Tango and Cash: Planning a Book Launch

Michael Luongo is not a meeting planner. Even so, he planned one of the most successful events ever held at the Argentine consulate in New York City: a book launch where over 850 people tried to get into a party originally planned for 200, and where lines stretched around the block à la Studio 54 in its heyday.

The launch wasn't even supposed to happen. Luongo, a Manhattan-based travel writer, had penned the book in question—Frommer's Buenos Aires—but "Frommer's never, ever, ever has book parties for their authors," he says. The company does, however, promote founder Arthur Frommer, and Luongo—who views self-promotion as a necessary evil of being a writer ("I'd really rather sit in the dark and do my work, but you have to sell yourself")—worked out a deal whereby Frommer would speak at the event, and Luongo would find donations to subsidize the party.

What's New, Buenos Aires?What made the shindig such a smash? Luongo included all the essential ingredients for success: food (Argentine beef and empanadas), drink (whiskey and wine), music (tango singers and dancers), a "name" (Frommer), glamorous giveaways (airline tickets and vacations), and an alluring locale (the consulate's magnificent Midtown building). But lots of it, he admits, was luck.

For instance, the December 14 date was chosen around Frommer's and Luongo's busy travel schedules. Luongo feared it was too close to the holidays, but it turned out to be fortuitous because "Buenos Aires is hot right now, and a lot of the media people who showed up were planning Christmas vacations there and wanted my advice."

Even more fortuitously, Continental Airlines was launching direct service to Buenos Aires the day of the party, so the company not only gladly donated two pairs of tickets to any Continental destination, but it gave Luongo $3,000 to cover expenses. He also found sponsors for the food (an Argentine caterer looking to promote his latest restaurant) and alcohol (an Argentine wine company as well as a liquor distributor seeking to break into the Latino market).

Then there was the unlucky: The caterer fell sick the day of the party, so the food arrived at the last minute. The tech guy broke his leg, so Luongo never got to do a dry run. Then somehow, the lights switched off just before he went onstage to deliver introductions. "I was giving a very visual talk, with a lot of gestures and expressions, and it wasn't until I noticed nobody was laughing that I realized I was in the dark!"

None of that apparently mattered to the crowd. "A friend who's a TV producer told me they couldn't see me but that it didn't appear chaotic," says Luongo. "And when the music and the dancers started, it was very glamorous—it was bringing a little of Buenos Aires to New York, and that's what I wanted to achieve." There was, however, a downside to the heavy turnout: "My editors showed up, hoping to finally meet me in person, but it was so crowded they didn't get a chance!" By Sara J. Welch

Frommer's Buenos Aires Book Launch

Cost: $10,000
What Frommer's paid: $500
Audience: 500
Time spent planning: 4 months