Who’d have thought being chased by zombies would stoke such a spark among the living — and wallet-carrying — consumer?
When he came up with the idea of staging an adventure race that involves zombies chasing humans, Ryan Hogan, co-owner of Reed Street Productions, wasn’t exactly sure the idea would come to life. In fact, the whole reason he woke up the living dead to begin with was to boost promotions for his second company, War Wear, which sold athletic apparel.
“I didn’t realize off the bat that this would take off,” Hogan said, “but we started using social media, and we designed a logo.”
Before Hogan started formally marketing, he sold the first ticket to “Run for Your Lives,” a 5K race in which participants make their way through obstacles while being chased by role-playing zombies.
In less than a year, Hogan expanded the first Run for Your Lives to more than a dozen cities nationwide, all because hundreds of thousands of runners were willing to pay $77 per ticket to race a 5K while avoiding actors in zombie makeup. The zombies try to grab flags from the belts of runners that represent the runners’ health.
There’s nothing weird about the results: The company, now in its second year, is notching toward the $10 million revenue mark.
At this point, Reed Street Productions, like a zombie, has a life of its own — a good thing since Hogan, as soon as he earns his degree from the University of Maryland through an ROTC scholarship, will be leaving for military flight school.
Reed Street Productions will be in the hands of his business partner Derrick Smith — a childhood friend who grew up with Hogan on, where else, Reed Street — while War Wear has been liquidated.
Cupid’s Cup Winner
Hogan’s idea and, even more, his business acumen, caught the eye of the judges in University of Maryland’s annual business competition.
Reed Street Productions captured first place in the 2012 Cupid’s Cup, earning a $17,500 prize.
Each year the contest attracts nearly 50 applicants, said Elana Fine, associate director of the university’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Applicants must be either current University of Maryland students or alumni who have graduated within the past five years.
Cupid’s Cup began in 2006, founded and supported by University of Maryland graduate Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of the athletic apparel company Under Armour.
The competition got its name from one of Plank’s early entrepreneurial ventures, a Valentine’s Day rose sale business called Cupid’s Valentine that he started while he was an undergraduate. The small business earned Plank more than $20,000 during his four years at the university.
“What is so compelling about Reed Street Productions is how quickly they were able to pull off very popular events — and build a lot of revenue around these events,” said Fine.
Social Media Among the Living
The marketing strategy for Run for Your Lives relied heavily on social media, with its Facebook page earning first place in the Baltimore Business Journal’s “Biz Buzz” awards for social media.
“I do think that social media is one of our greatest assets in building popularity for our event,” said Matt Hodges, a graphic designer who manages some of Reed Street’s social media outlets. “We have a very strong team behind our Facebook page, constantly updating, promoting and answering questions.”
The page, which helped draw 10,000 participants to the inaugural Run for Your Lives event in Darlington, was developed by Owings Mills ad agency MGH. The page allowed race managers to interact with prospective runners, pass along pertinent race data and engage fans of the edgy zombie genre.
Fans, Friends and Phones
The phone at Reed Street Productions is generally ringing constantly. At least some of those calls are people who now want to work for “those zombie race people.” The once obscure small business now has a sea of résumés for each job opening.
“It’s constant, and it’s amazing how excited and enthusiastic the job candidates are,” said Michele Boeri, Reed Street’s human resources director.
As for the Cupid’s Cup, entrepreneurs are already looking at 2013. Reed Street Productions beat out 10G Systems, a web-based transportation software provider; Route One Apparel, an e-commerce platform for creative apparel designed by students; Visisonics, provider of realistic 3-D audio for music, movies and gaming in standard headphones; and runner-up Food Safety Administration, a provider of online courses for food service professionals required to earn food and alcohol safety certifications (winner of the $7,500 second prize).