Banquet performances can be very lucrative for magicians. I do a few hundred of these every year, and it's work that I truly enjoy. In this column (and the next several), I'd like to make a few recommendations from my experience for those of you who are considering entering this field.
First (and I shouldn't even have to mention this), you need to have a good show. Typically, the length of show at banquets is either 30 or 45 minutes. The audience is usually comprised completely of adults, most often from a particular company or corporation. Usually (and I try to make sure this is the case), your show will be "the big finish," the end of the evening after the president has given a speech and awards and door prizes have been given. With this in mind, here are some points to be taken into consideration for the show:
• You need to have 30-45 minutes of strong, commercial, entertaining stand-up magic that is visible for groups of up to 500.
• The material needs to be age-appropriate. Adult material doesn't mean "blue" (rated R or X) material. The "Ding-dong" and "Bra Trick" might be fine in Vegas or comedy club shows, but they have no place in corporate, after-dinner shows. On the other end of the spectrum, leave the "Winky-Blinky" and "Fraidy-Cat Rabbit" at home as well.
• Your lines and effects should, whenever possible, incorporate messages, jokes, slogans and mottos of that particular company —which means you need to do some research!
So, get together a repertoire of effects that will be appropriate. I'll talk about this in more detail in a future column.
Once you have your show together, you still need to book it! There are many ways to do this, and different sources always seem to think their way is the best. Some examples:
• Cold calling on businesses
• Email and/or Fax campaigns
• Joining a leads club or Chamber of Commerce
• Advertising in local business magazines
• Yellow pages ads
• Sending promo videos
I use some of these tactics and stay away from others. For example, I've seen several books and courses that say that you pretty much have to have a super fancy, ultra high-quality promotional video, or you'll never get any work at all! Well, I've been doing 300-450 shows per year for nearly ten years, and I don't have a promo video! I personally detest direct mail and cold calling, so I don't use them, either. I just don't feel that they are time and/or cost effective (although, I do sometimes use direct mail with established clients). That doesn't mean they won't work for you. They're just not my style or preference. So, you may be wondering, how do I get work in this arena?
It's much different now than it was when I first started, because about 75-80% of my business is repeat or referral. In other words, companies I've already worked for hire me again, and people from those shows refer me to others who are looking for entertainment. That is why having a good show is so important—it is your single biggest and best marketing tool! But before I got all those referrals and repeats, what then? My show was still my main marketing tool! I worked restaurants, where I made contacts. I was asked if I did corporate banquets, and took it from there. I also worked all the local fairs and festivals, making sure to have the announcer mention that I was local, and that anyone interested in having me perform for their group or event should contact me after my show. I have an ad in the yellow pages. That's pretty much it--my show and a yellow pages ad. Oh yeah, and a promo packet.
I don't have a big, fancy, slickly produced packet here, either. I have a professionally taken and reproduced "Head-shot" photo—that was the biggest expense. Along with this go my business card, a thank you note for the potential client's inquiry, a list and description of the different types of shows I do, some press clippings, and plenty of referrals and references. These are all packaged in a clear cover with a slide-on binder. I usually try to drop this off in person, so I can again use my biggest and best tool (my show, remember?). Let me explain.
Assume I am talking to someone on the phone about the possibility of providing entertainment at his function. After I get the key information (date, time, location, size of audience, reason for event, length of show), somewhere in the course of the conversation, I am almost always asked if I have some promotional material. Often, they want to know if I have a video.
Uh-oh! You said you don't have a video! You're screwed!
Actually, that's not the case at all —quite the opposite. I set up an appointment to have a "face-to-face" with the decision maker. I explain that I will draw up a proposal with several options, and that at our meeting I will give him that proposal, along with my promo packet, and a brief, live demonstration. (There is a "magic marketing guru" who sells a course that would lead you to believe that a live demo was his original concept. Don't you believe it! Magicians, along with other sales and business professionals, have been using this ploy for centuries!) I draw up that proposal, giving my rates for a 30 minute and 45 minute show, the regular cost of an hour or two of strolling magic and a discounted rate for this service if they hire me to do it during the cocktail/social hour in addition to the main show, and any other "extras" we discussed on the phone. I place only the promotional material germane to their type of business into the promo packet, along with the clippings and photo. I show up at the office 10-15 minutes early, dressed in a business suit, with two or three KILLER routines of the type I'll be doing should I get the gig. When I meet with the boss, I give him the packet to peruse briefly. I then offer to give him the live demo, as I explained on the phone, asking if he'd like to invite some of the office personnel in to watch, so he can see their reactions. Then I do about 7-10 minutes of performing. The advantage here is that he's seeing how his people are going to react to me. He knows a video can be edited, but a live performance cannot. After the demo (and the employees are sent back to work), I give him the proposal, and go over it with him. I try to sell him on the biggest and best package first, and then "back-off" as needed. I have NEVER failed to get booked using this approach! I can't use this tactic every time I get a call, but if it is a big company or a gig I really want to get, I go for it exactly as I've outlined here.
To the best of my knowledge, I am currently the only entertainer of any type in my area using this approach. Many of my competitors have slickly produced and very expensive promo materials and videotapes. And time after time, I beat them out for the gig, often at a higher price! Why? Because I understand some things.
• Performing professionally is as much about sales, marketing and customer service as it is about the actual performance.
• Building relationships will get you much more business than advertising or fancy bells and whistles.
• My show is my biggest and best marketing tool.
• People are more likely to hire people they have met and like than people they haven't met or don't "have a feel for."
By meeting the boss in person, having a proposal specifically for his needs and wants, giving him a live demonstration, showing up early and well-groomed, and being polite and professional, I have covered ALL of the above bases! And that means, I am almost certain to get the show!
Next time, I'll address the topic of contracts. Until then, you have my best wishes for your success!
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