Magazine article The New Yorker

Spreading the Word

Magazine article The New Yorker

Spreading the Word

Article excerpt

SPREADING THE WORD

It can be tough, in these days of promoted tweets and pop-up notifications, to capture someone's attention. Kaluk, a troupe of branding consultants-cum-street performers, mostly from Red Hook and all under the age of twenty-five, offers, according to the group's Web site, "a playful touch of theatricality to get your brand noticed in a crowd." As dusk fell at Louis Valentino Jr. Park, overlooking the Red Hook Channel, several members arrived early for a public movie night, a screening of "The Incredibles," sponsored by local businesses. The marketers leaned against a wall, wearing black-and-orange T-shirts that read "Spread the Word."

The Kaluk team, weary of digital ploys, promotes products the old-fashioned way: with spectacle. "People on Facebook, they don't look at stuff," one of the group's founders, a twenty-year-old named Luis Fernandez, said, at the park. "Or they do, but what would you remember? That or this ?" He pointed to one of his cohorts, who was putting on a robot costume. "The marketing that we do is not regular marketing," he went on. "We're not boring. I'm not trying to insult other marketing, but, it's, like, they're so basic. They don't take chances."

Fernandez and some friends were students at South Brooklyn Community High, a transfer school for kids who've dropped out, when they became known as the Hype All Stars--they could be counted on to rev up a crowd. The school is operated, in part, by Good Shepherd Services, a family-support agency. Reg Flowers, who coordinated its community outreach, helped the hype crew start a business. Aida Pedroza, Fernandez's co-founder, was quickly on board: "You're about to graduate high school, and someone says, 'Do you want to create your own business?' Of course."

Kaluk officially launched this summer. (The name is an acronym for the names of the early joiners.) Good Shepherd provides space for the group's headquarters, at a community center in Red Hook. For the past year, the Kalukers--there are now ten of them--have gathered for weekly training sessions, taught by volunteers and by Good Shepherd staff. There were lessons in budget-planning, accounting, and improv. Flowers taught role-playing. "Having a master's in theatre from Yale is really useful," he said. "A lot of it is creating live-action commercials on the street." Kaluk is a workers' cooperative--everybody shares ownership. "I hate pyramids," Fernandez said. "I don't want to be at the top. I'm more of a chill dude. …

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