May 30, 2017

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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Audience

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.

Entice

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.

Promotions

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.

Flyers

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.

Facebook

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.”

Twitter

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

Leverage

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.

Connect

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.”

Simplify

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

Success

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
404.842.9944
info@blackoutproductionsatlanta.com

Background

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

Alex Brounstein – Grindhouse Burgers Atlanta

Alex Brounstein at Grindhouse Burgers

Alex Brounstein at Grindhouse Burgers

Alex Brounstein is the owner of one of Atlanta’s newest burger joints – Grindhouse Killer Burgers. However, instead of opening a “burger boutique,” which seem to be all the rage, he went old school, but with high quality ingredients. The result is one of the hottest new spots in Atlanta.

His recipe for success is simple:

  1. Work hard to get stimulus money for a city icon (more than $700,000 for the Sweet Auburn Curb Market) and in the process discover a hidden gem of a location with lots of foot traffic.
  2. Get a great lease on an unused space that is already mostly built out – including a kitchen.
  3. Brand the location and the restaurant simply, but with some flava.
  4. Hand out flyers to everyone you see and email all your friends.
  5. Randomly meet a popular food blogger that ignites a viral campaign that scorches its way across social media and creates long lines of people within 2 weeks of opening.

Simple.

(see Community Cultivator’s other blog post on Grindhouse to get my initial impressions right after the grand opening)

This is Alex’s first restaurant and he shared some insights on how to reach your target audience, connect with patrons, and get butts in seats.

Audience

Sweet Auburn Curb Market - Atlanta

Sweet Auburn Curb Market - Atlanta

Sweet Auburn Curb Market is located in downtown Atlanta on Edgewood Avenue. It’s just steps away from Grady Hospital and Georgia State and just a few blocks away from big buildings that house big companies. It’s also close to a historically seedy part of town. Based on location, Alex’s patrons are:

  • Corporate big wigs in power ties
  • Patients and the families of patients at Grady
  • Medical personnel
  • College students
  • Low income residence of the area

But Grindhouse doesn’t just attract the locals. Word of mouth and social media has reached the ears of foodies and they come in droves to judge the offering against their burger aficionado palates.

Rich and not so rich, people come from near and far because, as Alex puts it, “Everybody loves burgers.”

Entice

To entice this diverse group is a multi-pronged strategy:

Location, Location, Location

Sweet Auburn Curb Market has foot traffic and, as much as it pains me, that’s something not too common in Atlanta.  Alex claims the first enticement is convenience to downtown businesses,  Georgia State, Grady, and local residents. Combine that with increasing growth in the area around 85/75 and Edgewood and the burgeoning reputation of the Edgewood corridor as a destination for trendy restaurants and you’ve got a high potential market.

Look and Feel

Grindhouse at the back of Curb Market

Grindhouse at the back of Curb Market

The Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a maze of butchers, seafood and vegetable stands, small shops and food vendors. In most cases, the advertisement of these businesses is limited to the display of their wares with very little signage or branding. As you head towards the back of the market, though, you start catching glimpses of the bright neon Grindhouse sign and discover a dining counter that stretches across 1/3 of the back of the building with a white tile wall serving as a backdrop to the work area. On this wall, a variety of campy movies are projected – such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes – and a hodge podge of Atlanta residents watch on as they sit bent over their juicy burgers. The restaurant stands out in the market not only because it’s the only business that has stylized branding, but it’s actually having fun with it. With the amount of daily foot traffic, Grindhouse sticks out like a big, neon thumb.

Marketing material follows this lead. The Grindhouse logo seems inspired by 60′s-70′s Grindhouse movies, with towering stone letters crumbling with decay on top of a splatter of gore … or chipotle ranch dressing. Even the menu has the feel of a 60′s diner. All of this sets expectations of a place that pays attention to details and has fun doing it.

Alex has exerted a lot of effort to not only get the restaurant side of things right, but to use his experience in branding to make it pop.

Menu

A Grindhouse Killer Burger

A Grindhouse Killer Burger

All of the other enticements don’t matter if the food isn’t good and Alex uses high quality ingredients to help insure a delicious selection. To serve a wider audience, he also includes turkey and veggie burgers on the menu and adds some flair by including toppings like sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, green chilis, chipotle ranch, blue cheese spread and a Grindhouse burger sauce. Oh yeah, throw in some hand spun milkshakes for good measure.

Pricing

Because of the economic diversity of his audience, Alex has orchestrated a menu that can meet any budget. The starting price for a burger is $3.99, but he’s seen people construct a $12 burger with all the bells and whistles. It works – anyone looking at the lunch counter around noon can see one of the most diverse patron bases imaginable.

Promotions

Foot traffic is great, but Alex has also done a good job with promotions, although he admits a lot of this was luck.

Bloggers

Alex was at Top Flr one night before Grindhouse opened and happened to get into a conversation with the blogger for foodiebuddha.com. Soon after, there was a post on the blog about the anticipated opening followed up by a review of Grindhouse once it went live. This was picked up in the blogosphere by others (including me) and led to a chain reaction of posts. The viral spread led to a review in Creative Loafing and eventually the AJC – all within a few weeks. Without a dime being spent, Alex was getting tremendous old and new press.

Flyers

Alex is a big believer in flyers and this was where he placed the majority of his initial efforts. His handouts were simple, glossy, included a map to the restaurant, a sample of the menu and and offered free fries with the purchase of a burger. Coupons get butts in seats.

Email Campaigns

As part of his initial push, Alex sent out an email to everyone he knew (about 600 people) announcing the grand opening. Since then, he hasn’t done any additional mass emails and believes that these run the risk of being annoying to recipients. He is open to implementing  a more formalized email campaign strategy, but hasn’t had time to focus on this.

Order counter at Grindhouse Burgers

Order counter at Grindhouse Burgers

PR

PR is great. There was a spike in customers after a write up by Cliff Bostock in Creative Loafing and a huge spike after a write up by John Kessler in the AJC, but those either came from word of mouth reaching the journalists or from press releases that Alex sent out.

Other articles have included:

The Thrillist: http://www.thrillist.com/atlanta/grind-house-killer-burgers-0

Access Atlanta: http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-restaurants-food/grindhouse-killer-burgers-156095.html

He did look into using a PR agency, including Caren West with Caren West PR and Green Olive Media, which he thinks are effective at getting national coverage, but he couldn’t justify the $1,000+ cost per month without any guaranteed results. He did, however, receive some great support from from Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions.

Right now, his philosophy is do it yourself PR.

Social Networking

Grindhouse does have a Facebook page which provides a way to promote to patrons already familiar with the restaurant. Alex also made an effort to add all of the local bloggers as Facebook friends prior to the launch to make sure they were aware of the new entrant to the burger market.

Grindhouse also has a twitter page that Alex uses in a similar way. He tries to keep people updated on what’s going on, without overwhelming them with tweets.

Local Search

Sites like Urbanspoon, Yelp and Citysearch have definitely driven traffic to Grindhouse and they’ve contacted Alex about paying for advertisements. His opinion is that he’s happy with his exposure on these sites and doesn’t see any benefit to paying for any additional promotions.

Print Advertising

No. That’s it… no. Alex thinks this might have been useful 20 years ago, but he doesn’t pay any attention to print ads so he just doesn’t see the value.

Leverage

Word of mouth is the gold standard of reaching your target audience and Alex has benefited from the viral spread ignited by bloggers and fosters this through use of Facebook and Twitter. In one case, after winning the Chomp and Stomp Chili cook off, he posted the news on Facebook and received 30 responses almost immediately. In another case, he tweeted an announcement of a butchering demo and someone immediately blogged about it.  To a large extent, WoM is out of the hands of organizations, but these efforts help fan the flames.

Connect

To stay connected to patrons, Alex currently relies on Facebook and Twitter. It does take effort to manage these, though, and every couple of days he tries to spend an hour or so catching up.

Simplify

Keeping things simple is a mantra of Alex’s. His menu is simple, his hours of operation (11AM-4PM) are simple and avoid the long days most chefs endure, and his promotions are simple – lots of social media promotions and flyers. His early success with going viral through bloggers has allowed him to focus on filling orders.

One of the biggest challenges remains finding time to manage promotions through Facebook, Twitter, etc while still running the restaurant. Adding to this is that different people find information in different ways and you have to make sure you maximize your exposure to reach your target audience. Grindhouse is still a small operations and Alex has to do it all.

Success

Happy Customers at Grindhouse

Happy Customers at Grindhouse

Alex has a loose measurement of success – he is busy from open to close. With his new business, he hasn’t had time to gauge the effectiveness of his efforts, but here are some of his feedback channels:

  • People are turning in coupons and he tracks this in his POS, but he hasn’t had time to look at the count. It seems pretty good, though.
  • He hears people saying the saw him on local search sites (Yelp, Citysearch, Urbanspoon, etc.). Seems pretty good, but he has no plans to pay for more exposure.
  • Traffic spiked after write ups in Creative Loafing and the AJC – PR works.

Although he has a background using metrics to gauge success, “you’ve got to have really good data to do that and I don’t feel like my data is that good” and right now he has as many customers as he can handle so it’s not as important. The one concrete exception is using POS information to help with ordering inventory.

Words of Advice

Keep things simple, never skimp on ingredients.

Connect with Grindhouse and Alex Brounstein

Website: www.grindhouseburgers.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/grindhouseburgers

Twitter: www.twitter.com/GrindHouseATL

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/alex-brounstein/4/b1b/663

Background

In high school, Alex considered going to culinary school, but the long hours chefs endure on their feet wasn’t very appealing. But he’s always enjoyed cooking and, during the summers of his college years, he worked as a short order cook in various Atlanta restaurants.

After college, Alex went into consulting and branded marketing, but quickly became a down-sized victim of the Internet bust. Next, he  decided to go back to school for law, received his MBA and went into real estate – just in time to be part of the real estate bubble bust. With free time on his hands, Alex began focusing more on his side project – raising funds to revitalize the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. The experience and relationships he built with the market during this successful push for a renovation grant helped him see untapped potential. Alex got a great deal on some unused space and opened Grindhouse Killer Burgers, hoping to show Atlanta that the Curb Market can support businesses with a broader appeal.

Shout Outs

Alex had only one shout out:

Lynn Lilly with Blackout Productions – very responsive, very smart, young and hungry.