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Hand-to-Hand Competition : Fliers Help Keep Dance Clubs Filled, but Getting Them to Party-Goers Is No Night on the Town

February 18, 1996|MARK EHRMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To the untrained eye, Nicole Berger is indistinguishable from the rest of the Thursday night crowd at Lava Lounge. Decked out in trendy '70s bell-bottom slacks, she moves through the tightly packed room, sipping a beer and chatting.

But unlike the other club-goers, who have come to enjoy the band and hang out, Berger is here on business. She is surreptitiously slipping postcard-sized advertisements to as many of the Lava Lounge's patrons as she can get to.

Within a few minutes, the Lava Lounge staff catches on. Berger's "business" is to pass out come-ons for her Wednesday night club Quindembo at Checca's. Berger is told to cut it out or leave.

The ubiquitous flier--sometimes flashy and clever, sometimes crude and cheap--is a cornerstone of successful club promotion. No club, large or small, will open without first papering the city. Promoters spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to design and print up the fliers that are distributed through mass mailings and via stacks left in cafes, trendy boutiques and record stores as well as other clubs.

To promote Quindembo, Berger says, "We would try to pass out fliers six or seven days a week." Berger spent the days dropping piles of fliers in places where potential club customers might be such as Melrose Avenue and Venice and then hit the clubs all night.

If there's a shortcut to rounding up bodies to fill your nightclub, nobody knows what it is.

"The history behind fliers is pretty simple," says Mike Messex, a veteran of the L.A. night scene, who has been deejaying and promoting clubs for almost a decade. He also has designed fliers for himself and for other clubs, raves and parties. "You make a flier. You try to pass it out to as many people as you can. If you pass out 10,000 fliers, you're lucky if 200 people show up."

Given such discouraging math, getting your flier into the right hands is crucial. And what better target audience is there than people who are already going out.

"You go to a big club, and if that's the hot thing to go to, there'll be about six different clubs trying to hit you up with fliers," Messex says. "I know that my clubs are really happening when kids are fliering outside." That's a mixed blessing, however, because that means that people are trying to chip away at his clientele.

That's why the Lava Lounge, like many other bars and clubs, refuse to let people pass out fliers. "The only fliers we usually let people hand out are ones for after-hours clubs that entice people out of our clubs," says Lava Lounge owner Michelle Marini. "That way, after we close, the people get out quicker."

The established club owners allow each other access within their circle. "There's a whole hierarchy where, for instance, among certain people, you can go anywhere and do basically whatever you want with your flier or your promotional material," says Bryan Rabin, who runs the Friday night club Cherry and has been responsible for such clubs as Prague and Burlesque. Rabin lets people from Saturday Night Fever, the Viper Room and the Dragonfly pass out fliers at Cherry. They will even be allowed in free--what owners call "club courtesy." The other clubs return the favor.

"We're friends with a lot of the club people," says Kim White, head of promotions for the Viper Room. "If somebody calls me up and asks me permission and it's something that's not competing with what we're doing, then that's OK." If the Viper Room finds anyone else with fliers, they are asked to leave.

What all promoters large and small do agree upon is that taking fliers into one club for another club that is held on the same night is a no-no.

"Someone came to our club a few months ago and said, "I'm working for [promoter Robin] Cameltoe at the Garage," Rabin recalls. "I said 'Great, come on in.' I gave him club courtesy, the whole thing. Next thing I know, my club is bombed with fliers for a Friday night glam rock club. He bombed my clientele not only with a Friday night club, but with this same format as my club, which is not really a happening thing to do. I had the security look for him and toss him out on the street."

"I remember there was one incident where there was a promoter who moved his club from Friday to Saturday and had all his people standing outside Saturday Night Fever promoting his new club," says Fever's Brent Bolthouse. "I physically took fliers from people. It makes me see red. It's so rude. There's six other nights of the week to promote."

Bolthouse, like other members of the nightclub establishment, points to the new kids on the block as the worst offenders. "They don't know what the rules are or they have no morals or common sense," he says.

But these new kids are up against a Catch-22. Those who are outside the club loop must either flier outside or resort to subterfuge. Many lower-tier club promoters confess to routinely sneaking in fliers at the city's more popular clubs.

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