Dave and Buster’s – Denver = Dave and Busted

so busted…in the geekiest way (picture NOT taken at D&B)

HUGE-fucking-print disclaimer: Someone at Dave and Buster’s in probably going to be yelled at after someone else in the company reads this post this morning. The first person who’s going to be yelled at is the person who – I’ll venture to quote – who thought it was a “Bright fuckin’ idea to invite this broad.” The second person, hopefully it’s the event promoter they hired and to whom they probably shelled-out cash. I won’t even venture a guess on who the third and fourth people might be – and who knows? They might just write me off as some “lippy broad they mistakenly invited as local press.” Whatevs. I’ll never censor my thoughts because someone gave me a tour and fed me lunch – and for the FCC record, that’s what I received as “payment” for attending the two events outlined below.

Being prolific on the web has benefits on occasion, like being approached to attend local events in a “special” sort of fashion. Those emails usually offer to put me on a list, feed me some snacks, and get me to tweet/blog/Facebook about the event in return. Last year, I got to attend a sneak preview of the Xbox Kinect system. This year, someone at Dave & Buster’s thought it would be a good idea to invite me to their rebranding launch event here in Denver. Let’s get a few things on the table up-front:

  • I’m a gaming geek. I fucking LOVE video games. A also love hamburgers like Paris Hilton likes Marlboros and small dogs. Them inviting me wasn’t a crapshoot and was target-audience appropriate.
  • There were TWO events: a VIP press luncheon (daytime) and a VIP launch party (evening)
  • I received no compensation for attending either of these events or for this post. They’re going to be especially glad on the second part of that (regarding the post).

The Wind-Up: How I Was Invited

Dave & Buster’s has been around since 1983 and the time had come to refresh its brand image. Corporate identified Denver’s location (close to University of Colorado – Denver) as what would be the flagship location for this rebranding and associated remodel. After months of construction, menu redesigning, and planning, they were finally ready to come out to the Denver public last week and were apparently looking for local “press” to attend. Maybe they thought I’d write ’em up in my Entrepreneur Magazine column – I dunno. So, how exactly DOES one get invited to these shindigs, you might ask? Well, here’s how:

Invitation to Dave and Busters Denver VIP Event

Being the gaming nerd I am, I replied with an affirmative the Monday prior to the event. So let’s get into the actual event.

Props: The VIP Press Luncheon

This was organized and handled in pro fashion, with the Regional Director of Operations personally taking the press attendees on a tour of the remodeled and re-styled facility. I’m super-shitty with names, but this gentleman was animated and ready to answer any questions our group had. Here’s the jist of the thoughts behind the remodel and highlights from the VIP press luncheon:

  • Vegas, Baby: The entire look and feel of the front part of the facility (the non-gaming side) was restyled to have a Las Vegas ultralounge feel. Sleek and chic – bringing the Dave and Buster’s image up a notch or two. They also added two locations (one at the main entrance and one at the entrance to the gaming area) for their new “Mixmasters,” which are positions designed to emulate the Vegas casino host – a guide of sorts – yet at no cost to the guests.
  • Sports Bar: As you might have been able to tell from the invitation, they were super excited about their sports book. Which IS swank and boasts the largest screen high-def TVs in the entire Denver metro area.
  • Local, Local, Local: The spirits at the main bar and beer in the sports bar had a heavy Colorado focus. Every tap in the sports bar and a fair share of the distilled yummies were from the Front Range’s many brewers and distilleries. Huge props to D&B for this pro move.
  • Menu Redesign: There are pictures in the gallery below showing both the old and new menus. The old ones remind me of Denny’s. The new ones remind me of places where I spend my money.
  • The Food: Is fucking delicious, and while my primarily gluten-free self will have a helluva time indulging in most of it, I didn’t have a bad thing on the entire spread they laid out for us.
  • Headcount: In an economy where jobs are hard to come by, Dave & Buster’s two Front Range locations (Denver – this location, and Westminster – between Denver and Boulder) added over 60 new jobs.

I don’t have a single complaint about how the VIP luncheon was handled. Oh, wait. Yeah – I do.

Really?

When I arrived at the luncheon, I was all amped to tweet about where I was. So I asked the two gals from the PR company (who shall remain nameless) handling the event what the @ name and hashtag were for Dave and Buster’s.

They didn’t know.

If you’ll notice in the email above, I was provided the hash tag and told explicitly what I was expected to do with it (which wasn’t necessary – I’m fully aware of what to do with hash tags. Have you seen my Twitter profile?). Kinda inexcusable that the PR firm in charge of this shindig didn’t have that information.

The other WTF moment came when we were sitting down eating lunch and one of the senior marketing executives from corporate sat down with us. He was straight-up awesome. Personable, funny – everything you’d expect from a marketing exec. So my curiosity got the better of me and I asked, “So, what are you guys doing on the social side of things to promote the relaunch?”

He launched into an explanation about how the PR firm had gotten them wraps on light rail trains (there’s a light rail station right outside D&B’s) and went on about that for a bit. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I rephrased my question, as I see how a rolling billboard could be perceived as social (not). “What are you doing with Facebook and Twitter to tap into Denver’s highly active social media community to help promote and spread the news about your relaunch?” says She-Of-The-Red-Hair.

He then went into a scrunchy-faced ponder about how the social space is so crowded and how do you really reach people? I threw out a few 36,000 foot ideas (as it costs money for me to get lower to the ground and after all – they’d brought me there as press, not a gal who runs a digital strategy consulting firm) and left it alone. I passed him and the other press folk around the table my card, went to pee, and then packed up to deal with the rest of my afternoon until the evening event.

The Crowned Fail of Dave and Buster’s Denver Relaunch: the “VIP” Party

As a frequent conference attendee and no stranger to lists and parties. Dave and Buster’s needed me to be on a list for the evening event, so I complied. I even made a shameful ask for an additional +1 for a friend’s boyfriend who was bummed that she was going and he wasn’t. So here’s where it gets super-duper WTF.

I used to live in Las Vegas. 3+ years worth of Vegas, this girl has. What I don’t need is to relive that experience in Denver, and above all, sober. There are so many WTFs about the evening’s VIP party that I’ll just run them down in bulletpoints with a clear enumeration of my gripes with each:

  • What VIP list? Dave & Buster’s PR firm had, apparently, hired a party promoter to get all of these people in the door. I did hear from some friends that they were previous D&B customers and had received an invitation, but they didn’t attend.
    • Gripe: Who WERE these people and why the hell were they there?
    • Gripe: Ummm…you really needed a party promoter to get people in the door of a nationally-known entertainment chain? Isn’t University of Denver just down the street? Do you not keep customer databases? Could you not have reached out to the surrounding corporate community in the Tech Center to have those companies – ones rich with people who have disposable income and love them some happy hour – to fill up the place?
    • Gripe: There was no ID process and no confirmation for my guests. Which resulted in the gals manning the oh-so-coveted List just asking my name and waving me through, and doing the same for MY guests – which weren’t on the list at all. Which is probably why the joint looked the way it did from a demographic standpoint.
    • Gripe: During the press luncheon, I asked the marketing guy poobah talking to us if they had a system in place for tracking whether that evening’s guests returned at a later date. He said something about a bounce-back coupon. Ooookay. Bottom line: he could not explain to me in a definitive fashion how, from a marketing standpoint, they would determine whether their party promoter had fucked them Pulp Fiction-style and just filled up the place with anyone and everyone or if they had paid to have a finely-targeted audience attend and earned the business of their target demographic. I’m thinking it’s the Pulp Fiction iteration, especially since Marketing Guy told me something to the effect of, “Oh, they have lists for stuff like that,” when I asked where the party promoter got the names for the invitees.
  • Who the fuck hired the stilt walker? Fire that guy. Seriously. I didn’t come to an event on a Thursday evening to have to dodge some guy on stilts on my way to get in line to play Pac Man. This was a consistent theme throughout the party – they had girls dressed-up like Geishas doing some odd iterations of vogue dancing on a stage down by the pool tables, scantily-clad girls in blonde afro wigs rolling around on razor scooters outside…holy shit. It was like I’d swallowed something I shouldn’t have from the new menu, was tripping balls, and Alice was nowhere to be found so I couldn’t even ask her, “How the hell do I get out of Wonderland and WHERE IS THAT FUCKING RABBIT THAT FED ME THE ‘SHROOMS?”
    • Gripe: Well, I kinda covered that already, but for all that’s holy – you folks are in marketing and PR. If you say three things, as my friend Merredith says, you say nothing. You said 84 things that night and I walked away completely confused.
  • Games? Are these things on? Lots were out of order. Super bummed, and not ideal for a huge party night.
    • Gripe: Ummm…lots of games didn’t work. Which sucks for a place that’s about entertainment and that brags about having games custom-designed and being the first to get new games.

But The Biggest Fail of All…

I live in a digital world. If it’s not online, I probably don’t hear about it. Denver – and the Front Range in general – has a highly involved social media community. And the kicker of it? We spend money. A shitload of it. So much of it, in fact, that we never have a problem finding a location to host an event. We just walk in to the manager or owner and say, “Hey – would there be a day of the week where it would be cool to bring in…oh, say…300 random people to drink beer in your joint?” Strangely enough, we never get turned down.

Dave and Buster’s relaunch was a huge fail in the most relevant form of media possible in today’s marketing landscape: social.

First Fail: the price for digital entry

Per the email I was sent, I went to the Dave & Buster’s special microsite to claim my $10 in free gaming credit. I will never turn down free video games. Ever. Unless you make it so goddamned hard for me to get it that I close my web browser out of frustration. T0 get the $10 coupon, I had to go through a double-gated process. Here are the steps:

and…gate #2:

Please – don’t make it hard for me to get on your email list. This double-gating just annoyed me. And while others might feel differently and got he extra mile, I had to CLICK from your main website, CLICK on the Denver website, and THEN complete a form. Super. Duper. Annoying. An all-in-one landing page would have been a better show of respect for your audience’s time and you could have skipped me talking about it entirely.

Second fail: you totally shunned my community

You hired a party promoter to get people in the door of an establishment offering something that is so inherently social – gaming – and in the process, entirely shunned this rather vocal geek girl’s community. Denver and Boulder are areas that are ripe with technology professionals. Which means geeks. Which means people who like to play games. Which means coinage in your games’ slottage. Which means revenue.

You didn’t reach out to the tech community – nor the professional community – both of which love to play games, go to happy hour, and have disposable income (I’m thinking this is your target demographic?). Instead, you let some random party promoter who had no clue as to how to leverage your existing Facebook presence (which is decent, albeit, super-spammy and you leave a majority of inquiries from your fans largely unanswered) fill your floor with people who were likely there for the free booze and food (all of which, I’ll say again, were delicious) and not because they cared about anything other than those perks and the Broncos game in your sports bar.

When you assign a hash tag to a Denver or Boulder event, you can expect some Twitter trending. Like #igniteboulder. Like #defrag (a recent tech industry conference). Here’s what the #DBDenver hash tag looked like:

The bummer of it all is that I really AM their target demographic and they did a fantastic job with the remodel and rebranding, upping the real estate value of the brand all around. Gone are the TGI Friday’s-esque Tiffany lamps and picture-laden menus in favor of an environment I’d actually feel comfortable wearing a pair of kickass boots in on a date. But it takes more than just a cool new logo and a decor change to make sure your new brand promise (which at this point, I’m unclear as to exactly what it is for D&B’s) delivers on every level.

So Here’s the Redux, Dave and Buste(r/ed)

You invited me out to cover your relaunch. The press luncheon was everything I could have hoped for and a great use of my time. I left a renewed fan of your brand. Where the rubber never hit the road, however, was at the VIP launch party. The experience I had as a guest was confusing from the moment I step foot in the door, your Mixmasters – while supposedly my guide – were places used as makeshift tables and bars (and the location at the front door was abandoned). No one greeted me. No one told me where to go, what to do or expect. It was no different than walking into the old Dave & Buster’s on a regular Thursday night, except for (of course) the geishas and stilt walkers.

And above all, you ignored the key communities who could bring regular recurring revenue to your new, upscale and much more adult-oriented establishment: geeks and professionals. Geeks are digitally social, and you left a huge piece on the table when you ignored the Denver social scene. Professionals have money to spend (along with holiday parties…hullo?) and they were conspicuously absent from the evening’s festivities as well.

My advice moving forward, while you didn’t ask for it, is to get people on your team who understand how to integrate social into the more traditional marketing practices with which your legacy brand has been comfortable. Entertainment is social, and if you’re trying to figure out how to make the shift from being a “family” business to one that has a classier, more grown-up persona, you’re going to have to find a way to reach those people where they dwell. You’ll have to understand where it is they live and how they can communicate. I can make a list of 20 to 30 places in Denver and Boulder that your PR team never even thought to look for influencers, and that’s a bummer for you guys.

I dig what you did with the menu.

I still love to play video games.

Your Regional Director of Operations who coducted our press tour was, hands-down, the highlight of my entire experience due to his expertise, honesty, and poise.

And if I were Oak Hill Capital Partners (primary investors in D&B – venture capital firm), I’d be asking you for an accounting of what was spent, how, and how you’re going to track what comes of it. Because when you’re playing with Other People’s Money, especially VC and PE money (which I happen to know just a little bit about), it’s probably not in your best interests to blow it on geishas and party promoters. It’s probably a good time to do some research, dig in, and find the people who will love you when they have to start paying for food band booze.

Because THAT’S your real target demographic.

Here’s a slideshow of the pics I took during the VIP Press Luncheon so you can see how they’ve aesthetically upped their game – view the slideshow on Flickr here.

45 comments
Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin

So the party had flaws, but the main components of the rebrand were successful.  Can we separate the two?  Eliminate geishas and stilt-walkers, get all games on-line and get social media fixed and according to you all is well.  You love the food, booze, decor upgrades, etc, right?  The rest is fixable.  So while in the short term the party may have been sub-par or confused by your account, the rebranding can ultimately be very successful with these new offerings...

Tim Stich
Tim Stich

I went to Dave and Busters years ago when video arcades were starting to disappear in the 90s. Time Crisis II was certainly entertaining, and they had one other shooting game where you could dodge. Tiring, mind you. But damn, games could cost you $8-$10 for one go. Meh, considering you can play your own at home indefinitely and generally it's more interesting game play. So the game designers for arcade games are kind of screwing that one up for me. Not sure if that has changed.

April Johnson
April Johnson

(Excuse me for generalizing...There are SOME who are getting it.)  Knock, knock, Corporate America, the same old tired ways are no longer acceptable.  Really. Your pictures, Red, make me WANT to visit and try the place (Seems like it could be really fun for a group of friends or a date).  I suspect I would be gravely disappointed in the end.

Ginger Pelz
Ginger Pelz

Hehehe... I was also invited to this and might have come if I knew you were going! Alas, I was kind of turned off after the email called the event "history in the making." It's like two people wrote that one template email :)

Smithmonster
Smithmonster

Wow.  Plain and simple. If people are using social media to run their revolutions (you pick the spot, here or abroad), surely it can be used effectively to generate publicity for a relaunch????? I am not even on Twitter, but could probably generate more of a buzz (or feed) than their event did.  You blew it D&B...

Mike Masin
Mike Masin

That was the most expensive free lunch D&B ever served.

Cathy Cleary
Cathy Cleary

A delightfully put together Redhead Writing analysis of the epidemic of incompetence in business today. The Alice and the rabbit comments made me giggle out loud! You are the definition of fresh air, Erika!

SilkPurseProductions
SilkPurseProductions

Bravo! Bravo!  I don't live in Denver, I don't even live in the US. Apparently they have no clue how far reaching bad PR can spread. Knowing your following, my bags would be packed and I'd be on the first flight to pretty much anywhere that computers don't exist if I was that PR company.

Janine
Janine

Oh dear. How could they get so much so right, then.... If only this sort of thing were unusual. My hair salon had a client appreciation day. For their regular, presumably satisfied, clients. For months they had a sign up promising free services and coupons for discounts, along with "gourmet food and drink." Bagels and vegetable sticks, sparkling cider. No free services ("we don't have enough stylists to do that today"), coupons for 10% off your next service. No validation for parking ("since it wasn't a regular visit"). My new salon would never make that mistake.

Arif Gangji
Arif Gangji

Alright so on behalf of companies like D&B that obviously don't know how to source a proper PR firm.  Where do you start with making sure the firm knows their $hit when you don't know what questions to ask?   You knew the questions that made it very apparent but there's too many companies out there taking it in the shorts because they are clueless.

Josh Mishell
Josh Mishell

First: Baby, I'd let you play games with me all day, if you get my meaning. Second: I was also invited to this, but ended up having to work through the Media Luncheon. Sounds like I didn't miss much. My blog entry was going to be called "Is Dave & Busters better than my PS3?"

traci browne
traci browne

I have tried to talk many restaurant/club owners out of hiring Party Promoters for their openings.  All they do is bring a crowd of people who would go to the opening of an envelope if it had free booze. Here's the thing...restaurants don't like to pay for marketing expertise.  They think anyone can do it in their spare time.  Oh wait...what business has the fastest rate of going out of business in under six months???

Barbara | Creative Culinary
Barbara | Creative Culinary

I have never cared for D&B but I'm not a gamer and I've only been there for a group meal. Enough said? Why they were chosen is beyond me but it was expensive crap. That being said...it was your experience that had me both laughing and crying. Laughing at the report; crying with you over the ineptness of the establishment. I just hosted an event locally. Great restaurant, nice manager, food I love. I was asked by a brand to find a restaurant to showcase their product and invite 'influential' bloggers to come who would both expound on the restaurant but more importantly on the brand's product that the restaurant would use in the preparation of the dishes that evening. Everything was rolling smoothly until the restaurant's PR person got wind of it. We could have a drink and compare notes. The ineptness was astounding from changing the date after invites were proffered; insisting upon half the invitation list (and then not seeing but half  their allotted invites show while I had people I had to renege on and not one of those they invited has done one single solitary post or tweet that I've seen about the event) and managing to segue me out of the event even though I was officially listed as the event host. She stood and welcomed everyone, not me. Oh, did I forget to mention that the restaurant was paid IN FULL for the dinner. So when she started to advertise for events at their sister location I would have been appalled but by then it was pretty par for the course. The good news? The restaurant did a stellar job despite her...but I'm not quite sure I've experienced something like this before...when my great impression of a local spot was so severely tarnished by the very person hired to promote them. I wasn't in a position to bury them with my perspective but I had to control myself; she was the problem, not the location I selected. I'm taking my issue through back channels to the owners but I sure do love your method. Actually right now I'm nothing but jealous. If I had ever liked D&B in the first place, this would have severely impacted that impression!

Dave Van de Walle
Dave Van de Walle

I'm somehow reminded of the "Yada Yada" episode of Seinfeld. Thanks for mentioning the bisque.

The Redhead
The Redhead

The food was certainly incredible. No doubt. And I just wish the evening event had been on-par with my press luncheon experience. And while I doubt there will be follow-up from their side, I'll defs keep everyone in the loop should it happen, either way.

The Redhead
The Redhead

There's a ton of stuff thats great about their rebranding and I hope I addresses some of that. However, a great logo doesn't excuse you from delivering on the Ask for my time. Which is a huge freakin' ask. Of anyone :)

PJ Mullen
PJ Mullen

You really should have attached an invoice to this blog post. :)

Stacey Hood
Stacey Hood

Sounds like someone hired Tom Haverford for their party. Good job, red!

Paul Corsi
Paul Corsi

"Alice was nowhere to be found so I couldn’t even ask her". Too much Red

Kellie J. Walker
Kellie J. Walker

So, you were invited because you're local, you like to be social, and they wanted to take advantage of your Facebook & Twitter followers. But, the social space is so crowded you can't really reach people? Fail!

Mary
Mary

I am amazed, flabbergasted that the guy said: the social space is so crowded how do you really reach people. WHAT? I can only think about the multitude of coupons and events I find out about on facebook and twitter. Really, would I even have a social life but for them???

Edie Jiles
Edie Jiles

Great read! I agree with others here.  My first response was, DAMN, she's giving them free info on how to fix what the f*cked up!  you go girl!

Joe Fowler III
Joe Fowler III

I had to push the back button on my browser to make sure I wasn't in "The Bitch Slap" section. D&B deserve to be there for this cluster Fk. I am glad you're out there to give these people reality checks because it's pretty damn obvious they need it.

Lindsay Bell
Lindsay Bell

You're aware, of course, that you just gave away *hours* worth of advice in this post! LOL I'm going to print and file! Seriously though, you hit so many nails on the head here that I lost count. Just sad. Luncheon sounds great, and food pics are pure porn. Yum!  Time is money and it sure seems they wasted yours at the quote - VIP party - end quote. No guest list?? Crazy town. Rule #1 in entertainment is make people feel special and unique. Especially if you're looking for a little free press outta the deal. Ball soundly dropped on that one. Well said Erica - I look forward to hearing about followup (if any). Cheers, Lindsay 

Ed Mahoney
Ed Mahoney

I think D&B should in fact remunerate you for this feedback.

Jason Yormark
Jason Yormark

Epic f'ing blog post and doesn't surprise me in the least bit. Everyday I'm amazed at how many companies of all sizes still are clueless when it comes to how to integrate a social strategy into their marketing efforts.  I suppose that bodes well for us agency folk.