Flash Lit at the Boston Book Festival (secret document released)

FlashLit from the Boston Book Festival | IndiegogoI’ve been trying to raise money for the Boston Book Festival, specifically a project called Flash Lit.

Apparently, I’m not good at this.

I present for your delectation and criticism the document I send to several people in the marketing world.

You, reader, have several assignments.

1) Please let me know what I did wrong with this pitch.

2) If you like the sound of this project, please come make a contribution at Indiegogo.


Dear Eric,

I am on the Visioning Board of the Boston Book Festival, and they are working on a project I’d like you to participate in.  I think there is a marketing/sponsorship opportunity here, but see what you think.

The Boston Book Festival (BBF) is calling the project Guerrilla Storytelling Flash Lit.  To celebrate the Festival (in October), BBF wants to send actors into Boston bars undercover.  The idea is that the actors will be indistinguishable at first from every other patron at the bar, but eventually two actors will raise their voices ever so gradually as they play out a famous scene from a novel, play or movie.  Eventually, their voices will subside and things will return to normal.

It’s a little like a smart mob, only more literary, or at least more talkative.

The idea is to win exposure for the Festival, to make literary creativity visible outside the halls of the Festival, in a sense to return some of the creativity invented in bars to the place they got started.

The Festival will use several bars, some upscale and downtown, others downscale and around town.

I think this event works best as a subtle marketing play for the Boston Book Festival and its sponsors.  The idea is to make the event come and go like a mirage.  So no big posters or public declarations.  Everything works by word of mouth.  People planted in the crowd and the bartender will be standing by to help explain that they think “this has something to do with the Boston Book Festival and [sponsor’s name here].”

I like the guerrilla storytelling Flash Lit project for a lot of reasons.  It’s is a pretty spectacular reinvention of the commercial message, and a dandy way for a brand to enter the life of the consumer.  It helps “re-enchant the world” to use Max Weber’s language.  It’s an exercise in “experiential marketing” to use Joseph Pine’s phrase.  It is a way to generate word of mouth and to participation in the new “conversation” that is marketing (Cluetrain Manifesto).  It’s also a chance for the brand to be part of the new great wave of interest in storytelling that we’re seeing everywhere in the marketing world. In short, Guerrilla Storytelling Flash Lit feels like an opp with some oomph. It’s a way to make the brand vivid in the life of the consumer and the culture.

Our assumption here is that everyone who has been present for one of these events will have to talk about it.  And tell their friends.  Finally a meme that really does act like a virus! The less the event is explained, the more speculation will follow.  The more eager will be the buzz.

Given its breadth and sophistication, it feels like [Eric’s firm] is a natural partner for this experiment.   And I wanted to see if indeed you think [Eric’s firm] might want a first crack at sponsorship.)

There are three faces to the value being created here.

First, this investment can be justified and perhaps written off as a philanthropic gesture.

Second, it can be justified for the publicity. (Details below.)

Third, this is marketing history in the making. (I will be in place over the week the storytelling happens, in as many of the venues as I can get to, and I am happy to write this up the experiment, gratis.  If you can make it to Boston, we can do this work together)

I believe this is one of the futures of branding.   I think we can imagine a time when spirits brands routinely sponsor public events of this kind, bring new life to pubs and bars, a new heightened expectation of “what’s going to happen tonight.”  Spirits have been selling the “excitement,” “enchantment,” “magic” of night life for a very long time.  This reactivates and reinvents the claim.

I think there is a big “first mover” advantage to be had here for the brand that sponsors this event.  To be a partner in the birth of this kind of marketing, to get the early learnings, to stake out this ground, must I think deliver big benefits.

Three questions:

1.  What are your thoughts on the project?

2.  Do you think [your firm] might want to be involved?

3.  To whom should I direct the pitch?

The participation fee is  modest, around $30,000.

Anyhow, I would love to hear your thoughts and if you think [your firm] might be interested, I’d be grateful for the name of the person I can pitch.



Post scripts:

A description of the Boston Book Festival

The Boston Book Festival celebrates the power of words to stimulate, agitate, unite, delight and inspire. In 2012, the Boston Book Festival brought over 25,000 people to Copley Square to enjoy a day packed with presentations by such luminaries as the Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel, Pulitzer Prize winners Junot Diaz and Richard Ford, and nearly 150 other world-renowned authors and thought leaders as well as a street fair, live music, workshops, open mic, Writer Idol, and kids’ sessions and activities.  Publishers Weekly called the Boston Book Festival “one of the best in the country” after its second year.

A description of additional benefits of sponsorship.


• Full-page ad in 10,000 Festival Program Guides


• Logo on all print advertisements (2 million+ reach)

• Logo on 200 MBTA subway cards

• Logo on 10 MBTA subway platform posters

• Acknowledgment in 8–10 radio spots on WBUR

• Acknowledgment in 8–10 radio spots on WBZ, WODS, WBMX


• Logo on 10’ x 14’ banner on façade of Boston Public Library

• Logo and link placement on BBF homepage (54,000 visitors in October 2012)

• Logo featured on 1000 promotional posters distributed throughout New England

• Name mention in all BBF-generated press releases and wherever sponsored events are listed


• Name/website link on 4 email blasts to BBF list (5,000+ members)

• 6 tweets to our 6500 followers with name mentions and 2 day-of tweets driving traffic to booth

• 2 Facebook posts with name mention


• 12 invitations to exclusive cocktail party with BBF authors/presenters Friday night before BBF

• 4 VIP All-Day Access Passes (preferred seating at all events, all day long)

• 6 VIP Single Event Passes (preferred seating at one event)


Daniel Jones of the Boston Book Festival is the creator of Flash Lit and the Indiegogo website.  The image I have used above is taken from the video on the Indiegogo website and shows Adrienne Chamberlin.  This video was created by  John Lavall and Kate Kelley of Delvo Media.  Thanks to Shanae Burch and Tyler Catanella for their performance of a passage from Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

3 thoughts on “Flash Lit at the Boston Book Festival (secret document released)

  1. Rick Liebling


    The pitch itself is fine. Fine in that it sounds like a dozen+ type ideas I’ve seen (or come up with myself) that go nowhere. In my experience, there are several reasons for this:

    It’s not an idea people can wrap there head around easily. Or at least not as easily as something they’ve already done a hundred times and know the ROI of. $30K for that? I could just throw a killer party, or buy four season tix to the Patriots and schmooze people there.

    Second, the concept is missing something. While it sounds exciting on paper, the truth is that the vast majority of people who experience it live will either A) ignore it (hey, it’s a crowded bar), B) see it and not give one fig, or C) forget about it within five minutes of the conclusion of the experience.

    To really stick, you’ve got to think like

    Carlsberg – http://youtu.be/eNqTnIsNx3Y

    Heineken – http://youtu.be/j5Ftu3NbivE

    Coca-Cola – http://youtu.be/RDiZOnzajNU

    “But those are all massive brands with huge budgets!” I hear you bemoan and/or lament. Well, yes. The Internet is so saturated with free, awesome content you’ve really got to go all in to break through.

    So, my suggestion would be: don’t just hire two actors from the local theater company. Hire Famke Janssen and Michael K. Williams. Or even better, hire some actor from a Joss Whedon show that has a massive fanboy following.

    Still way out of your budget, got it. You’ve got to add something to the idea. Something that will make people desperately want to pull out their phones, start filming, and load to YouTube, FB, Twitter.

    I have some thoughts on a partner and a possible sponsor. Email me.

  2. laura

    Hi Grant,

    This project sounds fascinating to me, and the way you’ve presented it is very intriguing. Apparently, I’m not very good at fundraising either, but since I’ve sent out lots of sponsor letters over the past months, here are some thoughts.

    1. Length. Most of the guys who make the decisions are busy. My guess is that for them the letter is too long and difficult to read. Putting the details at the end in the post script is good, especially since they go a way to explain the price tag. I don’t know Eric, but I usually approach people assuming that they probably don’t care about all the amazingly fantastic details of my project that delight me. For example, don’t write a paragraph when one sentence (“It’s also a chance for the brand to be part of the new great wave of interest in storytelling that we’re seeing everywhere in the marketing world.” or “This is marketing history in the making.”) will do.

    2. Be clear. In reading the letter I wasn’t sure if you’re offering Eric the chance to participate and potentially influence the project concept, or if he can just sign on as a sponsor to help fund it and benefit from the advertising. Strait and to the point. I also try to be very specific with each request (each request is different), explaining very clearly why the organization I’m writing to should be interested in the project. That may be what you were trying to do with the paragraphs I said were too long, but without knowing the details, I couldn’t be sure.

    3. Give a strong message. Don’t ask if they “might want to be involved,” be bold, erase that “might.” As good academics or scientists we are often constantly open to challenges that will allow us to improve, refine or change our models and ideas. However, I think asking for money is not one of the times this habit serves us well. It’s better to show confidence here than humility. (Again, YMMV)

    It occurs to me that I am being somewhat bold in offering this constructive criticism, given that my own approach has yet to prove its success. I may also have overlooked a difference in culture; people working at organizations dealing with humanities and the arts (literature) may have a different approach and be expecting this level of detail. In my situation, this seems not to be the case. Some sponsors even ask me to explain my project in 50 words or less!

    Good luck. I’m looking forward to seeing your write-up of the performances.

  3. Joe Pine

    Grant, do take Laura’s advice on the letter, and Rick makes good points, and something a bit more exciting in the actual experience would be good — such as not two, but 6 or 12 people in on it, some of whom could do, say, stage lighting, filming, and even just applause at the end. And you must involve the bar patrons (the audience) in some way, such as getting them to do something as part of the show (helping out in some way).

    But note in the (yes, very expensive) examples Rick cites it’s not the experience itself that gets the notice and PR — that only gets his (A), (B), or (C) — it’s the filming of it and posting on YouTube and other social media that gets the notice and creates the effect that you want. Otherwise, don’t do it.

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