It’s 9:30 on a Thursday night in the outskirts of D.C.’s Chinatown at RNR Bar & Lounge, formerly known as Coyote Ugly, and people are lugging around cardboard boxes with flyers, setting up a cash register outside, and fixing last-minute details with bouncers and the club owner. They chatter excitedly about who will show up and how the night will turn out – socially and financially – while sipping on sodas and answering phone calls every few minutes.
These are people who don’t draw a line between work and play. For them, work requires play: they are the ones who facilitate GW’s exciting nightlife.
While everyone on campus has heard of them – from eLund Entertainment to 202 Productions to DC Partyline – what’s life as a student-promoter like behind the flyers, e-mails and door-to-door guest list pleas?
Meet the promoters
Most don’t know who drives the magical force that’s telling them where the GW hotspots are every weekend. Thousands of students get dozens of e-mails and flyers every week informing them where the drink specials, hot DJs, reduced cover charges and best themed parties are, but pay little attention to who’s behind them.
The truth is that these few people may even sit next to you in your finance or marketing class, and they’re balancing a full course load plus the responsibilities of a heavy night job.
“Going in and talking to owners, planning parties and coming up with gimmicks for the events, it’s all routine,” said Justin Jacobson, a junior majoring in sociology, who started out working with eLund Entertainment and went on to open his own promoting group, D.C. Partyline, this year.
Most promoters are associated or involved with campus fraternities, which makes networking and spreading the word “infinitely easier,” as junior David Wilkinson with Jumpoff Productions put it. Others agree, and said it’s the perfect night job for a student because it incorporates their social life.
“It’s awesome when you get to go to a party, you know everyone, get free drinks for five or more straight hours, and get paid for it, too,” said Jon Butwin, a junior majoring in finance who heads 202 Productions this year. “When my friends have a good time, I feel good and it gives me a sense of accomplishment.”
Where it all started
As any student who is on promotion groups’ e-mail lists can tell, the number and sizes of student-run promotion and party production companies on campus are steadily rising. But this was not always the case – in fact, six years ago GW’s scene was a little lacking.
Eric Lund, a graduate who majored in marketing and event management, noticed this and was a major contributor to the rise of student-run production companies. He started eLund Entertainment, and many other production companies branched out from there.
“I’m from a small town in Alaska, and there are no clubs there. So I immediately took an interest to try to change the scene, where almost all of the events here were for the over 21 crowd,” Lund said. “GW doesn’t have as many frats as other colleges, so it needed something else. I think I was one of the first few people to take this seriously here.”
And take it seriously he did – after working one year at another production company, Lund started his own his sophomore year, hosting events in small restaurants nearby campus and working his way up to bigger venues.
“It’s pretty hard to start, to develop a database and clientele,” Lund said. “Everything was so disorganized, and most venues didn’t want to host parties for college kids. After the restaurants got around the 21-plus thing, it grew from there to clubs then lounges.”
Today, he has earned the right to say he hosts exclusive events at nearly every venue available, and caters to a crowd of more than 50,000 people – and he’s moved beyond hosting parties just for students. He’s made party-hosting his career.
A growing breed
While Lund may have jump-started the student-run promotion business on campus, it’s all but spiraled out of control at this point. Lund said a handful of students who used to work under him moved on and now operate their own production companies, something he’s proud of, even though it makes it harder for him to stay on top.
“You meet a lot of people from all walks of life, and it’s great, but it’s hard keeping up with the cutthroat competition in this business,” he said.
Jacobson of DC Partyline – who started out working for Lund – has quickly figured this out, and he said D.C. is even making it harder for these groups to compete. The city has started to adopt stronger laws to contain the parties.
“Even though city laws are getting stricter, a lot more people want to be involved in this,” Jacobsen said. “Everyone still wants a piece of the pie.”
Competition becomes intense as more students compete for dwindling willing venues, as clubs shut down or restrict their student-use.
“Keeping it fresh and interesting, and giving people from other colleges as well an exciting environment to party in every time is definitely very challenging,” said Brett Leve, a graduate who founded 202 Productions and is now a real estate broker in Virginia.
And this trend isn’t just contained to GW’s campus. Production company fever has spread across the District, including at nearby American University.
“My company, Pretty Boy Productions, is really the only one that caters to most American University students, and we host maybe two to four parties per week,” said American junior Lucas Pierce, a communications and marketing major. “I often work with Justin Jacobson, eLund and others.”
Dealing with the drawbacks
But life as a promoter is not all fun and games. Every weekend night is a challenge for these students who have to combat argumentative patrons, D.C. police and their own personal problems, usually all at once.
“My biggest challenge is getting sleep,” Jacobson said. “Also, when there’s a problem outside of your control, you get blamed for it. Plus, whenever the cops come, it’s never fun.”
Tell that to newcomer Butwin, who started heading 202 Productions this year.
“When a bouncer decides to pocket ID’s and charge $50 to get them back, I have to deal with the fact that the bouncer just had a bad day, and not let that ruin the night,” he said.
However, most promoters agreed that the biggest and most reoccurring hindrance is the weather.
“Once I had booked a party weeks in advance and there was a huge blizzard, which pretty much killed any profit,” Jacobson said.
A male-dominated business?
While all of these student production company hotshots get to pick where the majority of GW undergrads will be partying each weekend, one thing is oddly missing – woman leadership. Male students head all of the major production companies.
“Tons of girls are involved with promoting, but they are mostly those who hand out flyers and spread the word,” Leve, 202’s founder, said. “Most girls don’t stay long enough to move up in the companies.”
Sandy Choi, who works with the promotions group JetSet Mafia of D.C., is also very involved in working with other student-run promotion companies on campus. She started off helping friends promote, and now she works administrative tasks such as making and managing guest lists and handling cash.
“It’s way too much of a time commitment,” Choi said about becoming more involved in the promotions scene. “I see how these boys do it, and it consumes their lives.”
Regardless, the increasing amount of these companies doesn’t seem to be slowing down. They are only reeling in more workers, many of whom start off without pay but receive many perks.
Jacobson said: “Promotion companies are going to be around for a long time. I’m waiting for them to open their own club, actually.”