By Maia McCannIIf you’re a pretty young thing in New York City, you’ve fallen victim to this M.O.
Worst case scenario: when trying to impress your boss by showing him an app on your phone that makes navigating cuisine in Thailand a snap, you get an incriminating text. It’s from that vaguely attractive neighborhood barista who convinced you to give him your number. He mentioned that he threw parties, and now he’s unintentionally picked the most inopportune time to invite you to one.
Your boss awkwardly hands the phone back, probably thinking he just saw your 4:30 in the afternoon incoming sext.
“HUGE PARTY TONIGHT,” the second text reads. “Meet me at Artichoke for comp dinner at 10 PM then Avenue. Bring hot female friends!!!”
You don’t know this guy very well, so it’s odd that he’s inviting you to a “complimentary” dinner (though the fact that he must specify that the dinner is going to be complimentary says something about the cold, dead state of chivalry) but why must you eat dinner at 10 PM – and why are your hot female friends also invited?
While you ponder these mysteries, your phone buzzes again.
“If you can’t do dinner just meet us at the front of Avenue at 11:30. Be prompt! My name at the door.”
The utter condescension of it all – that he assumes you’re coming with your “hot” friends in tow on a Wednesday night – sets off a red flag in your mind. This is not a date. Unless you’re straight stupid, or fresh off the plane from Kentucky, you quickly realize your error. When you gave your number to that vaguely attractive neighborhood barista who said that he “threw parties,” you were actually giving your number to a club promoter.Loosely defined, a club promoter’s job is to pad popular clubs with hot tail. In New York, a city that boasts perhaps too many red velvet stanchions, this strange practice serves a purpose in the oversaturated nightlife market. To be excessively simple about it, promoters help to fill in empty table gaps so that rich dudes who spend thousands of dollars to drink a $60 bottle of vodka and a $78 bottle of champagne feel like they’re at a super cool spot, overflowing with pretty girls and possibilities.
These indulgence enablers are supposed to bring desirables – primarily female – into nightclubs to make them appear trendy to the paying customers. However, according to former bottle service waitress Sara Copeland, things don’t always go according to plan.
“In my experience, club promoters tend to deliver half or less of what they claim they’ll bring,” says Copeland. “If they said 100 people were coming, it was between 30 and 50. If they said they were throwing a party for a supermodel, she was more likely a kind of tall bottle waitress from a different club.”
It goes without saying that Copeland has a bad taste in her mouth from dealing with promoters in a professional sense. “Promoter tables tend to be overcrowded, with a very high girl to guy ratio. They’re served well vodka, they don’t pay for a thing, and they very rarely tip.”
A quick Google Image search proves that popular opinion aligns with Copeland’s. The “promoters be like” memes echo the sentiment that professional party fluffers are downright annoying and maybe a little ridiculous. Finding one to interview for the purpose of this article proved a difficult task. Many wanted to distance their personal brand from the term “promoter,” saying it didn’t accurately describe who they were or the purpose they served in the nightlife industry.
“I think the word ‘promoter’ doesn’t exist and it’s outdated and you should put that in the article,” said Chris Shipps, partner in 171 Madison Group. “What we do is a hospitality service, and it’s catering to the venue and what their needs are.”
Shipps has been in the nightlife promotion industry, pardon, hospitality industry, for nearly a decade. He cited the recent trend of corporate club ownership as one of the major reasons for a move away from the old system of hiring random mass promoters (moonlighting DJs, baristas, models).
Shipps maintains that larger corporate establishments like those run by EMM Group are less likely to enlist individual 22-year-old model/DJs to bring in their hot freeloader friends and more likely to trust contracted event service companies to control their image and ambiance. A 2010 Forbes article directly contradicts this statement. It cites that EMM pays promoters or “freelance pied pipers” as much as $500 to bring in ten good looking people to fill venues.
So, while Shipps doesn’t consider himself a promoter, his hospitality group will hire such “pied pipers” if the powers that be need filler bodies?
“It depends on the venue. I mean, I hire kids to bring out people to the clubs.”
Aren’t those promoters?
“We call them on-site managers.”
Potato, potatto. A quick glance at Craigslist easily refutes the idea that promoters are a dying breed.
One could infer that Shipps is referring to what some would call sub-promoters.
According to nycnightadventures.com, a self-proclaimed online community for club & event promoters, being a sub-promoter is a way of breaking into the industry. Next come senior promoters who are divided into three different classes: mass, filler, and image. Mass promoters are guys whose primary responsibility is to bring in large groups of people to clubs. Fillers are kind of like mass promoters only the people have to be good looking. And then there are image promoters. “They are paid to bring 5 or 10 stunning models to party with them.” (And Lindsay Lohan, if she’s in town.)
A majority of the population has probably encountered sub and mass promoters. Often, these guys get paid a flat fee per attractive female head; generally around $10. Thus, if the sub-promoter or mass promoter brings in twelve pretty girls, two of their only-okay-looking friends and four random dudes, he makes $120.
This may not seem bad for four or five hours of work, but when you factor in the time spent texting random girls and the hours you need to rebuild your reputation after you realize you don’t want to be a promoter anymore, it’s less than minimum wage.Is there an alternative? Clubs aren’t just selling booze and music – they’re selling a brand and an atmosphere. Ultra exclusive A-list venues with PR that lands them on Page Six are able to sell themselves without the use of promoters, but if the club doesn’t look packed or isn’t packed with the right people, they’re going to have a hard time selling bottles to rich people at inflated prices.
DJ’s pull a crowd of their own, and if they aren’t at the level where they have a fan base following them from venue to venue, they likely bring in their attractive friends. But, clubs frequently give their DJs free bottles and drink tickets, making the DJs into almost pseudo-promoters. “I’m with the DJ” doesn’t sound so entirely different from, “I’m on promoter X’s list.”
Back in the day, when their were far fewer places to get your drink and dance on, doorman acted as casting directors for the socially elite – See Exhibit A. (It may make you a little uncomfortable to watch these old people reminisce, since one day you’ll most likely be old too.) In the late eighties-early nineties, club promotion methods evolved and in came the Club Kids, the wildly entertaining promoters of yesteryear who actually offered a form of entertainment as a side to their shenanigans (pissing off Phil Donahue in the process– see Exhibit B.)
By the end of the nineties, the Club Kid movement died down and in the early aughts, club promoters became much like they are today. Everyone knows that you can’t just exterminate part of a food chain – it sets off a domino affect and everyone suffers as a result. It would be easy to draw a comparison between club promoters and rats, but it’s probably better to think of club promoters as affordable interior decorators. They’re painting an atmosphere from a pallet of young hussies and cheap vodka. Isn’t the young hussy part half of the reason you’re going out to begin with?
Sara Copeland sums up why nightlife joints need to hire moonlighting guitarists, models, and baristas to invite their equally broke friends to come hang: “Promoters are hired to make clubs look like places where lots of good looking people in groups want to hang out. A club should be crowded with attractive people, and the promoter’s job is to create that illusion. The attractive people with the promoter aren’t there because it’s such a great club – they’re there because the vodka is free, and they only make nine dollars an hour at Hollister.”