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Atlanta Magician – Mentalist – Speaker Joe M. Turner | News and Comments from the Chief Impossibility Officer

The High Price of Cheap Entertainment

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on October 4, 2010

How Magic Works In Corporate Settings
Part Four: The High Price of Cheap Entertainment

Iceberg Dead Ahead!

Don't Sink Your Event! Just when you think you've dodged the budget iceberg by skimping on the entertainment or speaking budget, you discover the immense hidden costs lurking beneath the surface.

Even in a great economy, event planners and producers are right to be cost-conscious. Experienced planners, though, know that there are always significant hidden costs and risks associated with putting low-fee, bargain-basement entertainers or speakers in front of their audience. It destroys the event’s effectiveness. It embarrasses the audience. It undermines the organization’s credibility. Sometimes it can even cost the planner his or her job.

In the last decade I have helped numerous planners overcome “last year’s disaster” – cheesy, amateurish, or foul-mouthed ‘bargains’ that ultimately cost them much more than they thought they had saved. People who know that value considerations are at least as important as price concerns make great clients, but I always wish they could have avoided the painful lesson that got them there. Unfortunately, it took a bad experience — followed by a great experience with me! — for these good folks to learn what savvy consumers have known from time immemorial:

You get what you pay for.

Especially during tough times, I get calls for events where it is clear that the planner is dialing through a list of phone numbers looking for any breathing human who will stand on a stage in return for whatever budget remains after paying for the room, decor, and food… that is to say, for nearly nothing. In their quest to save money, these inexperienced planners are basing the single most focused and memorable part of the evening on ‘whomever we can find for what we have left.’

Your group will be talking to each other and interacting while having cocktails and dinner, but their full attention will be focused on the after-dinner performer for the better part of an hour. From the time the show starts until it ends, the quality of that performance doesn’t just affect the quality of the event – it is the quality of the event. That experience is what the audience really takes with them as their memory of the event – not the floral arrangement, gift bag, or logo-embossed desk accessory. Good or bad, that performance is going to be discussed more than any other element of the event.

  • If the food is mediocre and the entertainment is great, people will remember the entertainment.
  • If the decor is mediocre and the entertainment is great, people will remember the entertainment.
  • If the food is great, the decor is beautiful, the venue is breathtaking, and the entertainment is bad… people will remember the entertainment.

No matter what else happens, people remember the entertainment because that is what holds their attention for the most time and with the most focus and intensity.

I recently got a call from an association that was planning an annual gala in a beautiful, trendy hotel in Atlanta. This was a small group of only a few hundred people, but they were business professionals from around the region, celebrating an important annual event with a nice dinner. They also wanted a professional after-dinner show, but the fee they proposed as an entertainment budget was literally about one-tenth of a reasonable starting price for that service.

Many performers and speakers would have quickly ended the conversation and moved on. I took a different approach, though, because I want this group to have a successful event whether I’m there or not.

Here’s what I shared with them:

As much as I’d love to get your organization’s business immediately, I’m more interested in helping you have a successful event. That way, I’ll have earned your trust, and you’ll know that I’ll be honest and professional with you when you call me in the future and you have a realistic budget to work with.

So here’s what you need to know to have a successful gala event this year: Do not proceed with this plan. The nature of the venue you have chosen demands more than the lowest-common-denominator. If $X is your budget, you should not hire an entertainer this year. Get extra drinks, or decor, or music. Show a fun video montage of people in your organization. But do not use that money to hire an entertainer. Any performer you could get for that fee is not a performer you want to put in front of an audience of professional adults at an annual gala, especially in such a nice venue. That substandard performance will only cloud your interest in having a true professional at a future event when you could have afforded it.

I have no doubt that you can use a phone book or a search engine to find someone who will do this for you at that fee. When you find that person, run as fast as you can in the other direction. You will have found an inexperienced, sub-par performer who is desperate to put the words ‘corporate events’ on his or her web site or résumé. This is not what you want for your audience. Better to save the money than hire anyone for that amount.

Money down the drain

'Bargain' entertainers and speakers for corporate events are money down the drain.

For professional audiences and events, cheap entertainment is an expensive, high-stakes wager on a losing proposition. The hidden costs – reduced effectiveness, diminished credibility, and lasting negative impact – far outweigh the tantalizing prospect of getting an imagined bargain on a speaker or entertainer.

There are creative ways to achieve professional results on a wide range of budgets, and I love working with my clients to find those solutions. But you can always trust me to tell you where the real opportunities and the real limits are, and to be honest about what will work best for your event and your audience.

Bottom line – the success of your meeting, conference, or gala is as important to me as it is to you. I look forward to working with you, whether as a speaker or an entertainer, to create a successful event.

8 Responses to “The High Price of Cheap Entertainment”

  1. Hannibal said

    An excellent article Joe, thank you!

  2. dawoo said

    So true man. Some treat the lowest bid as a win, when it’s really not. They’re missing out on a chance to wow their guests and treat them to something really exceptional.

  3. Jeff Scanlan said

    Good article, Joe. I’ve written about this too in my newsletters. The other point that people forget is that when you do hire inexpensive entertainment the person who was in charge of hiring them looks bad. I know of a person who lost their job when they hired bad, cheap entertainment. The entertainer actually insulted the owners wife. Unbelievable!

    • turnermagic said

      Thanks. I addressed this point in the last sentence the first paragraph, but it deserves to be repeated. I’ve seen it happen on two levels: individual planners who lost their jobs, as well as event planning companies who have lost great clients.

  4. Professional advice for all meeting planners who want to assure a successful event. I hope the right people read, digest and heed your prophetic words, Joe. All too frequently the duties of planning events fall to someone as an added responsibility to their job description. They are often inexperienced in planning functions and only look at the budget for the temporal pleasures you mentioned (i.e. food, decor, promotional gifts, etc.) and only leave the remainder of the budget for entertainment, almost as an afterthought.

    How often have we received calls within weeks or even days before an event asking for our price and availability? Clearly they have secured the venue well in advance along with the food, decorations and all the rest. It is clear that the entertainment was discussed but they only contact us almost as an afterthought. Certainly the entertainment can’t be engaged until the venue and date is set, but why can’t the entertainment be the very next call on the same day rather than waiting until it’s almost too late?

    Ideally the professional entertainer should be contacted first to determine his availability around a certain time period. That way the event can be coordinated to the satisfaction and calendars of both parties. The event planner and the entertainer can then work together to assure the maximum enjoyment and success of the event. The entertainer then becomes part of the Event Planner’s team offering suggestions for arranging the room, setting the agenda, positioning the tables, planning the decorations, and/or working as closely as the Planner wants or needs.

    The Professional Entertainer can do so much more than just entertain…he can be an integral and pivotal part of the event. And that is worth a professional fee.

  5. Doyne Michie said

    (From a fellow professional magician): I did (now retired) a lot of work at military bases. A Chaplain told me a story about “cheap entertainment.” The Commanding Offercer put this Chaplain in charge of the base Christmas party and said “…and I like magicians. Get one.” The Chaplain checked thru the Yellow Pages and got ‘a good price’ from a magician. He proved lousy. Next year’s Christmas Party: same Chaplain, same C.O., same request. So the Chaplain again turned to the Yellow Pages…saw a different name, a magician with a bigger Yellow Page ad. Booked him…and when he showed up it was the same magician, booking himself under a different name. (Guess he had to change names to get new bookings!) Moral of story: ask for references…and check them! (Plus don’t just book ‘the cheapest act.’)

  6. […] written before about the high price of cheap entertainment. There is also a high price to be paid for ignoring the need for involving a credible entertainment […]

  7. […] in a poor experience for your audience and a blot on your reputation. I’ve written before about the high price of cheap entertainment, and it’s worth remembering that even when budgets are tight, quality counts above all. It’s […]

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