Organising entertainment for a corporate event takes more than just guesswork.
First, the client must provide a clear and integrated brief to the event organiser. To ensure a successful event, the brief must include all elements such as budget, theme, style of acts required, timing, frequency and duration.
Once received, the brief is then interpreted and reviewed, taking into consideration supplementary elements which only an experienced organiser would consider.
It’s not always just about the talent fee. Some performers have very demanding conditions placed upon their appearance.
Try getting Barbra Streisand to warble out a few tunes at your next gig, offering to pay her with a handful of your local currency while putting her up in your neighbour’s spare room.
An agent will consider much more than just cost. Is the act going to offend anyone? Is it going to have the necessary wham factor required? (Streisand would probably give you that) Is it going to cross all boundaries and be relevant to delegates and participants? Are there any cultural sensitivities to be taken in to account?
With the assistance and guidance from an equally experienced talent agent, these questions can be answered and an appropriate act selected.
Talent or entertainment agencies are specialists in their field and have a stable of acts covering a wide variety of styles. They know what works for each event and their experience is invaluable.
Entertainment is not confined to the headline act of a gala dinner or major event of a conference. An agent will advise and recommend the most appropriate MC for the duration of the event as well as keynote speakers, light-hearted “interlude” acts and support entertainment, all hired to add colour and movement to the production.
Of course, a talent agent will always recommend a client use their services, after all it’s their livelihood. But according to Winston Broadbent, managing director of The Saxton Group, the reasons are clear.
“The client’s event is critical and a reputable bureau or agency can do much to ensure its success – providing the experience (often decades) to select the best entertainer, the security of an after-hours service, the comfort of knowing that all logistics are properly covered and, in the extremely rare event of a cancellation, the ability to provide a short notice alternative. What we are talking about quite simply is the ability to make what can be a most complicated project easy and pleasurable.”
But there are some acts who prefer to find work through an agency while also conducting their own marketing. Jack Levy has been eking out a living as a successful comedian and corporate MC for nearly 25 years as his alter ego, Elliot Goblet. He’s a strange mix of marketer and performer.
Levy has performed at more than 1,100 corporate events and has a particular style. He will be the first to admit, his style is not for everyone but has learned to tailor his act to the particular requirements of the client.
“If I’m working for an accountants’ convention in Singapore, I’d use very different material than if my audience was a bunch of university professors. It’s all a matter of working the audience and being relevant.”
Never missing an opportunity to perform Levy added: “I hate it when someone comes to your door and puts their finger over the peep hole. So, to get around this, I’ve got 11 peep holes.”
Headline acts at an event’s major night require careful planning as well.
Debra Byrne is one such act. The Australian diva has graced many stages and performed her extensive repertoire to countless audiences. As a seasoned professional, her music is as recognisable as her 40-year career domination of the Australian entertainment industry. Her agent often recommends her for performances at corporate events.
Byrne prefers that all client contact comes via her trusted agent.
“My job, and the one I prefer is the job I do on stage. My agent makes sure everything is right for me to deliver a quality performance. Using an agent means I don’t have to worry about lighting, sound or other technical issues,” she says.
Many clients have a personal preference for a particular act. If the client considers an act such as Justin Timberlake to be particularly “hot” at the moment, they may put in a request for him to appear.
Talent availability and, of course, cost, along with a raft of other variables may preclude Justin from shaking it on stage in front of 3,000 Mary Kay sales representatives, but unless the question is asked of the agent, the client will never know.
But not every event has the budget or need for a headline act. Jugglers, magicians, musicians, artists, cartoonists, minstrels and a variety of other performers are also available for hire through an agency.
Many agents also represent international artists as well, so a client is not limited in selecting a local act.
But as with any industry, there are the scammers. Many individuals purport to be agents, however, all they have is a well-populated email address book. It is known that these individuals claim to have sole representation rights to certain performers but in fact have no such contractual arrangements.
Performers and clients have been duped in the past and major events have been left high and dry. The money’s gone and so is the performance. (So is the career of the in-house person charged with the responsibility of organising the event.)
Whether an event calls for a headline act to create an impact with the guests or whether the need is for a professional MC to take charge of on-stage activities for the duration of the conference, it’s always advisable to go through an agent or deal directly with the act themselves if they are self-managed.
It’s a juggling act best left to the professionals.
“You have to match the purpose and message of an event to weave in the entertainment element,” says Peter Bolton event director of Hong Kong-based The Creative Solutions Group.
The group’s event production arm Event Solutions has worked with a large number of blue-chip companies across Asia, handling their conference demands and putting together programmes that blend music, dance, acrobatics and even juggling.
“We are trying to help the client communicate a message, not be showmen,” Bolton says.
He rejects the idea that real talent is difficult to find in some parts of Asia.
“There is a perception that Hong Kong has little to offer but nothing could be further from the truth.
“There are some fabulous classical musicians here, hip-hop dancers and ‘face-changers’.”
A taste of authentic local culture can be the answer for some events.
“We organised an event in Kota Kinabalu for Western Union. Our entertainment was based around bamboo dances and blowpipes.
“For a Hong Kong event for General Motors Australia, we wanted a martial arts show. We flew in Wushu masters from China, not just a group of young kids smashing bricks. You do need to demand quality,” Bolton stresses.
There may also be special requests for instruments, amplifiers and so on. But Bolton describes this as “the easy part” given the large number of equipment hirers around.
When it comes to working with established stars, be clear about any personal requests, says Bolton.
Singer CoCo Lee, for example, simply adores bananas and her contract stipulates that she has a ready supply of them provided for her in her dressing room before the show.