Most college students are wary of the line that separates work and play. However, some GW entrepreneurs traverse it purposefully, just like they bypass the Thursday night waiting line at Lulu’s. For these students, blasting hip-hop, mini-skirts and frozen margaritas are just another day at work.
Senior Eric Lund and junior Sam Slater have been profiting from the energetic GW party scene since their freshman years. They realized early in their college careers that nightlife in urban environments such as D.C. tends to revolve around bars, clubs and lounges. These venues often depend on marketing by promotion companies to attract clientele, and college campuses are ideal places to begin a party business.
Lund and Slater were originally involved with B and H, the biggest promotion company run by GW students, when they were freshmen. Both joined what is known as the “street team” and began passing out flyers that advertised upcoming events.
Slater has remained loyal to B and H, which stands for “Ben and Hal,” the company’s original founders. Slater is now a chief manager of the business, although when he started with the company, he received neither pay nor perks.
“People are not so stupid anymore, so we give our lower-level promoters comps,” Slater said. “For example, we’ll let them bring friends to events for free, give them VIP treatment, and other things like that.”
Lund veered away from B and H as a junior, seeing even more financial potential in the GW party crowd. He began his own promotion company, ELund, which he later incorporated legally. It only took Lund a semester to earn considerable revenue and become a major source of GW nightlife. Lund declined to specify how profitable the venture has been.
The GW party business has changed dramatically since Lund and Slater first started out, mostly due to fierce competition and emerging promotion groups. Until two weeks ago, there were four major promotion companies on campus: B and H, ELund, Inc., PM Entertainment and All Night Productions. Two of Lund’s friends ran All Night Production and PM Entertainment and now work with him under one company, 202 Productions.
“This business can be cutthroat,” Lund said. “We need to keep a lot of secrets and eliminate leaks if we really want events to make an impact.”
Lund, with his two friends from All Night and PM, merged their promotion companies to reduce competition and improve events. ELund Inc., PM Entertainment and All Night Productions are now collectively known as 202 Productions. However, Lund’s newest business partners declined to identify themselves and answer questions from The Hatchet.
“We wanted to take college nightlife in D.C. to the next level,” Lund said. “The merge has opened new business prospects; we’re trying to change the flavor by incorporating other D.C. universities and trying out new promotions. So far, we’ve had a very good response.”
Competition has increased partygoers’ expectations, according to Slater, who insists that cover charges have remained virtually the same at “a pretty basic” $10, while events have dramatically improved.
“People want more upscale, expensive, trendy locations than in past years,” he said. “Promoters have had to be more creative, because now people would rather go to a nice venue, a theme party or a bar with drink specials in order to get their money’s worth.”
Surprisingly, however, Lund and Slater agreed that their biggest threat to an event is not the competition of another company’s party – it’s actually the weather. Slater said a rainy night can cut attendance in half.
But the party business can be lucrative; it just requires quite a bit of overhead. Renting a bar or club is costly, and profit is not always guaranteed. Promoters must be able to front a huge amount of money before the event, which can end in big losses and heavy fines without careful planning.
Contracts with venues will often include a bar guarantee – making promoters responsible for ensuring that their crowds purchase several thousand dollars worth of liquor. If the agreed limit is not met, the promoter is responsible for paying the difference. Contracts can also make promoters responsible for the facility and equipment.
Slater recalled an instance when, to no fault of his own or the company’s, a DJ’s speaker blew. Because the contract he entered for the event held him accountable for damage to equipment, B and H had to cover the cost of a new speaker. Although he declined to provide figures, he called the cost “significant” and said it hurt his profit.
In venues that allow 18 year-olds to enter but not to drink, companies must pay for additional indoor security to enforce the drinking age. Printing flyers and assembling a staff to distribute them is also costly, especially when each company employs or “perks” between 15 and 30 promoters.
“The staff is arranged like a pyramid,” Lund said. “Your time with the company and how hard you work determines what types of pay and bonuses you receive.”
But the true motivation for students working for the companies without pay is the prospect of filling the management vacancies. Both Lund and Slater said they do not plan to continue running 202 Productions and B and H after graduation, but they will rely on their best promoters to take over.
Some companies also hire professionals to design e-mails and flyers.
“E-mail is invaluable,” Slater said, because it is an easy medium by which promoters can reach potential partiers both easily and legally.
Lund said his listserv contains about 2,500 names.
Flyers, however, seem to present a problem. Both Lund and Slater have been advised against distributing flyers on campus and have been threatened with fines from the University. Other company managers wished to remain anonymous, fearing negative reaction from GW if their names were linked with those of promotion companies.
“There have been several instances this year of clubs and bars advertising illegally in the residence halls and other areas of the campus,” Director of Student Judicial Services Tara Woolfson wrote in an e-mail last weekend.?”This is a concern to the University and the District.”
She said the University poster policy is linked to the Community Living and Learning Center to regulate postings and the distribution of flyers in residence halls. Students who violate these regulations are subject to judicial action.
“These policies outline?what information can and must be contained in a flyer?before posting approval is granted,” she said. “For example, posters and flyers cannot advertise alcohol and must have the GW logo on them.”
According to the Community Living and Learning Center’s poster policy, only CLLC staff members are allowed to post flyers. The policy aims to assure that “only recognized George Washington University groups are posting in the halls.”
There is also a lengthy application process by which posters must be approved, and the policy strictly limits the number of flyers that may be present in each dorm. They range from two flyers in Building JJ to 10 in Thurston Hall.
“We do not promote underage drinking, and if it weren’t for us, the under-21 crowd would have nowhere to go,” said one disgruntled promoter who wished to remain anonymous because he has violated the University poster policy. “GW is interfering with our college experience, and students would be able to enjoy themselves with a clear mindset if GW weren’t always on our backs.”
-Andrea Nurko contributed to this report.