One night, when Jim Bailey walked out of his office on the third floor of the Coca-Cola Consolidated office building in SouthPark, he knew his time with the company was coming to an end. With mixed emotions he exited the building into the moonlit night, and walked to his car.
The future was full of opportunity, and he knew he’d be taking some of Coke’s marketing experience with him, but it would be hard to let go of the fierce brand loyalty he had developed over the nearly 20 years he had invested in the brand.
With these thoughts on his mind, Bailey looked up at his office from the parking lot. He had left the light on, and through its glow he could see, in one corner of the window, the giant red Coca-Cola button that hung on his wall. It looked like a large red moon illuminating the inside of his office.
In that moment was born the idea for a company that would remain grounded in the Coca-Cola culture, even maintaining offices inside a Coke building, but that would eventually spread its glow over many other endeavors—a diverse and dynamic business that would illuminate the market with lively events backed by a full complement of marketing and PR services. And that company would be named Red Moon Marketing.
When the Coca-Cola System reorganized Bailey’s department in 2002, a good segment of his responsibilities were moved to the parent company in Atlanta. But Bailey had three children in school in Charlotte and didn’t want to uproot them.
“So I talked to Frank Harrison, chairman of Consolidated and a good friend of mine,” remembers Bailey. “He gave me some great advice about how to go out on my own while still helping Coke during their transition.”
“A couple months after the Coca-Cola re-organization,” says Bailey, “people heard that I was out and about, and we had a wonderful chance to start doing some work for other folks.”
At first, the company was a one-man show. But he wasn’t alone, really. An old friend, Greg Mercer, came to join him. Then came Shyloe Cummings, Greg Luehrs and Jimmy Harte, who had all worked with him at Coca-Cola. He couldn’t afford to pay large salaries, though; they all drove vehicles themselves and helped with events.
In 2003, he was able to bring Cummings into the company as a full-time paid employee. As word spread that Red Moon was the go-to company for branding events, Bailey was soon able to hire Luehrs, Mercer and Harte as well.
“Once these folks showed up,” says Bailey, “we grew exponentially. I would say if it wasn’t for these four people, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as we are right now.”
First the Coca-Cola / Winn-Dixie account team, then the Coca-Cola / Eckerd account team, then Harris Teeter hired Red Moon. The business grew quickly the early years were exhilarating, but they were not easy.
The event marketing industry is challenging to employees because it requires a large amount of travel and unusual working hours. Additionally, the Red Moon team was determined to hire new employees carefully, and that takes time. Frequently, the need for a new employee arose many months before the right person could be identified for the position.
So at first, Bailey, and his key friends and employees, ran both the business and the vehicles. The hours were grueling, but the team were like family. And because of their care in hiring, new employees become like family too. Now, at 18 employees, Red Moon Marketing continues to be tight-knit.
The company specializes in designing and implementing brand-building events, including a wide array of traveling exhibits for companies like Harris Teeter, Jack Daniel’s, and Fetzer Vineyards.
Harris Teeter was one of their first major clients. The grocery chain enjoys a strong presence in Charlotte, and in the early 2000s they were looking to expand their footprint. They turned to Red Moon to pave the way. The first step was to promote their Together in Education program, which allows parents and educators to earn money for their schools when they purchase Harris Teeter brand products and use their VIC cards.
To build awareness and participation in the program, Red Moon drove a bus to schools in the targeted area and implemented fun, educational programs for the students, encouraging them to have their parents sign up for the program so their school could receive the funds, and then drove to a nearby store to encourage shoppers to sign up.
“So we took that little bus all over,” remembers Cummings, “and that was what started our relationship with Harris Teeter. We were then able to grow our business with them.” Red Moon now additionally manages the Harris Teeter Rancher truck, several ice cream trucks and the e-VIC mobile, plus a Red Moon employee works on-site at Harris Teeter corporate to help coordinate their mobile marketing and sports marketing efforts.
The lobby of Red Moon marketing is decorated, predictably, in shades of red. It boasts trophies and trinkets from various successful endeavors. On one shelf rests a NASCAR helmet emblazoned with the words, “Drink Responsibly.”
Luehrs recalls that’s when they began working with Jack Daniel’s. NASCAR had just repealed the rules that had banned spirit companies from sponsoring teams, and Jack Daniel’s was eager to get into the game. The brand’s parent company, Brown-Forman, hired Red Moon to help interview teams (they chose Richard Childress Racing), activate the sponsorship, and execute a mobile marketing experience for NASCAR events. The partnership escalated Red Moon’s reach and allowed them to add significant staff.
Red Moon merchandised the Jack Daniel’s Experience, a “distillery on wheels” inside a tractor trailer, which is driven to events and opened for public tours. Visitors see how the product is made, learn a little bit about Mr. Jack, view demonstrations, and talk to representatives. What they don’t get are any free samples. (Sorry, fans!)
That fact highlights an important aspect of the Jack Daniel’s branding effort. NASCAR requires spirit brands to devote at least 25 percent of advertising space to messages about responsibility. It’s a commitment both Jack Daniel’s and Red Moon take seriously.
In fact, Red Moon has its own strict policy regarding drinking: “Enjoy the first one, sip the second, decline the third,” says Bailey.
For Red Moon, responsibility goes beyond simply not drinking and driving. Their commitment to doing right by their clients, by the public in general, and by the environment, resonates in everything they do. For instance, they have an office policy of delivering documents electronically when possible (at the bottom of every company e-mail: “Please don’t print this unless you really need to”).
More significantly, many of their customer events center on environmentally friendly activities and healthy lifestyles. The Red Moon team volunteered to convert used Coca-Cola syrup barrels into recycling bins for schools. A comment under a Facebook photo says: “All 38 CMS middle schools now have recycling barrels thanks to Coca-Cola.”
One particularly successful recycling project, that has been picked up and expanded into additional cities, began with Coke’s commitment to improve their image as a good community citizen. The project, called “Recycle and Win,” involved stickers and instructions to more than 260,000 Mecklenburg County residents, encouraging proper recycling behaviors.
“If you want to participate,” explains Harte, “you stick the sticker on your recycling bin. Then our Prize Patrol rides around looking for stickers.” Residents who have the sticker and are recycling properly, receive a $100 Harris Teeter gift card.
“We wanted people to know that Coke cares about the same things that they care about,” says Harte. The program was so successful that Raleigh, and soon other cities, began requesting it in their municipalities too.
The Red Moon Way
Combined, Red Moon boasts many decades of event marketing expertise, but they are not resting on their laurels. In fact, the leadership team agrees that the one thing setting them apart is a strong commitment to constant improvement.
“There isn’t anybody in this room that can’t be better tomorrow than they are today,” says Bailey. “And very frankly, if you’re aggressively and creatively trying to solve problems, and come up with good innovative business building solutions, you’re going to make a few mistakes.”
At Red Moon, all feedback—good, bad and neutral—is considered positive feedback. Their commitment to learning from every experience expresses itself in the evaluation documents created for every event. Each evaluation includes an overview of the event’s goals, related events, measurable results, outline of any challenges or negative events, photographs, and both a Red Moon and a customer rating of the event.
Evaluations are developed by the activation team from each event. The Red Moon culture is so committed to delivering them in a timely fashion that an activation team may return from an event late into the night and still show up to the office first thing the next morning to prepare the evaluation.
A theme that runs through much of what Red Moon does is partnership. A sense of family and working together pervades the company, even outside the circumstance of two of its principals (Cummings and Luehrs) being married. Having traveled extensively together and putting so much heart into all their endeavors, everyone tends to look out for each other.
Perhaps their own sense of partnership is what makes the company so good at fostering relationships among businesses and governments. They connect schools and community organizations with companies that can help them financially while benefitting from the accompanying positive brand associations, and they partner businesses that can help each other increase sales and brand recognition.
Most of this partnership ends up benefitting the community considerably. For instance, they partnered Coca-Cola with PAL (the Police Activities League) to refurbish a basketball court, so officers can play basketball with at-risk youth while helping them learn the skills they need to stay in school and succeed in life.
The Next Phase
Like most companies, Red Moon has taken a few hits from the economy. Jack Daniel’s discontinued the NASCAR program, and several clients either went out of business or reduced the number of their activities. But the company has not had to lay anyone off and, in fact, they may be hiring again soon.
“Right now we’re seeing a lot of people looking to get back into the event world,” says Luehrs. “They may not be as big a project as NASCAR, like we were used to a couple years ago, but it’s project by project, and I think we will continue to see that grow.”
Red Moon expects to expand its other marketing services, especially graphic design and social media. They have experience in bringing products from nothing to multi-million dollar brands, and it’s an area they’d like to grow.
“As our activation team members get married and want to have kids, and maybe aren’t wanting to be on the road all the time anymore,” says Cummings, “I think it would be great to have a home for them here, because they’re already familiar with the Red Moon way.” Growing the non-event marketing services are opening up those opportunities.
Whatever the next five years bring, Bailey is looking forward to it. “In my wildest imagination,” he says, “I would never have believed that we could keep the integrity of people and the fun family atmosphere going the way we have.
“It doesn’t really matter how much money we make or what big accounts we get, if we can leave a positive impression on customers, vendors and partners the way our people are doing right now… that’s just a joy to watch.”