IT'S NO LONGER enough to wow the crowd, event performers say. Successful entertainment operations must be willing to partner with clients to motivate, teach and inspire event guests.
LOOK, LISTEN AND LEARN
Today's top entertainment trend, according to Neil Goldberg, is performance that communicates while it stimulates. The artistic director of Hollywood, Fla.-based Cirque Productions says it's his responsibility to find the “fine line between celebratory, feel-good entertainment and entertainment that correlates with a client's theme and sends a message.”
Goldberg says he encourages clients to pick elements from his company's cirque-style performances — acrobatics, vocal artistry and comedy among them — which he then customizes to a corporate theme. Examples of recent client-tailored programs include “Reach for the Stars,” which uses juggling, balancing and contortionism to thank top achievers for their strength, skills and perseverance.
Magic may thrill, but it's really just a “hook,” according to illusionist and motivational speaker Tod Buchanan. “We grab [the audience] with magic,” says the founder of Columbus, Ohio-based Corporate Theater Magic, which counts Citibank, CBS and Sears among clients, “then we use it to communicate business information.”
Revealing the elements behind the illusion is one way Buchanan illustrates a specific business point. “I'll do an illusion where I have four to six assistants offstage,” he says. “I point out the light technicians, sound technicians and onstage manager, and I explain to the audience, ‘It's just like you at work — we're all a team. It doesn't work if we don't work together.’”
“What people are really looking for now more than ever is meaning, not just in their lives, but meaning in their events,” says Maximilian, managing director of Bacchus Group Productions. As a longtime performer with great contacts — “we only use recording session musicians, the musicians who play for people like Celine Dion, Sting, Barbra Streisand” — it's no surprise that he says music is the key to meaningful events.
To create a resonant experience for such notable clients as Microsoft, IBM and Coca-Cola, Maximilian has developed entertainment programs — the dance-oriented Orchestra of the Americas and the Latin-themed Kuba among them — that veer away from party standards and toward sophisticated arrangements and world-beat rhythms.
Bill Hopkins sees music as a great way to thank hardworking employees. “I ask clients a lot of questions,” he says. “‘Who are these people? What did they do to earn this?’” Whether performing salsa, swing, '70s disco or surf music, his Aptos, Calif.-based Bill Hopkins Rockin' Orchestra customizes its sets to acknowledge guests.
“Special events allow people to come together and let their hair down,” Hopkins adds. “These days we're all so isolated in the corporate world, we don't get many experiences like that. We help [guests] let go of that square, regimented world, and just celebrate who they are and what they've done.”
With today's tight event budgets and competitive entertainment market, providers say smart marketing and great service are essential to success.
“We're not an entertainment company that's on the clock,” says Norm Roper, musical director of Chatsworth, Calif.-based music and dance group Splash, which revved up an A-list crowd at the Academy Awards Governors Ball in March. “If you need us to go 90 minutes or two hours straight, we do that. The flow is ultra-important.”
When Goldberg is not doing events, he's touring the country with his cirque show, and building up business to boot. For each city where he performs, he maintains a database of event and meeting planners within a 300-mile radius of the performance venue and invites all of them to attend his local shows for free, along with their corporate clients. “We have a salesperson right there to answer questions on the spot,” he says, calling the approach part of a “see it live” philosophy.
Hopkins has instituted a “Friends Helping Friends” program that reduces a client's balance by 20 percent for every referral that results in a contract, while offering the referred client a 10 percent discount. The program works, he says, because “there's no better person to tell somebody about the show than someone who's experienced it.” He also promises clients a money-back guarantee if his show doesn't help ensure “one of the best events they've ever had,” he says. But, he insists, “No one has taken me up on it yet.”
Bacchus Group Productions, 773/334-1532; Cirque Productions, 954/922-0888; Corporate Theater Magic, 614/855-7633; Hopkins Productions, 800/347-2518, 831/688-3700; Splash, 800/418-6656, 818/734-1760