The Winning Strategy

It was a cold day in February—Valentine’s Day to be exact—and the town of Phoenix, Arizona, was descended upon by a bevy of legends in their own time, including NBA stars, film industry magnates, Grammy award-winners, and Fortune 500 CEOs. It was the NBA’s 58th annual All-Star Weekend. And while for basketball fans, it was a weekend chock-full of fun-filled contests centered around the hoops, for marketing-driven entrepreneurs, 2009’s holiday for lovers served as the ideal platform for promotions and brand attention.

Noah Tepperberg, CEO and cofounder of Strategic Group, was such a tycoon at the helm of the PR events for the All-Star Weekend. For the third year in a row Strategic Group teamed up with Jay-Z and LeBron James for the “Two Kings Dinner and After Party,” and—the most important part—presented by Sprite Green.

Jay-Z, the “King of Entertainment” (as well as part owner of the New Jersey Nets), along with LeBron, the “King of Sports,” cohost the Two Kings event each year, inviting the who’s who in business, entertainment, and sports to a private power dinner, which, this year, was held at The Phoenician in Scottsdale. Following the exclusive feast, the after-party began, and 500 more power players, including Beyonce, Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Jesse Jackson, John Legend, and Spike Lee, flooded the ballroom for the DJ beats, dancing, and drinks. This year, the nonalcoholic beverages came in the form of Sprite Green, the corporate sponsor who enlisted the help of the famous former club kid from New York City. Today, at 33 years old, Tepperberg’s reputation has evolved from that of mere party promoter into one that is revered throughout the nation as a mastermind of strategic planning. For this particular project, the carbonated company hired Tepperberg’s Strategic Group to help launch the new Sprite Green advertising campaign.

But it’s not all about marketing; philanthropy plays a part in the Two Kings event weekend as well. Earlier in the day, Sprite Green and the two kings stopped by the Mesa Arts Academy in Mesa, Arizona, to donate 150 musical instruments (including a signed piano) to the struggling school.

“They [Jay-Z and Lebron James] don’t hire us directly to do the event,” says Tepperberg. “Instead, what we do is, between their relationships and our relationships, we put together a corporate partnership. We found the venue, and we put together the deal between the brand, the hosts, and the venue. We coordinated the charity component, the dinner, and the party, we handled the guest list, and handled the PR for what turned out to be another fantastic event.”

And while the success of the entire weekend cannot be fully credited to the great Noah Tepperberg, the fact that the title of the event, “Sprite Green presents the 3rd Annual Jay-Z and Lebron James Two Kings Dinner and After Party” garnered more than 80 different print, web, and television mentions can certainly be ascribed to his business savvy. Calculations by Tepperberg’s Strategic Group indicate that those 80 mentions earned more than 1.4 million media impressions in a circulation pool of more than 1.1 million.

Tepperberg is not the only mogul mind running the show at Strategic Group. It is a multifaceted operation that he founded seven years ago with his longtime business partner and high school friend, Jason Strauss. The legend of the dynamic duo in New York City club lore is well documented as they have been in the business now for more than 15 years. The partners began as high school party promoters in the early 1990s, hosting some of the most decadent parties of the decade. The progression from adolescent club host to legitimate club owner did not take long, and two years after Tepperberg’s graduation from the University of Miami in 1997, he linked up with Strauss for their first venture as proprietors; their new baby was Conscience Point in the Hamptons, which they held onto for three years. (They sold the seasonal social hot spot after the summer of 2001, coincidentally the same summer that PR princess Lizzie Grubman notoriously backed her father’s Mercedes SUV into a crowd waiting at Conscience Point’s red ropes, screaming expletives at the doorman, and driving off into the night, leaving 16 injured victims in her wake.)

Shortly thereafter Tepperberg and Strauss opted out of club land and took their inherent event planning expertise to the next level with the creation of Strategic Group in 2002. “When we first started we were just an event firm. Then it grew to an events and consumer promotions firm doing projects for a lot of liquor brands,” explains Tepperberg. “We didn’t open the doors with a set business plan. We’re entrepreneurs, so it’s like we saw an opportunity and started a company to fill a gap in the marketplace.” The gap they filled offers clients a multi-tiered, one-stop shop for all aspects of brand identification, public relations, advertising, and event planning. In 2004, they brought in Seth Rodsky, the CAA marketing guru with his own legendary reputation, to enhance the marketing services of the firm. According to Tepperberg, the book definition of Strategic Group today is a full service marketing, promotion, and special events company that builds brand experiences for consumers and influencers through nightlife, entertainment, and lifestyle programs. “For example, when a company like Yahoo! wants to do an event, rather than hiring a company to do the creative, one to do the production, another to do the PR, one to bring the crowd, and another to bring the talent, they can just hire us. We have all of those divisions in house. It’s a no-brainer actually, and it makes it very seamless for our clients,” says Tepperberg.

The seamlessness for the clients is enhanced by the fact that Strategic Group operates six of their own venues on both the East and West Coasts. “Frequently, we’ll do these events at our own venues. So the management of the venues and the event companies are all in sync, as opposed to having all of these outside vendors coming in, which can make it not as organic for the client,” he says. “Obviously we do events and programs all throughout the country, not just at our own locales, but having our own venues also gives us an incredible amount of access, which is really unparalleled by any other firm in the industry. That is a key point of differentiation for us, and we are able to leverage that for our clients. It ultimately drives results, and we create really powerful experiences because of that.”

Marquee, their oldest club baby that opened in New York City in 2003, is certainly one of their most celebrated venues, with A-list celebrities waltzing through the notoriously guarded velvet ropes on a weekly basis. The fact that Marquee is in its sixth year of life and is just as frequented and written about today as it was in its infancy is a remarkable feat. “It takes a lot of work to keep it fresh and as popular as it was when it first opened,” Tepperberg explains. “The truth is that we have a phenomenal team there. It is beyond just Jason and I. It has truly become like the Cheers of nightclubs, and we fully expect to live out the length of our lease. We’re six years down and nine to go. But actually, if we only make it 10 total, then I’ll be happy, considering that three years is about the average lifespan for a nightclub.”

After Marquee, several other club children came into being under the Strategic Group umbrella, including Dune, a beach-chic nightclub in the Hamptons and their newest bundle of joy, the two-month old Avenue in New York, which they are billing as a gastrolounge. “Avenue is our jewel box,” says Tepperberg, making sure to emphasize that this venue is not a nightclub. “It’s a small, ultra exclusive lounge with a beautiful and sophisticated clientele.” The menu, which he describes as comfort food, includes tuna tartar, salad rolls, popcorn shrimp, and as Tepperberg described, a fantastic pretzel dog. “We’ve got an incredible chef. The food is served in small dinner boxes, so it’s not like going to a plated dinner at a sit-down, tablecloth restaurant. It’s more casual and the food is served until 4 a.m., so in addition to the early cocktail crowd, we also get a late-night munchie crowd.” The owners of Tao New York, Marc Packer and Rich Wolf, also brought them in to help oversee the operations at Tao and Tao Beach in Las Vegas, as well as Lavo, an Italian restaurant and Mediterranean-themed bathhouse nightclub in The Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas.

Additionally, for the past five years, Strategic Group has been in charge of the operations for the Bridgehampton Polo Club, making for a very busy summer in 2009. “Strategic Group has a long term agreement with Peter Brandt and Neil Hirsch to run the matches; handle the production of the event, the VIP tent, the guest list, the PR, the talent management; and all of the sponsor procurement,” he says. “This year we have had record turnout with more than 3,000 people over two weekends. It’s THE social event of the summer out in the Hamptons and luckily there’s six weeks of it, so we have a big web to catch a lot of the great people who come through the Hamptons.”

There are many new projects on the drawing boards for Tepperberg, Strauss, and Rodsky at Strategic Group, but like the well-trained marketing whiz that he is, Tepperberg is careful not to prematurely mention them. It stands to reason that with Strategic Group’s many creative layers and leaders, we will be hearing and reading about them again soon.