A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Bill Kelley

A Northwest Indiana Life in the Spotlight: Bill Kelley

The key component to a successful project is to have someone in control like Bill Kelley who genuinely appreciates every aspect of connecting comedy acts, classics, kid shows and more. Kelley is head of Marketing and Promotions for the Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana.

Kelley began interactions with entertainment at the age of 15 when he began playing the drums. He is a native of Hobart, Indiana where he grew up with his two older brothers. Kelley’s brothers played drums, but he wanted his own set. He asked his mother to purchase him a set from Glen Park Music. He says he did not know how she was able to pay for them, but this began the launch of his career. He later became a member of Little Lover Band. The Band tours around the region playing at places like Leroy’s and Marcos in Portage and for various venues such as the Fourth July festival in Cedar Lake.

After high school Kelley attended Purdue University, West Lafayette, where he majored in Communications. He jokingly says he was on the 5-year plan because he was in no hurry to get out. After graduation Kelley says he ran away and joined the circus, working for Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey where he promoted for the Circus and Disney on Ice (now known as Feld Entertainment) for two years. He describes working for the circus as a great opportunity, situationally equivalent to “Harvard Business School of Promoting.”

"Working for Ringling Brothers, I was known as the “advance man,” responsible for “putting butts in the seats.”," said Kelley. "We would go to the market about sixteen weeks in advance, set up the ticketing, coordinate the box office, draw up the marketing plans, handle ticket giveaways and work with the charity organizations. There were lots to learn and lots of travel involved."

Kelley also says he was on the road 365 days a year. When his father became ill, Kelley said he had to jump off the road to return home.

After ten years, in 1998, Kelley returned to promoting, working for a contact in the circuit. He had a contract with the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont Illinois. Kelley became part of a team as a promoter and he eventually sold his business to SFX Entertainment, later becoming Clear Channel, handling the concert division and later joined Live Nation, working there for 10 years.

Working at Rosemont was different. The majority of events were concerts, shows for both the Arena and the Theatre. The makeup was mostly family shows like Rugrats, Grease and Broadway type musicals. Kelley also coordinated Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The performance included 40 shows during the period from November to Christmas.

While working for Live Nation, Kelley was responsible for promoting all the big shows that were in town over the summer, at bigger venues like Alpine Valley, now the Casino Amphitheatre, First Midwest Bank, the United Center, Allstate Arena and the Northerly Island Concert Pavilion.

After five years, Kelley’s relationship with Madison Square Garden progressed into an employment opportunity working at the Chicago Theatre (Madison Square Garden is the owner of both Radio City Christmas Spectacular and the Chicago Theatre). Kelley commuted to Chicago for five years which translated into a lot of time in his car listening to the radio, thinking and working long hours. Ultimately, management at Star Plaza reached out to Kelley seeking someone to fulfill the position in marketing.

After some deliberation, and considering the fact that a 90-minute commute could be reduced to 12 minutes, Kelley took advantage of the unique business opportunity. His daughter Lillian was only 2 at the time and this meant less travel and more time to spend at home. The same skills he had utilized at the Rosemont, Live Nation, and Chicago carried over to Star Plaza.

Kelley has been with the Star Plaza for almost 3 years (January 2016). Attempting to describe a typical day, Kelley says there is no such thing; it’s called an anything can happen day. Some of the things he must focus on are what needs to be done next; what’s next on the burner; the next sale; addressing low ticket sales and what fire needs to be put out. No matter what, Kelley says the show must go on. He recalled how a storm lifted the stage for a Nsync concert and he had to locate a new venue and the ice storm that prevented two acts from getting to the Star Plaza.

Charlie Blum, the Booking Agent for Star Plaza, interacts with agents and managers and is responsible for booking the Theatre. Once the show is confirmed Kelley reaches out to the agency that handles the act, draws up the marketing plan, sets the date and ticket prices. The process includes placing the information on the website, media outreach for television and radio advertisements, establishing ticket sales through Ticketmaster. Media outreach can be as far south as Indianapolis, eastward to South Bend, North to Chicago and as far west as Joliet, Illinois.

Landscape changes such as casinos, the Chicago market, and entertainment companies pose competitive risks. Kelley says he has to put on his thinking cap to figure out how to creatively reach people and get those “butts in the seats.” In spite of the challenges, Kelley says he has a mission to accomplish and he still finds it exciting.

Kelley is married to Kim. They have one daughter, Lillian, age 5. At the end of December, Kelley will leave Little Lover Band to spend more time with Lilly who enjoys soccer, loves music, ballet, dance and singing. Kelley says when he is not at work he will be on the sidelines coaching his daughter.