Last week I got the opportunity to chat with David Grutman, one of the founding partners of Miami Marketing Group; the company behind the top Miami nightclubs LIV, STORY, and LIV Sun Life Stadium. Over the course of this interview we will get insight into moving up the ranks of South Beach nightlife, relationship management, mentorship, and experiential marketing.
How did you initially get involved in the nightlife industry? How did you go about making it a career?
I was born and raised in Naples, Florida, which is a very small retirement town, and I graduated with my Finance Degree from the University of Florida. After graduation I wanted to do something before moving home and selling title insurance. I said, “let me go to South Beach and bartend for a year before I go home and do that.” I saw that Tom Cruise movie Cocktail and thought that would be crazy. Sadly enough, I’m not the best-looking guy in the world, I’m a little chubby and a Jewish guy, and nobody on South Beach would hire me to bartend. The only job I could get bartending was at a restaurant in the Aventura Mall called Biz Bistro. The owner of the mall owned a restaurant and that’s how I first started working with Jeff Soffer. The executive chef, Victor, and the sous chef, Sascha Lyons, got me really passionate about hospitality and service. I quickly realized that this is what I want to be a part of for the rest of my life.
It’s evolved a lot; obviously I went from being a restaurant manager to then opening a nightclub in Fort Lauderdale. I was the General Manager at Velvet Lounge and from that experience I realized how events and marketing really turn the meter for people. From there I went down to South Beach and I met Tim Hogel, who owned Tantra Restaurant & Lounge, which at time was the hottest club ever. This was where I learned how to put events together with brand sponsorships and celebrity hosts, amongst other things. A couple years later I rented a hotel with people that I’d met from New York for New Years Eve, called the Sagamore Hotel, and I oversold it by 3,000 tickets and it was a disaster. I had Adrian Brody as my host, DJ AM and Samantha Ronson providing the music and supermodel Carmen Kass as a celebrity guest. I saw how putting this all together created a swell of people going crazy. From that I got my pick of all the clubs on South Beach. Roman Jones, at Opium Group, asked me to come on board his team and it gave me a platform to really grow to a bigger level, it was a great experience over the years.
Around this point in my career the VMA’s and the Super Bowl were coming to Miami. I met two guys, Ryan Schinmann and Brian Gordon, and we decided to open up a company that did branding, marketing, and events with the plan to service these corporate clients the way they were used to in New York or in Los Angeles, but in Miami. That’s how we started Miami Marketing Group. We ended up doing events for DIRECTV, ESPN, Victoria’s Secret, as well as several of the biggest brands in the world. When Jeff Soffer was going to remodel the Fontainebleau he came to me and said, “David I really want to do a place that’s’ more of an event based club.” It made sense for us to get involved. It’s all about the content at the end of the day; to keep your nightclub hot and fresh and that’s really the way we look at business, and every night is an event. It’s more than just booking the DJ and the music. We actually create a whole event and party around it. That’s how LIV was born. Since the grand opening of the Fontainebleau, LIV has gotten better year after year.
“You got to keep in mind I wasn’t some kid whose dad was rich or someone who sold their company for a billion dollars and wanted to go play in the club industry. I literally started off as a bartender.”
What are some of the guiding philosophies that help guide your success? Can you provide some examples of how you apply them?
I’m always up by 9AM or 10 AM because 90% of the club world doesn’t wake up until 1 PM in the afternoon. Half of the fight is being there. When I first started off I read so much about the business, I looked at every blog, every newspaper, pretty much everything I could get my hands on. I would try and find the best opportunities to apply what I thought was hot or capitalize on an emerging trend. I would actively search for the best people to make those kinds of connections.
“Connections in our business are everything.”
Some people might try and burn someone for something like a hundred or two hundred bucks but it’s just not worth it. Today, I’m dealing with people I’ve been doing business with for 20 years in some cases. I went to college with Paul Morris (Founder AM Only) and Emma, who is a big agent at AM Only. This is just one example that came to mind of people I’ve known since college and work with to this day. Relationships are everything. Some people just don’t get that and they will fuck people over for just a little bit of money and that’s crazy to me. I’m focused on what makes sense long term.
“Good talent always finds a place.”
I’m really close with all the guys in Swedish House Mafia. There was a time when they released Amy Thomson (ATM Artists), their manager, whom I think is one of the most talented people in the business. A lot of people in the music business kind of shunned her during that time. I embraced her even more then. She ended up getting Kanye as client and the Swedish House Mafia guys came back to her. Good people go through ups and downs but they will always rise to the top. You should never turn your back on good people.
“It’s really stupid to not care about a relationship and forget to think about the long term.”
When Swedish House Mafia released her she spent thanksgiving with me that year. I worked with her getting Kanye as a client. She’s amazing, and there are so many good people just like her that go through ups and downs. You just got to be aware that good talent and good people are always going to rise to the top. That is just the way it is.
Miami is one of the most hyper competitive nightlife markets in the country. How does the LIV & STORY experience differentiate itself from the rest?
To start off with we try and build a better mousetrap from the beginning. I don’t think there really is another space, currently in Miami, that really has a better flow, better lights, and better sound. Besides that we really focus on throwing a party, and I think at the end of the day people are coming to a nightclub because they want to party. They don’t just want to be shoved around like cattle. They want to feel like they are part of an experience. People love to say that type of catch phrase in this business, but we really deliver on it every night and each event has great content.
“Nightclubs have opened and closed around us. They’ve offered our DJ’s a hundred grand more and offered other people on our staff more but they don’t seem to leave. The reason why is because we are consistent and we really try to do what we say. “
Your clubs are mentioned in countless songs of various genres. How did you foster such a positive relationship with your celebrity clientele?
Our LIV ON SUNDAY party is of a special blend and the marketing behind it has just been insane. We did this from the beginning. A lot of clubs start a hip-hop night five years after they open. We did it right away and we’ve had so many great performers come through. We have DJ’s that encourage our celebrity guests to come up and perform and the celebrities really feel like they are part of the night. I think that’s a main factor because it truly becomes their night and they in-turn embrace it.
You got to understand that once you perform at LIV ON SUNDAY, that’s your night. It’s an experience being part of LIV ON SUNDAY. It’s something they live and breathe. It’s similar to having a ton of cheerleaders out there that just live for your brand. When I leave Miami and I go to other countries and visit spots like Ibiza, people can’t wait to run up to me and tell me about the experience they had at LIV. They can’t wait. It’s extremely humbling.
What do you look for in the people that you hire?
So to answer your question I have to tell you how I discovered Jona Araujo, who is now our Head of Digital at MMG. He was tweeting @ me everyday and I noticed his passion. I always look for passion and an entrepreneurial kind of mentality. I look for people that are like-minded entrepreneurs that want to be a part of something bigger, and can bring a lot to the table. Jona previously worked for Apple, and has grown from just handling our twitter; to overseeing all our online digital media for LIV, STORY, and LIV Sun Life Stadium. He works on branding and marketing, in addition to his technical responsibilities. He makes sure the photographers are where they need to be, the pictures are spectacular, and all our content is perfect. He also creates and manages our online content, ticketing, a little bit of PR; and everything in between. It’s great to see the evolution of his role. Jona went from being a fan of Skrillex, to being friends with Skrillex. It’s a really cool situation to promote that sort of growth.
“I look for talent everywhere. You never know when you’re going to find great talent. When you find it you have to snatch it.”
The only way to grow is to have people that are better than you, with you. By elevating others you elevate yourself. You have to surround yourself with great people. If you have a bunch of idiots around you are never going to grow as an individual or as a professional. We also look for people who want to support others. We often donate items to various charities in the Miami area and we also financially make donations to the Make A Wish Foundation.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I really want to do a hotel. I think the next evolution for me is a big restaurant then a big hotel. Personally, I think the hotel business is the next gradual move.