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WHAT ONE WORD makes everyone in the event industry shudder? Smaller. “Since 9/11 and the recession, budgets are smaller,” says Judy Weigle, president of Corporate Concerts in Los Angeles. Some events still want major entertainment, but many now request smaller entertainment packages. In this month's Tools of the Trade, entertainment producers share trends and tips for staging exciting corporate entertainment when budgets are less than exciting.


“The problem is that most people have champagne taste and a beer pocketbook,” says Terry Quick, the president of ENTCO International in Lynnwood, Wash. His solution: “There has to be a way to make the entertainment support the message.” For corporate team-building, Quick uses a murder mystery group that shows up for dinner as guests along with the attendees. Each table becomes a team and must solve the mystery. “A table's team leader could be one of the actors who gets bumped off halfway through,” he says.

Cirque Productions in Pompano Beach, Fla., is frequently called on to deliver performances and messages on partnership, teamwork, dependability and flexibility. Neil Goldberg, president and artistic director for the company, says that client Darden Restaurants recently engaged his company to develop an entertainment experience that mirrored its corporate philosophy “to nourish and delight everyone we serve.” Goldberg says, “We produced a new show concept, titled ‘Dinneractive.’ This combination dinner-and-entertainment experience was developed to partner with our clients' culture and epitomize the philosophy while entertaining guests.”


While entertainment messages are a big draw, make sure the entertainment is concert quality, says Weigle, whose company specializes in providing eclectic music.

Make choices for bands and orchestras based on music sound — not musicians' videos. Weigle says that strong corporate bands often make bad videos because “they aren't actors or recording artists who make music videos for a living,” and “most bands can't afford to hire exceptionally creative directors and choreographers.” If you choose a band by listening to a CD instead of watching a video, your ears will lead you to choose the better band, she suggests. Don't settle for average music and dance entertainers, Weigle challenges. “There is absolute excellence available, you just really have to search for it,” she says.


In tough economic times, hiring one flexible group of entertainers to perform multiple acts — rather than hiring several different bands — makes sense. Michael Carney of Temecula, Calif., is band leader for the group Doctor Feelgood & the Interns of Love. He says his band is often asked to include a solo pianist or jazz quintet during dinner and cocktails, followed by a group of musicians performing walk-on music during an awards presentation, culminating in a high-energy dance and show band. “Our value lies in the fact that we can fulfill the needs of the client with one group of entertainers that are already on-site,” he says.

Quick agrees: “Instead of getting keynote speakers to work for less and beating the entertainer up, try finding higher qualified entertainers for speakers that can cover more than one of your needs.” One of his entertainers, Bob Arno, has been hired for years by various government and law enforcement organizations to teach their agents and officers how to spot street crime. According to Quick, international crime syndicates target events and conventions, sending in packs of professional pickpockets. With entertainers such as Arno, planners can educate while protecting their event attendees, he says. “It's a relevant topic no matter where you go.”

Service is the emphasis of Damon Guidry, director of sales and marketing for Innovative Entertainment in San Francisco. He says that when budgets are tight, “anything that people can interact with or walk away with — such as fortune-telling, walk-around magicians — is always an easy way to entertain without spending tons of money.”


Know your audience and venue. “Knowing the guests' ages and other demographics allows us to recommend the best show for the group,” says Sam Trego, president and executive producer of Imagination Entertainment, based in San Diego.

Misha Matorin, president of DreamCast Entertainment in Las Vegas, recommends that event planners “be aware of all the possibilities and limitations of the venue.” His company offers cirque-style entertainment to express the ideas of his clients or their products. “Keep an open communication with the company you hire, outline your ideas and seriously consider the suggestions they have for your event,” he says.


Making corporate event money go further means filling a corporate client's entire entertainment needs. Jean Francois Detaille, owner of Extreme Art in Las Vegas, says his company has adapted to meet the changing need, offering full evening shows for dinners and banquets. “The entertainment we provide uses art as a vehicle to deliver the message the client wants to get across,” he says. Extreme Art creates a unique show for each and every event so that “the art created stays with the client as a reminder of the event.”

Guests like individual attention. Innovative Entertainment uses interactive art to create memorable souvenirs. “We work with a wonderful artist who does Chinese calligraphy on fans — always a huge hit,” Guidry says.


If you want your budget approved for quality entertainment, the entertainment has got to be memorable. Kim Terrell, of the high-end dance band Polyester Express in Encinitas, Calif., Has watched as corporate belts tighten. The group's 10-piece band performs shows that run the gamut of hits from the '60s to the '80s, and Terrell reveals that “being real is our most important quality.” “Having a great band where even the CFO — who never dances — is captured on film playing air guitar to ‘Play That Funky Music, White Boy’ may be a better choice than a fancy sorbet at $7 per person,” she points out. “Lasting memories happen with people, not things.”

To make it memorable, you need to leave the audience with a feeling of having experienced something positive on an emotional level, Trego says. “Our Il Circo show is an inspiring story of a child's dream,” he says. Each of his company's Broadway-style productions gives the audience a feeling of emotional uplift, according to Trego. “It's a quality that reflects positively on the host of the event and makes the audience feel good about the event itself, their organization or hosts and themselves.”


Choose entertainment companies that are looking for the next hot thing. “People's tastes change quickly now, and the event guests are younger,” Weigle explains. “Try to be on the cutting-edge of ‘hot,’ and constantly look for entertainment producers who crave change.”


Cirque Productions, 954/975-9525; Corporate Concerts, 310/286-2983; Doctor Feelgood & the Interns of Love, 800/898-2250; DreamCast Entertainment, 702/547-6026; ENTCO International, 425/670-0888; Extreme Art, 702/228-9534; Imagination Entertainment, 619/640-6500; Innovative Entertainment, 415/552-4276; Polyester Express, 760/436-4389

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