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It's hard to imagine a great event without great entertainment. But making the match of act to event takes its own talent. Here, Corine Couwenberg, vice president of corporate sales for entertainment company That's Entertainment International, based in Anaheim, Calif., offers tips on selecting event entertainment.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What services do you provide to event planners?

CORINE COUWENBERG: We buy talent, we produce talent, we negotiate contracts, we fulfill the rider, we make travel and hotel arrangements for the entertainment. Personal relationships are very important in this business. When a client calls us and says, “I want pricing and availability on, say, Jay Leno,” we can call and have that pricing and availability for them almost immediately.

Q: How are you paid?

A: We charge a fee, generally 10 percent of the entertainment's cost. But that 10 percent varies with the cost of the act. It's important to note that because we are big volume buyers, our 10 percent is very often less than what a client would pay if the client didn't go through us.

Q: What acts are hottest at corporate events right now?

A: It is all over the board. We are doing a lot of mid-range pop, like Glenn Frey. It's both very contemporary artists and those who have been on the charts for long time. Also, it varies from industry to industry and from budget to budget. Several high energy dance bands that we book — Haute Chile, the Zippers, NRG — are really going strong.

Q: Are there times when nothing but a celebrity will do?

A: Celebrities are generally a good choice. There is an implied endorsement of sorts when a celebrity is branded to a particular company. It gives the audience a great sense of being appreciated. Celebrities tend to make audiences feel confident and take pride in the company that they are there with.

Q: When are unknowns a better choice?

A: Unknowns are rarely a good choice. The corporate market is not the right place to test-drive an act. It's much better to go with a local or nationally known corporate act or a great dance band that has some history behind it. You don't want to be first person on the block to use XYZ and then find out that they are not on time, they are slovenly, use bad language, and so on.

Q: What mistakes do you see made most often by corporate entertainment buyers?

A: The most common mistake that we see is just not the right choice of entertainment. You need to look at the demographic of the group, the location of the event and the budget. You don't want to put a country band at Lincoln Center in New York. It doesn't fit.

Q: What has changed most in the business in the last 10 years?

A: The budget has certainly changed. The excesses of the early '90s are gone. Also, our corporate clients are getting smarter. They expect accountability; they want to measure a return on their investment. But they have to tell us what they're trying to achieve so that we can make suggestions to get them what they want.

Q: Many event planners complain that lead times are getting shorter; is that true for you, too?

A: Absolutely. It used to be six to nine months; now, it's two to four months, or even less. But this can actually work to the buyer's advantage. If you're looking at local dance bands or bands not signed to major agencies and they need the work, they will work for less. But with headliners, that's not always the case.

Q: How can the event planner select the entertainment that best suits the audience?

A: The only way to have a win-win is to ask a lot of questions. The further removed we are from the decision maker, the greater the margin of error becomes. It's like playing a game of telephone — everyone has their own spin on what they think the end-user wants. So we encourage our production company to bring us into meetings and introduce us as entertainment partners. That way it narrows the gap, and we avoid embarrassing mistakes. As the old saying goes, there is no such thing as a bad act — just a bad booking.

Corine Couwenberg can be reached at 714/693-9300.

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