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Promoters are typically hired on contract by entertainment venues, earning an agreed-to fee or a royalty (colloquially known as a "cut"). The royalty structure is often a simple percentage of admission fees (called "the door") and/or food and drink sales, but like other royalty arrangements many variations are possible such as minimums or maximums, allowances for various expenses, or limitations (e.g. only drink sales after midnight). Other promoters operate independently, renting venues for a fixed fee or under a revenue sharing arrangement with the building owner or tenant, and keeping all of the additional profits from a successful event. One common arrangement for small venues is for the promoter to earn all of the admissions fees, while the venue earns all of the food and drink revenue.
Some venues have exclusive arrangements with a single promotion company; others work with multiple promoters on a rotating schedule (one night per week, for example) or on an event-by-event basis. Promoters often work together, either as equal partners or as subcontractors to each other's events. Several promoters may work together for a large special event, e.g. a New Year's Eve party in a hotel ballroom. They may also deputize "hosts", who are essentially socially influential or desirable non-promoters who will market the events to their circle of friends in exchange for special treatment or free admission to the event.
At a minimum the event promoter manages publicity and advertising. Depending on the arrangement they may also handle security, ticket sales, door policies, decorations, and booking of entertainers. Many promoters are DJs or musicians themselves, and perform at their own event. Conversely, many musicians act as de facto promoters for their own concerts, either directly or through their manager or booking company. Historically, promotion has been a cottage industry, with companies operated by one or several well-connected charismatic individuals, often working part-time. However, with the rise of corporate ownership of live entertainment assets several large companies have emerged in the field, most notably Live Nation via its acquisition (indirectly, via Clear Channel), of Bill Graham Presents. The larger companies tend to promote more traditional mainstream music in exclusive contracts with concert halls. Alternative music and events and nightclubs remain in the hands of independent promoters.
Contracts and disputes
There are often disputes over money in the promotions industry because it is largely cash business with a history of corruption and uneven recordkeeping. In addition there are many accounting complexities to manage, particularly for large events: revenue, expenses, and oversight of parking, coat checks, concession vendor sales (e.g. CDs and t-shirts), box office so-called "convenience fees", in kind trades, promotional give-away items used to lure guests (e.g. free drinks), costs for insurance, cleaning staff, and so on. One area of frequent contention are quid pro quo cross-promotions, where the promoter or some other party connected with the venue will obtain a favor (for example, a price discount) in exchange for giving a future favor to the vendor. If the existence of the scheme, or the relationship between the parties, is undisclosed this may become a form of bribery. Another opportunity for misunderstanding are the various "lists" of guests who will be admitted for free or with VIP treatment, and the "door policy" used by bouncers to decide who will be admitted and at what price. To deal with these complexities event contracts can become quite long and detailed. Whether written or not, these arrangements tend to favor the party with the greater sophistication or the more control over the production of the event. Even the most detailed, professionally written and negotiated contracts can become the subject of lawsuits over interpretation.
Because nightclubs are often associated with drug and alcohol consumption, rowdiness, and other late-night behavior, promoters may become entangled in various criminal disputes as well.
Promoters bring crowds through a variety of methods. The most direct are guerrilla marketing techniques such as plastering posters on outdoor walls, flyposting, and distributing handbills on windows of cars parked in entertainment districts. Promoters also keep mailing lists, usually email lists, of their preferred guests and their wider list of potential customers. Recently, many promoters have taken advantage of online technology such as online social networks and event listing sites to handle publicity, invitations, mailing lists, and so on. Clubs and promoters are among leaders in SMS text message advertising to their own lists as well as sponsored snippets on 3rd party lists for daily content to subscribers.
Promoters often build a brand out of their own personalities and the parties they host, marketing the events under a consistent name, style, type of program, and social experience that downplays the branding of the venue or artist. They may develop a loyal clientèle that will follow them from one location to another.
Among the most famous promoters are:
- Don King, boxing promoter
- Chet Helms, music promoter
- Bill Graham, founder of Bill Graham Presents
- Vince McMahon, wrestling promoter and businessman
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