Grayscale Marketing, the Nashville-based marketing company behind popular music venues, festivals, artists, conferences and more, is celebrating the milestone of helping their live entertainment clients sell more than 1,000,000 tickets.
Started by CEO Tim Gray in 2015, Grayscale Marketing has provided marketing, PR, advertising and partnerships for entertainment institutions like Country Jam, Hangout Music Festival, SunFest, Panorama Music Festival, Pilgrimage Fest, and Minor League Baseball, in addition to many artists, venues and brands. Grayscale’s key services are digital marketing, advertising, and PR, they also provide content creation and strategic partnerships.
While the company has already had tremendous success in its short life, 2020 shined a bright light on Grayscale Marketing for their ability to innovate quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic that has put the live entertainment business in crisis.
Early in the pandemic, Gray says that an industry colleague at UTA reached out to him with a client in need of event marketing expertise with what he was told was a “really cool concept.” With no events happening in the foreseeable future, Gray hopped on a call with the client.
“It just so happened to be Walter Kinzie, which is the founder and the CEO of Encore Live,” Gray recalls. “Walter told me about the concept of Encore Drive-In Nights, about the shows already hosted, the results, what they had planned next, how the drive-in theaters were going to work and that, basically, he needed support selling tickets and lowering their cost per acquisition. My whole team was ecstatic about the opportunity of working with a client doing something that had literally never been done at scale in the history of entertainment, much less during a pandemic.”
Grayscale and Kinzie’s team at Encore had a lot to figure out in a short period of time.
“It was not just selling tickets or creating awareness around the events via advertising. It was working day-in and day-out with the Encore team trying to figure out how we best educate fans that we’re providing a socially distanced concert experience to during COVID. It was maneuvering between keeping the fans and patrons safe while selling as many tickets as possible. Also, while juggling the ever changing rules and state mandates across the nation and in Canada. What does personal protective equipment look like when you’re in a car at a drive-in concert? How do we enforce six feet of space between the cars at over 300 theaters simultaneously? How do we cover all of that information, plus create urgency to purchase the ticket, all within a 15-30 second radio spot, TV commercial, or video ad? There were dozens of layers that had to go into marketing strategy and communication surrounding these events to effectively drive attendance. It is astonishing what we all accomplished in just a few months.”
Encore figured it out, though. In three months, Grayscale Marketing was able to help them entertain more than 900,000 fans at 1,100 concerts in 330 venues across two countries, from artists including Metallica, Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, and Kane Brown.
In January, Grayscale was tapped as the marketing agency for UFC® and Encore Live to Present the historic UFC® 257: POIRIER vs. MCGREGOR II at 31 drive-in theaters across the United States. The event was in partnership with entertainment technology company MetaMedia and Joe Hand Promotions. The fight marked the first time that UFC® has distributed one of its events at drive-in and outdoor theaters ever.
All of the drive-in concerts Gray and his team had worked on before were pre-recorded. The UFC® event would be the first time that the content was being streamed live.
“Encore needed to be able to test the concept with UFC,” Gray says. “If this worked well what we would be able to help them accomplish over 2021 and beyond would be incredible. We want to be able to host and promote, not just future sporting events and concerts, but approach it from a content distribution standpoint like nothing that’s ever existed before. We could literally help Encore, as an example, partner with a Bonnaroo, and livestream that across two countries, or globally. So instead of being 90,000 people in Manchester, it’s 900,000 people around the continent. That’s powerful.”
Gray says that one of the biggest hurdles for marketing and advertising a drive-in concert in two countries, on one night, was the education of what the actual experience was going to be like. “We had to set clear expectations to the fans and potential ticket buyers in a very short period. Literally, from announcement and on-sale to showtime was 18 days for the Kane Brown show. That’s a whirlwind of strategy, content, media, and sales all in just over two weeks.
“Garth, Metallica, and Blake fans—let’s say 40 percent of those people have maybe been to a drive-in movie at some point in their life. [These drive-in concerts] are reminding them that those venues still exist and educating them on what this new drive-in memory would look like in concert form. Can they bring lawn chairs? How many people per vehicle? What about kids? Can they bring beer? Food? How do they hear the music? There’s a ton of education and questions consumers had about what the experience is on the front end, and leading up to the show date. Our team was also in charge of answering thousands of questions in the form of comments and inbox messages. The fans wanted to come, they just needed answers before they felt comfortable making the purchase decision. Which we totally understand. It simply changed the average amount of touchpoints we are used to seeing before a conversion happens and slightly shifted the consumer journey.”
With a traditional artist, Grayscale has an expert handle on who their demographic is and how to reach those fans. Once his team can nail down their demo, they can strategize on how to educate the fans about drive-in shows in a pandemic, communicate effectively, and drive them into a sales funnel to re-market. With UFC, nailing down a starting point was much more complicated.
“With the UFC event, what we found was that it’s wildly different. The demographics are all over the place. It’s 18 to 65 year olds, it’s multi-language, it’s across income demographics, socioeconomic backgrounds, populations and cities, as well as a wide range of life and music interests. So we’ve been collecting a ton of data, moving as quickly as we can in real-time to make pivots to discover what is performing best in each individual market, and learning best we can from the analytics. The buying pattern, customer journey, competing with Pay Per View, and the differences I just mentioned made it a moving target. There’s no blueprint, there’s no book, there’s no blog, our teams were literally doing it for the first time it’s ever been done. Which is incredibly exciting, but also incredibly challenging.”
The live-streamed fight proved successful, Gray says. “UFC 257 was a great test case for us and Encore. MetaMedia’s live-streaming content delivery technology is the best in the business regardless if a venue is in a suburban area with strong internet or rural area with limited cell reception. The whole team, Grayscale and Encore can’t wait to kick off the 2021 season!
Gray says that he expects this new content delivery model will outlive the pandemic.
“Don’t get me wrong, live entertainment…there’s nothing like that. That’s why I signed up to do what I do, the same goes for all my staff. We love it. There is no experience like a live concert on the planet. I do not think by any means the concept is going to replace live, but I do think that what we’re going to be able to help Encore accomplish in supporting the industry and bringing fans new live experiences is going to be staggering. The reach Encore will be able to provide for any genre artist will be amazing, but specifically for country music artists.
“When you look at traditional touring models, top tier acts are stopping in a handful of markets playing venues holding between 20,000-40,000 capacity for one night of work, for instance. Maybe there’s 20, maybe there’s 40 stops on the tour total,” Gray says. “A drive-in concert across Encore’s full theater network will hold seven times the potential capacity of the largest stadium in the US. That is like selling out Bridgestone Arena 35 times in a row without leaving Nashville, in one night. We can even push new singles or upcoming releases on the big screens to all the attendees at the same time. Having that level of attention has real value. It truly is an exciting opportunity for the music industry as a whole.
“The majority of the Heartland goes un-touched. 148 million people live within a 40 miles radius of one of the drive-in theaters. Sixty-seven percent of those are in rural or secondary towns that do not have a stadium or arena that a major artist can perform in. What we’re going to be able to help Encore accomplish will be livestreaming those concerts that are two states over to the other fans who would love to be able to attend. We’re going to be able to work hand in hand with managers and agents to distribute live music in a way that’s never been distributed before, and do it live.”
Gray says he is thankful for his partnership with Encore Live and to be marketing music in the darker days of the pandemic.
“It’s fun to be on the forefront of entertainment innovation with a client like Encore Live. They’re constantly pushing the boundaries. To go from idea to execution in under 45 days and end up with the largest in-person experience of 2020 is amazing and awesome to be a part of. They have a great team, great leadership, great vision. For us to be able to come in and partner and support them with something like this, it’s meaningful and it’s compelling. By doing what we love, we are able to help the fans and artists get back to doing what they love.”