If you have an email address, then it’s safe to guess that you’ve received an eblast invitation to a “hot” party or “cool” nightclub. As a person who’s worked in marketing for over a decade, I wondered, Who are these marketing masterminds behind the Wizard of Oz curtains? Who are these nameless/faceless people keeping me in know about holiday hotspots and ladies-free-before specials? I tracked down Bryant Thompson of Red Level Entertainment to shine a light on one of the persons behind email promotions.
Single Girl Summer: How did you get started?
Bryant Thompson: In the late 1990’s, some friends and I went to a huge Mardi Gras party in New Orleans. We saw how many people were there and we saw a gold mine. We decided we too could put a naked girl on a flyer and have the same type of party in Chicago. We pulled our money together and we expected to have 300 people at our event. We only pulled around 50 who were mostly our family and friends and they didn’t want to pay to get in. We lost a lot of money. Most of my partners dropped off, but I stayed with it.
In the early 2000’s, I started promoting parties, comedy shows, and poetry sets. I had Wild, Wild Wednesday at the Cotton Club (that used to be in the South Loop), the Urban Hang Suite at Starbucks on Stony Island, Monday Madness at the Dating Game, and events at Café Allure. Back then I was just a party promoter and I was paying to use other people's email lists. At that time, City Alert and Social Step were the two biggest services. But at every one of my events, I was collecting people’s contact information and one day it dawned on me that I could use my own database. At first, I was only marketing my own events. I was doing text blast before it was popular.
SGS: Where did you get the name Red Level Entertainment and when did things take off for you?
BT: Red carpet symbolizes the best, premier events. That’s what Red Level Entertainment provides. In 2002, I took over promoting open mic events at the Dating Game with a comedian who had experience promoting parties. He was just breaking into the comedy game. Since I had experience hosting comedy shows, we partnered together. We ran Monday Madness at the Dating Game for 3 years. It was very successful and that’s what branded Red Level Entertainment.
SGS: When did you switch from being a party promoter to a marketer?
BT: In 2005, after the Dating Game sets ended, I needed another source of income so I went back to a corporate job. I had about 5,000 emails in my database. I was only sending out my own events, but people were constantly asking me to send email blasts for them. I was laid off from my corporate job and I went to work at Bean Soup Times selling the paper and their email list. That’s when it dawned on me again that I could sell my own email database and I switched from just being a party promoter to a marketer. Now I have over 10,000 Chicago emails, 5,000 Dallas emails, and 2,000 addresses in other states.
SGS: What advice do you have for people trying to manage and maintain their email database?
BT: 1) Ask what their preferred method is to receive information. Text, email or facebook.
2) Respect people’s privacy and don’t sell their information to other people.
3) Remind the people on your list that they opted into the list and they can opt out at any time.
4) To keep your list strong, you constantly have to rebuild it with new contacts. As people get older or change lifestyles, they will opt out. You need to constantly add people to take the place of the people you’re losing.
5) Space out your blasts. Don’t send a message at 8am and then another at 830am. It’s okay to send 2-4 messages a day on a weekday, but space them out at least two hours apart. And you can send messages on the weekend if it’s a holiday weekend.
SGS: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
BT: I love being an entrepreneur, but it’s not as easy as some people think. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. You have to work…constantly. Some months are good and some are bad, but you have to stick with it and endure through the tough months. I always recommend that people have a plan to transition into being an entrepreneur. I just jumped in on a prayer, promise, and faith, but I had low overhead and no dependents when I started as a promoter. You definitely need to have a plan. Right now, I need to work on learning how to delegate and outsource some tasks. It’s hard to let go.
SGS: What’s next for you?
BT: I’m bringing back “The Red Alert” which is a monthly, pocket size guide of things you want to do in urban Chicago. The first new issue will debut this month after a two year hiatus. It’ll be available in high traffic restaurants, beauty/barber shops, lounges, nightclubs, and hotel concierges.
Red Level Entertainment specializes in online marketing (eBlast campaigns, social media management, website promotions, and list management) and viral marketing (print advertising, street teams, and event planning). Visit www.RedLevelEntertainment.com to find out more.
Deanna Burrell is the author of the explosive novel, Single Girl Summer.Described as “If Waiting to Exhale and Sex and the City procreated, the bouncing baby would read like Single Girl Summer,” the novel tells the story of three women navigating the ups and downs of life during one special summer in Chicago. Find out more at www.SingleGirlSummer.com.