Jan 28, 2013
Spotlight On: San Diego
Bringing ‘decortainment’ to the masses
Sandi Masori, owner of Balloon Utopia in San Diego, lives and breathes balloons. There are three rooms of her home dedicated to the business, as well as the garage and a good portion of their backyard. In fact, she’s not sure there’s a room that doesn’t have some balloons in it.
“We are home based, but this is a full-time business for us, and putting up our website in 2000 allowed us to develop a very established corporate presence,” Masori said. “We provide balloon entertainment, face painting and arts and crafts stations on the entertainment side of the business, and balloon decor, some light florals and marketing services on the decor side.”
Masori has done everything with balloons – from decorating Major League Baseball ceremonies to publishing a best-selling book and educational videos – but it all started with a little bit of magic.
Masori started as an entertainer doing balloons and magic and was brought to Japan as part of a magic show. She stayed on to work on her own and found an agent who booked her out for a variety of interesting gigs ranging from a general’s birthday celebration to an amusement park show to restaurant work and everything in-between.
“After I was in Japan for about a year, I decided to move to Israel where I was written up in the news and on a couple of TV shows,” Masori said. “Back then there weren’t that many people doing balloons, and being a blond American with a funny accent in my broken Hebrew made me something of a novelty.”
While she was in Israel a couple of big things happened. One was that she met her husband, who pitched in to help one day when her assistant couldn’t make it and remains in that role to this day. The other thing was that Chris Horne came to Israel to teach a decor class. At the time Masori was strictly an entertainer, but figured she would take the class to see if there were new ways she could use balloons in her show.
“About a week later someone called and wanted us to decorate a Bar Mitzvah, and so we began offering decor as well,” she said. “We try to integrate the two sides of the balloon industry together as much as possible. Bringing twisted accents into decor really expands the possibilities and level of detail that can be achieved.”
In 2000, they moved from Israel back to Masori’s hometown of San Diego and opened up under the name Balloon Utopia. And while it would seem balloons and marketing services don’t seem to go together, Masori has been intensively studying marketing for the past four years and offers that service to clients.
“We get a lot of calls for trade shows and grand openings and I noticed that many of them were not effectively capturing leads,” Masori said. “So we use an automated system to get people to opt-in to the marketing campaign via text message, and then the system automatically follows up with those prospects via text, email and voicemail before they’ve even left the event.”
Masori said the thing she’s most excited about (and pushing to clients) is the concept of the balloons as a marketing vehicle.
“Yes, they’re still beautiful and artistic and create an ambiance, but they can also carry messages, create focal points, help people navigate the event, tell people what to do-like opt into a marketing list-and invite people to take pictures to be used on social media and shared after the event,” Masori said. “We want our clients to see us not just as the balloon company, but as a marketing partner.
“I actually wrote a book on the connection of balloons and marketing – ‘The Ultimate Guide to Inflating Your Tradeshow Profits: How to increase branding, recognition, visibility, customer loyalty and attract more attention with Balloons!’ – that hit the Amazon best-sellers list in advertising,” she added.
The Main Event
Marketing aside, it all comes back to balloons, and Balloon Utopia decorates for a variety of private and corporate events. One of the most memorable was (Major League Baseball player) Tony Gwynn’s retirement from the San Diego Padres.
“We were hired to build a giant baseball for all the players to come out of and the sculpture was really more for the cameras than for the audience in the stadium,” Masori said. “We had to design it in such a way that we could roll it on and off the field within five minutes. It was crazy, walking it out on the field with a sold out crowd above our heads. When you look and see people 360 degrees around you, it’s just awesome.”
Another event that stands out was the Centennial Celebration of Flight where they were commissioned to build a half size replica of the Wright Brothers flyer. The catch was they had to do it live over 36 hours in the airport baggage claim terminal.
“It was kind of fun,” Masori said, “but it was the first time we were building a sculpture as a performance art piece like that.
“One more event that really stands out to me was an event where we made a giant martini glass and some columns,” Masori continued. “I was introducing myself to some of the other event industry professionals, and when I mentioned that I was responsible for all the balloons at the event, they looked around confused and said, ‘I don’t see any balloons.’ I calmly pointed to the sculpture to my right and watched their jaws drop as they realized that it was made out of balloons.”
It’s those clients you want to encourage to leave online reviews, as people go and look for reviews online before closing jobs, both corporate and private. It’s become the new word of mouth. Masori has found that sending clients an email a few days after the event thanking them for including them with a couple of links to their pages on review sites is enough to get them to take action.
“The ways that people look for information and referrals has changed,” Masori said. “It’s no longer just ‘nice’ to have a website, but a must. Be active in social media, get reviews and pin your pictures up onto Pinterest, which has been found to drive more traffic than any other social media site.
“You want to put your picture up on your website first, and then pin it from your website to Pinterest, because Pinterest will include the website where the picture was found and make the picture clickable back to the website,” she continued. “If people like what you’re showing, it has a way of going viral faster than just about any other media out there.”
Masori acknowledges the challenge with the helium crisis, but feels it could actually be a good thing for the industry.
“As we push our creativity and expand our offerings, we’ll take ourselves out of the stigma of balloons being a cheap and tacky alternative to flowers,” she said. “Balloons can be elegant or whimsical and everything in between. They can be nothing short of phenomenal.”