Twitter as a bulletin board that is full of short messages. Some posts get read and some don’t, but it’s a public way to connect with your target audience and every now and then your message gets to the right person at the right time, leading them them to take action (come in and buy something, attend your event, whatever). If this sounds ineffective, think about advertisements that you might have posted in newspapers or other print publications – there are lots of people that flip through the pages, but how many see your announcement much less take action? The advantage of Twitter is that people have indicated that they actually want to plug into you. Extending the analogy, imagine a newspaper where the classifieds are limited only to the organizations of interest to the reader – when they want to find information, they only see posts from organizations they like. Here’s how it works:

  • People discover you on Twitter (more information in later posts)
  • They choose to Follow you, which means all of your tweets will be sent to them in Twitter alongside everyone else they Follow. Sometimes they are paying attention and sometimes they aren’t.
  • By periodically looking at their stream of tweets (ordered chronologically) people are able to take the pulse of what’s going on with everyone they follow.

Creating your Twitter account

Twitter Sign up page

Twitter Sign up page (click for full size)

This is super easy. Go to and follow the directions to setup your profile. Make sure to select a username that identifies your organization. For example, American Period Furniture chose APFurniture, meaning that their profile can be viewed at This isn’t rocket science and creating your account is super simple, so don’t be intimidated!

Customizing your Twitter Profile

At any point after creating your Twitter account, you can customize it by logging in and going to Settings ( You can play around with the properties, but the most important are:

Twitter Settings (click for full view)

Twitter Settings (click for full size)

  • Name – this helps people find you on Twitter. American Period Furniture should be used for APFurniture, for example.
  • More Info URL – this provides people with a link to other places you might promote online, such as your organization’s website. You can also use a link to your Facebook page, profile on a local search solution like Yelp or Citysearch, etc.
  • One line bio – enter something descriptive here so that if people find your profile they can determine if they want to Follow you. Also, think about keywords – if you deal in antique furniture, include that in the bio.
  • Location – make sure to indicate what town or city you are. A big driving factor for people is local organizations.
Twitter Design (click for full size)

Twitter Design (click for full size)

You also want to make your profile stand out a little more by customizing your background.

Under settings, there is a link to Design where you can set this. At the very least, you should choose one of the pre-defined templates, but at the bottom you can also upload your own custom image.

Finally, make sure you click the link to Picture. This allows you to set an image for your profile that will show up to the left of any tweets you post as well as showing up on your profile. Try to choose a picture that represents your organization – for instance:

  • A DJ might show turntables
  • A restaurant might show pictures of entrees
  • Any physical location might choose a picture of their building

Congratulations, you are now a Twitter user! Watch for additional posts to see where to go from here.


American Period Furniture is on Twitter at and is located at:

1097 Ponce De Leon Avenue (map)
Atlanta, GA 30306
(404) 892-8576

Help them get their feet wet by Following them!

Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions and Lilly White Events

Lynn Lilly

Lynn Lilly

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.

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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

Skyy Infusion Event

Skyy Infusion Event

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.”


Lilly White Events cake

Lilly White Events cake

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.

Local Search

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.

Google Ads

Lynn has considered using Google Ads, but hasn’t had time to investigate in detail. She has heard good things about it, though.

Email Campaigns

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.

Print Advertising

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

Depending on the type of event, other online advertisement has proven useful, including sites like Atlanta Occasions, Atlanta Bridal, and Access Atlanta.

Blackout Productions

Blackout Productions


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.

Email campaigns are managed through GoDaddy, but she is not completely happy with them as a solution (it’s not very user friendly). She has also tried Constant Contact, but didn’t like it either.

Blackout Productions Event

Blackout Productions Event


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.

Closing Words

Promotions that get noticed by Blackout Productions

Promotions that get noticed by Blackout Productions

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.

Upcoming Events

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.

Shout Outs

Connect with Lynn Lilly, Blackout Productions and Lilly White

Blackout Production (map)
15 Lenox Pointe NE
Suite C
Atlanta, GA 30324


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

Scout Labs Overview

Scout Labs is a social listening tool that can monitor what people are saying about you and your organization. By defining searches, you can browse related:

It also tries to assign sentiment to these posts so you can gauge not only where people are posting, but if the posts are positive, negative or neutral. Additionally, you can share your workspace with your team (IT, PR, management, etc.) and manage team discussions.

While the initial value is monitoring social media buzz, Scout Labs’ tools make it easy to drill down to the source of the posts and engage authors directly to help build relationships.

Unfortunately, it’s not free, but packages begin at $99/month and a 30-day free trial. If the free sites like Crowd Eye and Social Mention aren’t meeting your needs, it might be worth checking out.

Grind House Killer Burgers – Atlanta’s new Burger Joint

It seems like more and more people are entering Atlanta’s burger market with their own unique twist and Grind House Killer Burgers entered the fray as of yesterday morning. While Community Cultivator is not about restaurant reviews, my experience with this new business is certainly worth writing about.

Sweet Auburn Curb Market

Sweet Auburn Curb Market

Grind House – a Different “Go to Market” Approach

The go to market strategy is to literally “go to market”, in this case, Grind takes up the back wall of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Here is the thing that most impresses me about this – the Curb Market is a downtown hodge podge of bodegas, meat counters, vegetable stands, and food vendors that serve up dishes in to-go Styrofoam boxes. It is the place you typically go for down and dirty soul and international food and can buy pigs feet to your heart’s content. In short, it is a great place. However, it is not the venue you would expect a well-branded, boutique burger joint to open in.

The Grind House order line

The Grind House order line

At Grind House, patrons line up at the cashier to order from a menu including Angus beef, turkey or veggie burgers; tasty add-ons like bacon and avocado; and crinkle fries or onion rings on the side. Then they sit at the counter and wait for their food to arrive. To keep them entertained, there is a movie projected on the wall – in my case, I believe it was “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” Even though I was visiting within the first hour of operation, the food was great and the service was attentive. Good show!

My biggest point about Grind House’s location strategy is that I’m SO impressed that instead of opening in some strip of traditional commerce – like on Peachtree – or some curiously cool location tucked into an Atlanta neighborhood, they went into the heart of downtown and created a stand out location surrounded by vendors their clientele would not typically visit. I like these other types of locations, but what Grind did is awesome!

Burger and Chili cheese fries at Grind House

Burger and Chili cheese fries at Grind House

Reaching your Target Audience

There are a lot of things that are impressive about the new joint, but the way they reached their target market for opening day is the real reason they warrant a blog post on Community Cultivator. They did very little. In a 2-minute conversation I was able to have with the owner – Alex Brounstein- I asked him about how he promoted. He said he handed out a few flyers around the market, kept his friends informed about what he was working on and sent out an email yesterday morning (they also have a Facebook page and are on Twitter).

The interesting things is that I heard about the opening through unmanaged, viral marketing:

  • First, I found out about the opening a couple of days ago through master Facebooker, Michael Erickson. In one of his posts, he linked to an article on the new joint.
  • Then I got an email with a blog link from my friend Lindsey who knows Alex and did a blast to promote his new venture
  • With a quick search, I found even more information:


People want to find organizations that excite them. If you can do that, patrons can become a tremendous source of promotions – possibly outpacing your own efforts. It doesn’t sound like they spent much on promotions, but yesterday seemed like a good showing and I am looking forward to trying their turkey burger today!

Good luck Grind House!

Grind House Killer Burgers is in the Sweet Auburn Curb Market located at:

209 Edgewood Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30303 (Map)
Mon-Sat 11AM – 4PM

Facebook Profile -

Twitter –

See more reviews on UrbanSpoon!
Grindhouse Killer Burgers on Urbanspoon

Chuck Kneeland – Steel Restaurant

Chuck Kneeland - Steel Restuarant

Chuck Kneeland - Steel Restuarant

Chuck Kneeland is a veteran of the restaurant industry. His career started waiting tables in Austin, TX and has led to Managing Partner of Steel Restaurant Atlanta and Vice President of the restaurant management company, Restaurant Works. Along the way he has honed his experience growing national restaurant brands, starting several of his own restaurants, and helping to turn around struggling brands – learning several key things along the way:

  • Offer high quality food, service, beverage and environment.
  • Surround yourself with a great staff.
  • Provide structure and systems to manage uncertainty, but allow flexibility.
  • Aggressively squash issues before they spread. If you have an unhappy customer, hunt them down and delight them.
  • Finally, Adapt, Adapt, Adapt – 1) pay attention to your patrons, your neighborhood, the economy, technology, marketing trends …. and…. everything else. 2) Make adjustments as necessary.

With Steel Restaurant Atlanta, Chuck has created a beautiful, mid-town destination that embraces these ideals and attracts a mosaic of patrons. He strives to achieve Accessible Elegance, offering something for diverse palates and budgets.

I was able to sit down with Chuck and get a LOT of insights from him. That has resulted in a pretty long post, but it’s warranted considering all of the insights he provided. As always, you can read my summary below, but if you have time, listen to the entire interview (75 min, so it may take a minute or so to load) here

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Steel Restaurant Atlanta Wine Room

Steel Restaurant Atlanta's Wine Room

Steel Restaurant has a diverse audience depending on the time of day and which Steel Restaurant you are talking about.

Lunch versus Dinner

Lunch is more business people that work in the area. Dinner is completely different and can include bachelorette parties, corporate events, wealthy patrons that will buy $150 bottle of wine, as well as people that are looking for a good deal, but there is also a geographic difference.

Dallas versus Atlanta

Steel Restaurant Dallas' Wine Room

Steel Restaurant Dallas' Wine Room

The audience in Dallas is largely professionals, but transitions from older patrons that live in the Turtle Creek area early in the night to a younger demographic as the night progresses. When people go out in Dallas, it is an event that people dress up for.

Steel Restaurant Atlanta’s audience is more tricky. Similar to Dallas, it includes older patrons that live in mid-town high rises that love the food and service as well as younger patrons that like the hip environment. However, Chuck has discovered that Atlanta is much more neighborhood driven and casual than the Dallas market – kind of like his experience in Austin. Patrons – especially on weekends – are more likely to show up in jeans and t-shirts than in Dallas.

Both cities, however, demand a high quality experience.

Food at Steel Restaurant

Food at Steel Restaurant


Fundamentally, Steel Restaurant focuses on great food, service, and beverage programs in an elegant and stylish environment conveniently located in mid-town Atlanta and the Turtle Creek area of Dallas. More specifically, Steel offers:

  • Delectable sushi as well as dishes where seafood, chicken, and beef take center stage.
  • An excellent wine selection for those that demand the best.
  • “Craveable menu items” that stand out in people’s minds and aren’t available anywhere else.
  • Great service and attention to details.
  • Affordable Bento boxes around $15.
  • Noodle and rice dishes for cost conscious patrons – those looking for lunch under $10 or dinner under $15.

Steel’s offering is constantly being fine-tuned is based on patron feedback and even focus groups.

To address the neighborhood and casual culture of Atlanta, Chuck sees the need to “think neighborhood.” This includes:

  • Connecting more intimately with people in surrounding condos as an involved member of the neighborhood.
  • Taking into consideration the pedestrian nature of mid-town.
  • Marketing targeted specifically to the locals.


Dining room at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Part of being able to execute on great promotions is having something great to promote. Steel Restaurant adds special events to their core offering (see the Upcoming Event section) to take advantage of this fertile ground. Some of the promotional tools Chuck has used include:

Traditional and Off-Line Promotions

  • PR – Chuck works closely with Jamie Annarino from Red Clay to help orchestrate an ongoing PR strategy.
  • Editorial – Chuck is a big fan of publicity through critic reviews, etc. … free promotion that comes if you are really good and can connect to the writers.
  • Steel’s website – Steel Restaurants’ websites have been great at not only providing people information about the restaurants, but also setting the tone for what they are all about. The look and feel is a reflection of the actual environment. Steel Restaurant also puts a lot of effort in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to improve their organic search result ranking.
  • Open Table – allows the collection of names through reservations which Steel follows up on by sending emails to visitors – especially those that take the time to write a review.
  • Radio – Steel doesn’t pay for any radio advertising, but does encourage radio personalities to come in and get a first hand experience of the restaurant, which frequently leads to on air mentions. Jamie has been able to help connect to these personalities.
  • Print Promotions – Steel doesn’t pay for promotions in print publications either, but has been able to work out a gift certificate trade program with some – notably Sunday Paper. He provides them with gift certificates in exchange for print promotions and they use the gift certificates in giveaways and resell them at a discount. This allows effectiveness to be measured by tracking the certificates that are redeemed. Overall, however, Chuck “doesn’t believe in print anymore,” it’s just too expensive for a single restaurant.
  • Direct Mail – the only mailing that Steel has participated in is with Welcome Mat Services that delivers special offers to people moving into certain zip codes. Steel offered a $20 off voucher with a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” message, which tied in well with Atlanta’s neighborhood mentality. An added benefit is that Steel gets the demographic and address information for the people that redeem the coupon.
  • Special Offer Book – Chuck is also providing a 2 for 1 special offer, included in a promotions book sold to corporations. Extending these offers is unusual for higher end restaurants, but he believes that there are more people using coupons now than ever before and it gives him a conduit to get new people in the door, stun them with Steel’s offering and turn them into patrons. These deals require no money up front, however, he carefully monitors the other restaurants that are included to make sure he is less susceptible to brand dilution.
  • Hotel concierges – Concierges are trusted by hotel guests and Steel Restaurant builds relationships with them by hosting special events, sending them gift bags and occasionally comp’ing their meal when they visit. Referrals can be tracked in Open Table to determine who is driving business to Steel and they treat referred guests as VIP’s through little touches such as providing a complementary glass of Champagne “from the concierge.”
  • Taxi Appreciation Day – At one point, Chuck distributed free lunches to the taxi drivers of Atlanta in an effort to increase word of mouth. In hind site, this doesn’t seem like it was very effective, but when friends of his asked a cab driver if he knew about Steel, the cabbie told them about the promotion (“Steel really cares about us”). It didn’t have a huge return, but the point is to be creative.
  • Membership discounts – Steel offers a variety of discount programs to different groups. For example, Mid Town Alliance members receive a 10% discount and residents of Plaza Midtown receive a 20% discount.
  • Cause Marketing - Steel is a proponent of helping local charities, not only because of the exposure that it provides them, but also because of the opportunity to give back to the community. They have helped raise money for non-profits through work with organizations such as  Camp Twin Lakes, Backpacks in the Park (sponsored by For the Kid), Toys for Tots, AID Atlanta, Jerusalem House, Breast Cancer Walks, Lymphoma Society, Community in Schools (Dine out for Kids), and Zoo Atlanta. This has included contributing to silent auctions as well as hosting events where Steel donates the food/venue and a percentage of the bar to the charity.

Viral and Social Network Marketing

The bar at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

The bar at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Viral and social network marketing is, in general, very valuable, but takes time. Chuck believes you have to schedule for these activities or these efforts are likely to fall between the cracks. Also, the staff must be part of the game plan, so he encourages activities like the collection of  customer feedback cards to build a patron database – creating ongoing relationships with patrons needs to be part of the culture.

  • Email Campaigns - email addresses are collected through Open Table and customer comment cards and followed with periodic emails. Chuck’s rule is no more than 2 messages a month and Steel Restaurant is working on developing more involved newsletters that provide comprehensive information about the restaurants and what they have going on to keep patrons plugged-in.
  • Local Search (i.e. Citysearch and Yelp) – Steel has been active on both Citysearch and Yelp (paying about $300/month), but tracking the performance of these sites has led Chuck to believe there is not a lot of value beyond the features that are offered for free. The most notable advantage has been the ability to monitor user posts, especially negative ones, so that Steel can resolve issues and ideally connect to individuals directly. He’s gone as far as, after receiving a negative review, calling every person with an Open Table reservation from the previous night to find the reviewer and offer to make things right.
  • Facebook – both Steel Dallas and Atlanta have Facebook pages – tapping into social networks – that have provided decent activity related to user posts and promotions. They don’t have a lot of fans, but “the ones that are on there are the most loyal.”
  • Twitter – with over 1,200 followers on Twitter, even if a fraction of Steel’s posts are seen, it provides a way to stay on patrons’ minds.

NOTE: Steel’s willingness to provide special offers is worth highlighting. Many higher end restaurants resist this idea because of concerns about how it reflects on their brand, but Chuck makes the point that things are different now – “who pays full price nowadays?” When you live in a world where Macy’s is having 50% off sales, he believes you need to change to meet the market’s demands.


Wasabi Booth at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Wasabi Booth at Steel Restaurant Atlanta

Chuck believes that word of mouth is “the most important thing of all.”  Good word of mouth leads to returning customers, event bookings, and referrals. Making it easier for patrons to spread the word is the responsibility of the organization.

  • Social networks like Facebook allow for news and upcoming events to be rapidly shared with the click of a button
  • Twitter allows information to be “re-tweeted” easily
  • Email thank you’s keep Steel Restaurant on people’s minds and makes it easy for them to respond, forward the email to friends, or click to make another reservation
  • Email newsletters can also be easily forwarded

Some of the tools that help build the email database are:

  • Open Table – Open Table serves as a valuable funnel of email information on patrons reserving through the site.
  • Mailing cards – Steel also encourages patrons to fill in survey cards with their information that can be entered into their contact list for email or physical mail follow ups.


The most obvious connection points to patrons is their time in the restaurant, but in this competitive market, taking the extra steps required to maintain a dialog is a huge advantage. Chuck’s dialog focuses on:

  • Being Appreciative. Call, email, or send a card to guests after their visit using information from Open Table, your POS system, or customer comment cards. Show them that you value their business.
  • Being Informative. Keep them informed about the organization using email campaigns, but DO NOT ABUSE THIS. No more than 2 a month.
  • Feeding those with passion. Provide a way to connect with your most passionate patrons; being active on Facebook and Twitter allows people to choose how they want to interact with you. Think about it this way, if you try this and no one signs up, then you didn’t annoy anyone. However, if you have patrons that want to actively be informed about what your organization is up to real time, whether you understand it or not, why not feed their zeal?

Steel Restaurant Dallas' bar

Steel Restaurant Dallas' bar


Throughout this interview, it became obvious how many things Chuck focuses on to make Steel successful. Obviously, anything that can simplify this helps a lot and here are some of his tricks.


  • Add process and structure – having procedures in place so that employees know what to expect helps to streamline operations. This includes managing work schedules, taking monthly physical inventory, systematizing ordering and delivery processes, etc. People like structure and knowing what to expect.
  • Be flexible. While structure is important, don’t be so rigid that it stifles the patron experience, let the staff do their job.
  • Partner with people that make life easier. Find partners that understand their success is intertwined with yours and that are willing to go the extra mile. For example:
    • Cat Chang performs every Friday night at Steel Restaurant Atlanta and promotes herself in addition to Steel’s efforts.
    • National Distributing is a vendor that works with Steel to build a wine strategy, comes in to dine and refers others to visit – Chuck does business with people that do business with him.


  • POS – Steel uses Aloha POS, which provides information on not only what food items are popular, but the activity of various discount programs and analysis of Net sells derived from those programs.
  • Open Table – Open Table provides information on guests, including phone number, email address, birth dates, etc. This makes it easier to build your patron database, which in turn enables you to Connect and Leverage word of mouth.


Using metrics to find out what promotional tools are successful and the aspects of your organization that are working – and those that aren’t – is critical. Steel has a robust framework in place for this, with a focus on efforts that show quantitative results.

  • User comment cards. This is low-tech, but can provide great feedback for detailing people’s in-house experience.
  • Special Offer redemption. Steel tracks who is redeeming special offers and where those offers are coming from. This closes the loop for their efforts and let’s them know where to focus more resources.
  • Web Activity. Steel actively monitors how active their Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Citysearch profiles are and tracks how people are finding their website (through Google Analytics). Instead of paying a online reputation management company approximately $2,000 a month to do this, they have enlisted the help of a Georgia Tech student that provides them with monthly reports.
  • POS – Aloha provides metrics for what menu items are popular and which are not, helping to refine Steel’s offering to meet the demands of patrons. It also allows them to track the special offers previously mentioned.
  • Open Table – this has provided a wealth of information about patrons and the frequency of their visits.

Words of Advice

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Dallas

Dining room at Steel Restaurant Dallas

Chuck believes that you first must be passionate about what you do. Beyond that, he advises:

  • Don’t just say you are customer driven, be customer driven to obtain repeat business.
  • Stay committed to quality, no matter what.
  • Your people are your best asset and mediocre people equal a mediocre business.  Take great care of your staff and spend the time to choose them wisely.
  • Organization and structure is critical – watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.

Connect with Steel and Chuck Kneeland

Steel Atlanta

Located in Plaza Midtown at the corner of 9th and West Peachtree
950 West Peachtree St
Suite 255
Atlanta GA 30309
(view map)

Steel Dallas

Located in The Centrum Building at intersection of Welborn and Hall
3102 Oak Lawn Avenue
Suite 100
Dallas, TX 75219
(view map)

Steel Restaurant Atlanta:
Steel Restaurant Dallas:
Chuck Kneeland on LinkedIn
Steel Atlanta on Facebook
Steel Dallas on Facebook

Upcoming Events


  • Monday – Thursday, 5:30-7:00 PM – Sunsets at Steel. 3-course dinner for $30.
  • Wednesday nights, 5:30-7:00 PM – Sushi Night. Complementary Sushi and happy hour specials on Steel specialty cocktails, beer and hot Sake.
  • Thursday nights, 5:30 PM – close – Kampai Thursdays. 50% off Sake by the bottle.
  • August 14-30Restaurant Week 2009. Prixe Fixe, 3 course meal for $35 that benefits North Texas Food Bank.


  • Monday – Saturday, 5:00-6:30 PM. Pre-Theater Menu. 2-course menu for $19.95 or 3-course menu for $24.95.
  • Wednesday 5:00-7:00 PM. Steel Happy Hour. Complementary Sushi and signature cocktails.
  • Friday 10PM until. Fantasy Fridays with Cat Chang. Live on piano and mic… check her out at
  • August 5, 2009. Participating in Taste of Asia’s Public Tasting at Macy’s.
  • August 29 – September 6, 2009. Participating in Midtown Restaurant Week.
  • August 20, 2009 . Participating in  Dine out For Kids. Helps to raise money for Communities in Schools.
  • TBA. 2 year anniversary party
  • Lots more !


Chuck Kneeland started his career as a waiter paying his way through the University of Texas, which led to bar tending and night club management. After graduation, he spent a brief time at 3M before returning to the restaurant industry:

  • He began by working for Sfuzzi in Dallas in the late 80′s. This grew from one restaurant to about 19 across the U.S. and Chuck moved up in the organization.
  • He then moved on to Lettuce Entertain You out of Chicago which was bought by Brinker International, leading to a role with the Maggiano’s division. He worked there for 7 years in Chicago, D.C., and ultimately ended up opening the Maggiano’s in Atlanta.
  • In 2001, Chuck opened an Italian restaurant in the West Village (Dallas) called Ferre’ with his current business partner, Patrick Colombo (founder of Sfuzzi). This was followed by a wine bar next door called Cru.
  • Steel Restaurant in Dallas was owned by one of the investors from Ferre’ and Cru – Mike Chen – and was struggling, so Chuck helped turn the restaurant around, creating a successful sushi restaurant in a market with very strong existing players.
  • After turning Steel Dallas around, Chuck decided to expand the concept to Atlanta, which he was familiar with from his Maggiano’s days. He felt that there was a hole in the Atlanta market that Steel could fill and they opened in November 2007.

Chuck is also the Vice President of Restaurant Works – a restaurant management/ownership company founded by Patrick Colombo that, is involved with Steel Atlanta, Steel Dallas, Victory Tavern in Dallas, Ferre’ in Fort Worth and Cru’s multiple locations.

Chuck continues to focus on the growth of Steel Restaurant Atlanta, but is also considering how to expand the concept in addition to growing the other properties associated with Restaurant Works.

Shout Outs

Steel Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon You can also see this interview from Urbanspoon.

Salah Ananse – DJ, producer and promoter

DJ Salah Ananse

DJ Salah Ananse

DJ Salah Ananse spins at venues around the world – from Brazil to London to Ethiopia to his home town of Atlanta. He is a DJ, producer and promoter and constantly faces the challenges of running organizations and getting butts in seats. I spent some time with him at Spice Market in the W Midtown and he shared his experience about how to be successful. For all of the details, listen to the full interview

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Being both a DJ and promoter, Salah is constantly facing the challenge of how to deal with promotions – and has been successful through innovation. He has a diverse toolbox that includes:

Social Networking

Salah in Action

Salah in Action

“The most important thing about building your business through social networking is you want a targeted audience; you want someone that’s going to respond to what you’re giving out … unless it’s something targeted to my audience, I’m not really worried about it.”

There can be a lot of noise in social networking. When you consider Facebook’s blending of people poking you and asking you to join their mafia, the promotional message can get lost. These networks connect you to everything that is related to everyone you know and it can be difficult to focus attention on connecting to those that are interested in getting out of the house and showing up at your events. Salah breaks it down like this:

  • Myspace – He used to use MySpace, but has moved away from it.. it’s no longer that effective.
  • Facebook – Facebook is still a great way to promote. He lists his upcoming events, updates his status for more unique events, and has a group page. He recommends keeping the information fresh by including new photos, videos and and links to free music. However, his biggest complaint is that Facebook has a more passive audience. People check it occasionally and announcements can get lost in the noise of the friend feed. He’s been moving more and more to Twitter.
  • Twitter – this is where Salah sees the most opportunity. Twitter users are more likely to be monitoring their friend feed and he believes they are more active and more likely to be looking for things to do in the real world. The people that he follows and that follow him are “in a community that feeds off of each other.”

Other Technologies

DJ Salah Ananse

DJ Salah Ananse

Beyond social networking, Salah uses a number of other technologies, creating a diverse blend of connection points to his audience.

  • SMS – sending text messages should be limited to more intimate messages versus a mass broadcast. He uses this to connect to individuals that he wants to personally invite. One major thing to avoid is overloading people – he doesn’t want to hear from a DJ that is spinning on Monday and then again on Thursday – use in moderation.
  • Email campaigns – These can be very effective, but again should be used in moderation. Try to send no more than one email every 1-2 weeks and include a consolidation of everything you have going on. Don’t take advantage of your fans’ patience and wear them out.
  • RSS – rss allows subscribers to digest your information when they are ready to, is less intrusive, and still keeps people informed about what’s going on. If and when they are ready to connect to you, they have a single place they can look to find information about what’s going on without all the noise. Salah is implementing rss on his new site.

Salah is always looking at new ways to use technology as well. One idea he is actively working on is being able to extend special offers through SMS so that people can get benefits like no cover to his shows and RSVP through their phones.

The Human Touch

For some things, there is no substitute. Getting to know people on a personal level and being a great person is the first step in building an audience. People need to love your music and you. Turning your fans into friends helps to insure that people show up and builds connections that get you gigs.


Word of mouth is “the most effective form of promotion, no matter what anyone comes up with.” This ties back into the Human Touch as well as using viral social networking tools and real world conversations. Putting something in people’s hands is also a key part of this. A fan telling him that they need a new CD because some girl stole the old one is a metric of success.


DJ Salah formal

DJ Salah formal

Salah describes his audience as ranging from 18-45 and educated. This is fertile ground for his intelligent music that blends house, soul, hip hop, salsa and Reggae. Although he does do some lounge, his patrons mostly come to him to dance. The gigs that he gets are mostly clubs, some restaurants, larger events (like opening for Dave Chapelle 8 times) and corporate events including Hennessy, Lincoln Properties and even Whole Foods.


Social networking combined with real world interaction allows Salah to keep connected to his patrons. Providing people with a great experience keeps them coming back for more.


Give people music that makes them dance and be a reliable resource for venue owners that fits with the vibe they are trying to build and draws crowds – that is the magic enticement blend.


Salah uses the technology tools already mentioned to simplify promotions, but also has some tools of the trade to make DJ’ing easier. Most notably is Serato that allows him to perform with only his laptop in hand – critical when you are traveling internationally for a show and don’t want to drag around vinyl or CD’s. In fact, it is a prerequisite for all of the DJ’s that work for Salah.


DJ Salah spinning

DJ Salah spinning

Success is fundamentally measured by how many people show up and if they are on the dance floor. Effectiveness of different promotional tools can be loosely measured by the amount of activity on the social networks, including retweets, RSVP’s to events, comments on past events, and the fan base of his Facebook group.

Final Words of Advice

Music always comes first, but DJ’s need to also be aware that they are Personalities. They need to connect on a personal level to their fans, look the part for venue owners and event organizers, and do a lot of leg work interacting with people and promoting to be successful. For promotions, it is critical to reach your target audience effectively and to respect them – connect with them on their terms and don’t beat people over the head with announcements.


Salah Ananse was a child actor and actively involved in dance and promotion since he was very young. He broke into the scene with the help of his DJ friends that gave him access to gigs and he worked his way up by building strong friendships and being good at what he does. He is a DJ, producer and promoter – through his organization Soul Sessions which has worked with people like Erykah Badu and Rafael Saadiq.

Upcoming Events


Other Events

Connect with DJ Salah

Soul Sessions:
Salah on LinkedIn
Salah on Facebook

Shout Outs

  • Dave Chappelle – just a great guy to work with
  • Anthony David – Grammy nominated singer
  • D.R.E.S. tha BEATnik – hype man based in Atlanta
  • Sean Alvarez from - great people to collaborate with. Check out Swank Society’s page and hear music that will get you through your work day or party night.
  • DJ Kwestanother great collaborator.
  • Mausiki Scales – Jazz/Afro-beat musician that Salah is collaborating with on album, due out in August
  • The Tabernacle – Salah always has a great time spinning at this venue in downtown Atlanta
  • Sugar Hill – although closed now, this was a great venue with great people
  • Jazz Cafe – the amazing venue in London is a great experience for any artist

DJ Rodd Summers – Ambience Amplifier

On the 1's and 2's at Top Flr

On the 1's and 2's at Top Flr

Like hipsters without ironic t-shirts or sundaes without Reddi-Wip topping, a great night out just isn’t complete without the right music. DJ Rodd Summers has spent over 15 years creating the soundtracks that keep heads bobbing while conversations flow.

I met Rodd at Danneman’s coffee shop in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood to talk about his experiences and see what insights he might have to offer the DJ’s and other organizations in the Community. Below is the summary, but you’re missing out if you don’t listen to 24-minute interview in its entirety

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Rodd is a people person… and I mean he is really a people person. It seems like every time I go out, he’s there and knows everyone. If he doesn’t know someone, he’ll chat them up before the night is out. That’s how he promotes – he gets to know people and lets them know where he’s spinning … face to face.

Recently, he’s been sending out event announcements through Facebook, which has had some success, but emails and text messages are out. He’s found that people just get tired of receiving them. He’s also been considering using a publicist that can help him get the word out more effectively, but this is in its early stages.


Rodd relies on word of mouth. He tells people where he is spinning, they tell and bring their friends and the intrinsic viral nature of Facebook helps the message spread digitally.


There seem to be two type of DJ’s – those that are centerpieces and those, like Rodd,  that become an integrated part of a venue’s overall experience. The same way a wine is selected to complement a meal or lighting is used to set the right mood, Rodd designs his sets to fit the atmosphere, with a big emphasis on Soul, Funk, and Jazz. When talking about his Friday and Saturday sessions at the Drink Shop in the W downtown, he says he “designs songs around the cocktails” which is what the Drink Shop is all about.

The venues that he chooses can be classified as the urban lounge scene. The demographics vary, but are generally professionals from the mid-20′s and up, people that are looking for the stage to be set to socialize. He describes his audience as people that like “intelligent music” they can listen to while chilling with friends – perfect lounge scene philosophy.


The game plan for connecting to his audience is simple:

  • Get to know people on a personal level and keep them informed about where you are spinning.
  • Have a consistent schedule so your audience knows what nights you will be performing at specific venues.
  • Connect to them by delivering the right sound for the atmosphere.


Rodd’s model for enticement is also simple – provide the sounds that help make people’s nights out perfect by amplifying the overall vibe of the venue. He places a priority on taking the pulse of the room throughout the night so he can mesh his music with the ebb and flow of the crowd.


While he started off spinning vinyl (records), Rodd has now moved on to using CD’s which makes queuing up songs faster and greatly reduces the bulk of what he has to bring to a gig. He also has his eye on incorporating a Mac that would allow him to bring 50,000 songs to a gig versus maybe a few thousand on CD. It would also allow him to use newer tools like Ableton Live, Traktor DJ, and Serato.

Regarding the debate over vinyl versus newer technology, Rodd says, “it’s not about what you use, it’s about the music you play… that’s it.”


Success is measured by the number of butts in seats, however Rodd makes a point to mention that venues need to be patient on growing their audience with a new, weekly DJ. In the same way that changing your entire menu produces results over time – as people learn about the update – a new DJ takes time to build an audience for their nights.

Final Words of Advice

Go out and meet people and talk about the music you are passionate about. Invite people out personally.

Upcoming Events

Top Flr – 9PM until.
Mid-town chill with Jazz, Soul and Funk
674 Myrtle St View Map
Atlanta, GA 30308

Whiskey Blue @ The W – Buckhead – 10PM until.
Indie pop that you won’t hear on the radio
3377 Peachtree Rd. NE View Map
Atlanta, GA 30326

Fridays and Saturdays
The Drink Shop @ the W – Downtown Atlanta – 9PM until
Funk, Soul, electronic, with a heavy emphasis on Jazz
45 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard View Map
Atlanta, GA 30308

Connect with Rodd Summers



Shout Outs

Here are some of the people Rodd has worked with that stand out as being awesome in Atlanta


Listen to the entire interview to hear more a lot more, including:

  • How to start out as a DJ
  • How to find gigs
  • How to get compensated
  • What to look out for

Howlies show in Atlanta

Technorati Profile

Last year at Corndogorama, there was one band that stood out above all of the other new bands I saw … the Howlies. I remember texting my music guru friend, Shyam, and telling him to check them out. I said they were a combination of surf rock, The Ramones, Apache tribal chanting and The Beatles with a ton of energy and stage presence.

The Howlies Album Cover

The Howlies Album Cover

So I went to see them at 529 in East Atlanta on Saturday. How did I find out they were playing? I saw a black and white, 8 1/2″ x 11″ flyer posted on a phone pole in Cabbagetown by a stop sign. For all of the fancy ways there are to promote, the simplist still seem to be effective. What’s more, I had never been to 529 and had to Google it. It turns out that last week I had walked right by it and thought about going in to check it out. The Howlies have a pretty good online presence, but the broader challenge remains how to find out what is going on in Atlanta without having to remember to look up specific venues and bands. I guess until I figure that out I will continue to read phone poles. For a quick reference, here is how you can find out more about the Howlies:

The show was great and you can thank me thank me when you check them out. By the way, if you are in an Atlanta band and would be up for doing a Community Cultivator interview, let me know!

Jake’s Ice Cream – Jake Rothschild’s Atlanta Ice Cream Dream

On June 3, 2009, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jake Rothschild – a serial entrepreneur in Atlanta that started Jake’s Ice Cream 10 years ago. Since that time, he has grown the company to 3 locations and established distribution deals with local businesses as well as national chains. Here are some of the highlights and advice he offers other organizations – sorted into the CC: ScoreCard.

Click here to listen to the whole interview

Jake's Ice Cream

Jake's Ice Cream


Where should time and money be spent regarding promotions?

  • Traditional Advertising – Jake is not a fan of advertising with media like printed publications, TV, and radio. Historically, this hasn’t produced great results for him and there are no real metrics that can be measured to determine the effectiveness of these efforts… no traditional advertising for this ice cream business.
  • Online Advertising – this experience consists of working with Citysearch and, to some degree, Yelp. While Jake’s has paid for promotions with Citysearch and doesn’t think that it has been a waste of money, he has no plans to continue the effort because there’s no indicator that it’s been effective enough to justify the cost. Most of the value has stemmed from the user generated content on these sites (user reviews), which is free.
  • Jake’s Website – the website provides a place that serves as the authoritative source of information about the business and has proven to be a good way to publicly present what the company is all about. It’s the easily accessible marketing face of Jake’s and is frequently one of the first places a potential patron learns about the business.
  • PR – Jake’s Ice Cream has been featured on, NPR, Zagat, Wall Street Journal, and Frommer’s. It’s these less bias sources that have added fuel to the business’ growth – “it means so much more to (people) than a full page ad.”
  • Cause Marketing – he recommends being a co-sponsor of organized events. Working with organizations like Special Olympics – Georgia has helped to reach new patrons and drive sells.
  • Social Networking – tools like Twitter and Facebook have given Jake a way to stay connected with existing patrons and he thinks these are great for fostering the customer relationship – the most important thing about his business.


Jake believes that word of mouth is the number one way that people find out about Jake’s. Social network tools like twitter, the Jake’s Ice Cream group on Facebook, and user reviews on sites like Citysearch and Yelp help to accomplish this as does providing a great customer experience that leads to traditional word of mouth… ya know, where people actually talk to each other.


Jake describes his first-tier audience as “label readers” – the people that are concerned about what they are putting in their bodies – they are the people that shop at Sevananda, Return to Eden, or Whole Foods. His second tier audience is people that simply want a great quality product. His focus on high quality ingredients and a great product is the right message for this audience and he reaches them through Promotions and Leverage.


Jake’s uses the various means mentioned in Promotion and Leverage to Connect to their audience, however, the ongoing dialog is done through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and the in store interaction. Due, in part, with the time required to update their website, they are also excited about implementing email marketing by using Constant Contact to keep all of the subscribed patrons up to date on the daily flavors available at each store.


How does Jake entice his audience?

  • High quality product. Enough said.
  • Superior customer service. Jake wants to know everything about his customers to personalize the experience – “we want to know their dog’s name, we want to know their kids’ birthdays.” It is also a goal to respond to any customer complaint within 30 minutes… by a personal call from Jake.
  • High quality in-store experience. This includes providing a comfortable environment that can serve as a second home to patrons.

Jake also offers incentives to customers, with one of their most successful campaigns being the distribution of “Moolah.” These $1 and $5 gift certificates can be purchased in each store or can be distributed by Jake’s for promotions. This “virtual cash” can be redeemed for any purchase (versus a 2-for-1  or 10% off coupon) and is credited for the programs success.


The main way that Jake simplifies is through technology:

  • NuRol POS – Jake’s POS system is “monkey stupid easy” and has the ability to report on the sell rate of all flavors at any point in time, which helps determine the flavors that are successful.
  • Quickbooks is used as the accounting system and is “extremely user friendly.” They did try out Peachtree Accounting, but it was more difficult to use.


There are a few areas to evaluate when it comes to measuring success.

PR, Advertising, and Social Networking

Measuring the success of all of these efforts continues to be a struggle, as it is with all organizations. There is the feeling that traditional media hasn’t delivered the results desired and even the metrics provided by local search solutions like Citysearch that shows the number of profile views has not been able to measure ROI. There is a feeling that the efforts of Facebook and twitter are effective at keeping in touch with existing patrons.

Incentive Programs

The Moolah program does provide some feedback. There are relations that can be drawn between the number of virtual dollars distributed compared to the number of those redeemed.


As mentioned under Simplify, NuRol provides easily generated snapshots of what flavors are selling, which helps determine the quantities that should be produced and identify slow moving products.


I asked Jake about any vendor relationships that he considers exceptional. He highly recommends:

  • U.S. Food Service – Their customer service is excellent and they show their love of working with small business in myriad of ways.
  • 360 Media – Our PR Firm loves on us like we are family.
  • Carlton Fields – a great law firm that protects us, suggests to us, and nurtures us so that we are a healthy company


  1. Do what you love. If you are going to lead your own organization, make sure it is something you are passionate about and adjust the direction as needed to insure this.
  2. Never quit on your dream. Running your own operation is hard, but be persistent.
  3. Learn how to ask for help. You don’t have to know all of the answers.


Jake wants to be Willy Wonka when he grows up, but he doesn’t plan on that happening anytime soon. When he was 10 years old, he used to make children’s books as gifts for his grandmother. When he was in college at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he introduced the first instant, all natural hot chocolate on the market – something that caught the attention of Money magazine. His first physical business – a coffee shop in the Morningside neighborhod called MOCHA (Museum of Contemporary Humorous Art) – transformed into the first Jake’s Ice Cream over 10 years ago, with the original location in Old Fourth Ward, Atlanta.

Jake’s playful nature is much more serious when it comes to his products. He is dedicated to providing the community with high quality, uncompromised products – with a focus on all-natural ingredients and hormone free dairy. This diligence has led to a number of local restaurants including his creations on their menus and has recently resulted in an agreement with Planet Smoothie for a non-fat, agave sweetened yogurt called YMG, or Yo My Goodness. The focus on the product is rivaled only by his commitment to the experience of his patrons.


Facebook Group: Jake’s Ice Cream


Non-fat Frozen Yogurt

Non-fat Frozen Yogurt

June 5-7, 2009 – See Jake at the Virginia Highlands Summerfest.

June 8, 2009 – Jake’s new product line YMG (Yo My Goodness) – non-fat yogurt sweetened with agave – will be sold at Planet Smoothie at The Peach in Peachtree Shopping Center – 2900 Peachtree Rd, Suite 113 Atlanta, GA, 30305.


Jake’s Ice Cream – Irwin Street Market
660 Irwin Street
Atlanta 30312
(678) 705-7277
Jake’s Ice Cream Cafe
2745 Lavista Road
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 343-3525
Jake’s Just Desserts
2144 North Decatur Road
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 963-7151


2974 Grandview Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30305
(404) 233-9889
1441 Dresden Dr NE
Atlanta, GA 30319
(404) 969-3233
Dave’s Cosmic Subs
1540 N Decatur Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30307
(404) 373-6250
Inman Perk at Inman Park
240 N. Highland Ave., Suite H
Atlanta, GA 30307
(678) 705-4545
1441 Dresden Dr NE
Atlanta, GA 30319
(404) 969-0700
Inman Perk at Flowery Branch
5866 Spout Springs Rd., Suite D
Flowery Branch, GA 30542
(770) 965-6065
Our Place Bakery
3387 Main St
Atlanta, GA 30337
(404) 767-3181
Inman Perk at Gainesville
102 Washington St. NW.
Gainesville, GA 30501
(678) 943-8080
Planet Smoothie at Ansley Mall
1544 Piedmont Ave., Suite 301
Atlanta, GA 30324
(404) 541-9124

Jake's Ice Creams & Sorbets on Urbanspoon You can also see this interview on UrbanSpoon.