How House of Blues Evolved Creative Operations while Preserving Its Soul
House of Blues is a business obsessed with the blues. Its entire operation is built around celebrating the contributions this purely American art form has made to entertainment, cuisine, culture and the arts.
Blues is about expressing yourself by whatever means are available. So a washtub could be a bass drum, a cigar box and strings could be a guitar and berry juice mixed with sawdust and glue could be paint. Value comes from surprising places, and anything is possible.
Hard Rock founder Isaac Tigrett and original Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd recognized the impact of blues in many treasured traditions and contemporary art forms. They decided it needed a permanent home to keep it vital and alive, so they founded the House of Blues in 1992. Since then, House of Blues Entertainment has expanded to more than 40 clubs and theaters all over the country. It produces more than 7,000 shows and serves more than 3.2 million guests each year. In addition to House of Blues clubs, VIP lounges and restaurants, House of Blues Entertainment also includes independent clubs and theaters like the Fillmore, Irving Plaza, The Tabernacle and Warner Theatre, to name a few.
House of Blues even has a literal down-to-earth way to stay connected to its roots – it keeps a metal box filled with Delta Mississippi mud under all its stages. It’s just one of the ways it reminds the business to maintain an unwavering commitment to community service through activities like feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving Day and supporting its Music Forward youth music program non-profit.
Old Soul in a Modern World
Even in the best of circumstances, rock and roll is a chaotic business. But overseeing marketing and promotions for more than 40 bustling clubs and theaters, their sub-brands and dozens of websites may set a new mark for mayhem. It’s definitely not a job for the faint of heart – the pace is unrelenting, deadlines are extremely tight and the talent has a reputation for being a bit temperamental.
House of Blues has over 100 marketers responsible for promotion at its venues. They depend on a small headquarters team of just four graphic designers who produce and source the majority of the brand assets for local campaigns, promotions and even menus.
The culture at House of Blues was personal. Knowledge was tribal and earned with experience. Business got done through personal interaction. Marketing technology was built ad hoc as it was needed. And it worked fine, for a time.
“Back in the day I remember meeting with my creative team and seeing a circle of sticky notes around their monitors – it was their task list and system of keeping track of what was completed. It terrified me,” said Senior Vice President of Marketing David Fortin.
As marketing tipped to digital, what had worked well enough was quickly becoming unsustainable. Project and asset requests grew steadily to more than 40 a day. The small design team wasn’t meant for this kind of demand – especially the searching, organizing and other management tasks not found in their job descriptions. They struggled to keep pace and started spending more time chasing assets and fulfilling requests than creating new work.
The results were starting to affect the business. Valuable assets got lost and had to be recreated. Work was rushed to meet deadlines, and the team was burning out.
Picking Up a New Instrument
Marketing and IT got together and decided it was time to modernize marketing operations. They wanted to bring creatives, marketers and promoters together on one platform that would allow them to operate at a digital pace and make everyone’s job easier.
“To support everybody in the field and our corporate offices, our goals were efficiency, transparency and control,” said Fortin.
What they needed was one central place to store creative assets – a self-serve center with intuitive search so things would be easy to find for dozens of people without technical skills or special training. The assets would be organized and encoded with searchable, intuitive terms.
The ideal platform would include tools for sharing curated sets of assets and offer central administration and control. It would be easy to access from remote locations on any device, scale to support international markets and adapt to suit emerging needs as the business grew. It would integrate with other important marketing technologies like marketing automation and workflow management.
The search was on and, after an exhaustive review, the team chose to work with Webdam. “We compared a lot of solutions, but Webdam stood out as best for our needs and celebrating our brand along the way,” said Fortin.
Back on Beat
House of Blues Entertainment is still in the infancy of its marketing technology journey but already feels like it got its groove back. Its Webdam platform is a busy place. More than 17,000 assets were migrated to Webdam from a range of asset libraries, storage sites and personal computers. And almost a thousand new ones were added in the first month alone.
Field staff quickly adopted and began using Webdam to find creative assets and promotional material. Within one month, more than 100 users were downloading dozens of assets per day and using the technology to seek out inspiration for new campaigns and self-check brand-asset compliance.
The creative team is back to churning out quality design work that supports the clubs and theaters. Since the field marketers are better able to serve themselves and find what they need, non-productive requests like “Can you send me this logo?” and “Have we ever done a restaurant ad with a martini?” or “Can I see how the new Foundation Room campaign looks horizontally?” are almost non-existent these days, and creative productivity and quality have risen sharply.
There are still plenty of surprises. And the team has ideas for ways to make things work even better. But they’re happy with the results.
“Webdam is used daily, and quite heavily,” said Fortin. “We still get the occasional phone call or email asking for an asset. Now we just tell them it’s in Webdam and they know it’s going to be easy to locate and retrieve.”