When Guerrilla Marketing Met the LAPD
There are many ways to capture the attention of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Aiming a massive white light toward the sky can probably be added to the list. At least that's the story of 29-year-old Greg Cayea, a public relations and marketing guru who's producing next month's edgy Carpe Noctis theater festival in Hollywood.
He told us he's been looking to get a lot of bang for his marketing buck, and that's what led him to a stunt that might have drawn the attention of the world's preeminent airborne cops:
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It was 7 p.m. on Aug. 29 when Cayea and a small crew headed out with a rented U-Haul truck filled with a generator, a commercial-grade spotlight, and other gear.
Cayea said he kept a police scanner tuned to the digital frequencies used by the LAPD so he could get some warning if cops were coming for him. He and his crew, he said, dressed all in black, ninja-style.
The team backed the U-Haul into an alley off Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue and started the operation.
Cayea says he had created a stencil so that the words "Carpe Noctis" and the festival's website address would be highlighted and projected on a neighboring structure.
They flipped a switch on the generator, and aimed the light at a tall, adjacent storage building so the message could be seen far and wide, he said.
Unfortunately, the light flickered, Cayea said. The website information was hard to make out and, at times, didn't materialize at all, he said.
"We were live tweeting, but you couldn't see the site and the light was flickering on and off," he said. "We felt silly."
But the show must go on.
The team toughed it out for a few hours, taking advantage of that Friday night Hollywood traffic. But then, sometime before 10 p.m., an LAPD helicopter showed up, Cayea said.
"The helicopter starts circling around the building, then it gets lower, then it puts the spotlight on us," he said. "We grabbed all our stuff and we bounced. We didn't know if it was there for us."
Apparently, it was, Cayea said.
"The helicopter followed us for three or four blocks," he said. "I had jumped in the back with a friend, and we couldn't close the [U-Haul] door all the way. The whole setup was not broken down. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of lighting was in the back, and we were trying to keep it all from falling over."
The driver ducked into a 7-Eleven parking lot, he said, "then we sped off." Soon the crew realized the police "were gone," he said.
To this day Cayea wonders if the LAPD air unit really had zeroed in on he and his crew.
We called the LAPD's Air Support Division, where a supervisor said there's no documentation to show that the helicopter was there that night.
However, he told us this:
We shine our light on a lot of things. This just means it wasn't important enough that they felt the need to log it.
When Cayea and his people took the portable electricity generator they used that night back to the rental business from which it came, they discovered that they had missed a switch that night, he said. This is what caused the flickering and the incomplete illumination, he said.
He learned a few other lessons, he said. Chief among them is that guerrilla marketing, though it's often cheaper than the traditional route, isn't always worth it.
"I was almost positive that the entire city was going to see this," Cayea said. "But I'd be surprised if 10 people made out what we were doing."
On the other hand, talk about exhilaration.
"It was awesome," he said.