Nightlife may appear to be a dream media subject, but it's a constant battle to stay on top of capricious trends, and report on hot spots that actually prefer some people be kept in the dark.
Publicizing and covering nightlife may appear to be dream jobs. After all, who wouldn't want to either promote or report on the trendiest events, and rub elbows with stars at the hot spots?
But behind the glamorous exterior lies the reality that both professions can be taxing. Unlike PR for traditional products and companies, nightlife publicity is as much alchemy as anything else - and generating the right crowds with the right mix of celebrities isn't easy. Nor is helping a venue sustain a buzz as the place to be, while making sure it doesn't get "too popular."
Moreover, many nightlife concepts get stale fast, and venues must always evolve different themes, events, and decor to stay relevant. And the media that covers nightlife is ever-changing. Not only do new reporters arrive as others begin to look for beats that don't have them out all night, but magazines shift in and out of favor fairly quickly.
While outlets like Details and Interview were high-priority hits for stories not long ago, today's prime targets are more likely to be newer titles such as Black Book, Nylon, Dazed and Confused, Flaunt, Soma, V, and Wallpaper.
Like other journalism areas, nightlife reporting has felt the ad slump.
Outside of New York, few outlets currently have a dedicated nightlife reporter. In most markets - including large cities like LA - many TV stations and print publications cover clubs either as an extension of the restaurant and lifestyle sections, or as a source of news for celebrity-oriented columnists who drop names of who went where on any given night.
New hot spots for nightlife coverage
But Kelly Cutrone, president of the agency People's Revolution, has found new opportunities in fashion and other magazines, suggesting that a hot club can always find a way into key publications. The major reason is that every outlet wants to be perceived as being on top - if not ahead - of the latest trends, and that includes where to go at night.
"The mass media has become as sophisticated as readers, Cutrone notes.
"Ten years ago, a mag like Vogue would not have written about a nightclub."
Kristen Kelly, marketing and media relations manager for five clubs and lounges in and around downtown Dallas, says there are additional opportunities to pitch nightlife angles to business reporters looking to do stories on urban redevelopment and real estate.
Henry Eshelman, MD with LA-based B/W/R Public Relations, has nearly two decades of experience in nightlife PR, including work for venues such as New York's Studio 54 and The Tunnel, as well as LA's Stock Exchange.
Eshelman says far fewer places exist for nightclub coverage than in years past, especially in southern California. He also suggests the nightlife beat attracts a variety of journalists - some more legitimate than others - and thus the PR strategy must remain flexible.
Some outlets are fairly easy to pitch, while others, like the small but influential West Coast website DailyCandy. com, pride themselves on being continually in the loop. "Those people are very protective, and they don't want a publicist calling them and telling them what's going on, Eshelman says.
But outlets like Daily Candy may be more the exception than the rule.
In general, most reporters are more than willing to talk to PR pros to find out not just where to go, but when.
New York trends - such as the emergence of hotel bars/lounges as hot night spots, and the fact that nightlife runs Sunday through Thursday with weekends being more for tourists and suburbanites - may be common knowledge for some, but the average journalist will probably appreciate the information.
The hot journalists
The number of journalists considered influential is fairly small. "I have a roster of 10 or so people that I reach out to for every event, and I can count on them to cover it, says Noah Tepperberg, president of the New York nightlife marketing company Strategic Group. "Those are the guys at (the New York Post's) Page Six, Rush and Malloy at the Daily News, photographers who cover events for the Daily News, and a couple for the Post. There's also people who write the Intelligencer section for New York, and the guy who runs Us Weekly's Sightings section."
In cities like New York, LA, and Miami, top nightlife reporters can get spoiled and become very choosy about what they write and what they'll attend. "In terms of columnists, they won't talk about it until there's a guest list, they know who's confirmed to attend, what's in the gift bag, and who's performing that night, notes Paul Lerner, partner with London Misher Public Relations, which represents the Soho Grand and Tribeca Grand Hotels.
He adds the PR role for bars, restaurants, and clubs has become more complex, in part because proprietors now have more respect for their patrons' privacy, and are reluctant to always feed gossip writers with tidbits on who was there. "My clients don't want those items placed, he says.
"They don't want you to send out a blanket release to 400 lifestyle and music writers. And the journalists they do invite, like a Michael Musto (of The Village Voice) or Richard Johnson (of Page Six), are there in part because they're also good guests."
Cutrone concurs, saying, "It's become a lot more discreet. I used to do a lot more column items. She says club PR requires a certain amount of finesse to not only ensure that you get the right placements, but also that you stay out of some outlets and stories. "Do you want to be in a nightlife roundup with Planet Hollywood? asks Cutrone, who represents two of the hottest LA clubs, Deep and 40 Deuce. "I don't think so."
Despite nightlife journalism's variable cast of characters, only a few reporters maintain their clout year after year. They include Musto, Johnson, Ron Hagwood of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Lynn Martinez of the Miami-based TV show Deco Drive, and Heidi Siegmund Cuda of the LA Times.
Nightlife on the screen
On the broadcast side, radio has long since lost relevance as a nightlife media outlet, but TV can still be a good tool, especially outside the major cities. "We have been successful with the morning shows, notes Lauren Fimbres of Drasnin Communications, which represents many clubs and lounges in San Diego's downtown. "Several of them have done live remotes for either an opening or to cover a club's renovation."
Paula Hennessy, director with south Florida-based Marcus Communications, adds that TV can be ideal for helping shape a club's image. Since there's often little time for a detailed review, stations end up offering just enough to pique the interest of those seeking a new place to go. "Usually, it's 'here's the event, these are the people who came, and here's what happened,' she says.
The emerging platform for nightclub coverage is the internet. Not only have regional sites such as Daily Candy risen in stature, but the broader online listings sites that can be found in every major city play an increasingly key role. Not only can they provide a thorough listing of what's going on, but Fimbres says most archive their past coverage so that a club review from six months ago can still be at the fingertips of a reader looking for something to do tonight.
But despite the undeniable symbiotic relationship between the media and nightlife venues, there remains the lingering question of whether the press' discovery and coverage of a night spot can be a kiss of death in some cases, since a new audience lured by the coverage can destroy the ambience that existed before the media attention.
"It's a double-edged sword because you need to let people know that you're there, but part of creating a niche and being unique is being the place that nobody knows about, says Hennessy. "What we're finding from most clubs is they want the coverage, but they want a certain kind of coverage."
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The New York Times; New York Post; New York Daily News; LA Times; Chicago Tribune; Miami Herald; Sun-Sentinel (South Florida); Dallas Morning News
Magazines: Entertainment Weekly; Vogue; Elle; Flaunt; Soma; Surface; LA Confidential; New York; Los Angeles; Black Book; Nylon; Purple; Dazed and Confused; Dutch; Wallpaper; V; W; Time Out New York; Out; Variety; Hollywood Reporter; Tear Sheet
Trade titles: Market Watch; Nightclub & Bar; Wine Spectator
TV: E! Wild On; local lifestyle shows