What’s In a Name? Your Bottom Line.


Gladys Knight on stage Steppin Out, Boston, MABeing a talent buyer is fun, exciting and at times can be, let’s say complicated. And when you are talking about headline talent, well that just ups the ante! The high risk/reward makes finding the right artist for your client’s event a challenge with a lot of ground to cover.

1. The Basics
Start with the event goals and the mission of the organization. Make sure you have them firmly in mind before you begin. Ask the client for the results of the event’s needs assessment, and research the history of their events as it pertains to entertainment. Who did they have? What was the cost? And how was it received?  Once you have this, it’s time to get event specific.
Identify the major stakeholders (the client, lead sponsors, prospective attendees, event chairs, honorees, board of directors and executive committee) gather demographics and the influence level that each group has over the event.

Meet with your client, and discuss the event goals and what boxes the entertainment choices will need to check.

The client must agree to the entertainment footprint before you begin your search. Do you need an opening comedian, a headline musical group and a closing DJ or dance band? Do you need a mission-related keynote speaker? A roving dance troupe for the hallways or VIP receptions? You can’t go shopping until you have the list. And last but not least, what’s the budget?

2. Due Diligence
Once you’re equipped with this information, it’s on you. There is no doubt by now you have event chairs and executive committee members that have brought several, if not pages of entertainment choices to your attention. They usually run the gambit, from good to completely over-priced, over-rated and just plain wrong for their group. But listen closely, because they are giving you valuable insight to what they are looking for.
The internet has made this initial stage a whole lot easier. Getting what you want, no longer means being at the mercy of the agents. You can check agent rosters online, Google™ the genres that you are looking for to search for ideas, use resources like Pollstar & Billboard (to name just a few) to check who’s on tour, who has new material launching, how their performances are attended, and a whole wealth of other useful information and ideas.
Check out what entertainer’s align with your client’s mission (i.e.Patti LaBelle – spokeswomen for Diabetes; Sheryl Crow – Cancer related causes) Source: Sharing a mission is a great reason to bring an entertainer into your event. Not only may they be willing to do the date, but they may give you a break on their fee.
Call the artists representatives and get the facts (are they available on the date, what are their appearance/performance fees, etc.)

3. The Devil is in the Details
So you’ve got the start of something. But it’s your job to vet potential entertainers fully. Even if they are available on your date, and they fit in your client’s budget, you are not even half way home to validating that they should make it to your client’s desk. There is much to think about:

  • THE MEDIA & POP CULTURE: Do they have a new book, recording, movie or TV show coming out? Perhaps consider someone who will be featured on the next seasons Dancing with the Stars or Celebrity Apprentice? Find out now what you’ll have in terms of PR hooks to get the word out about your event. Your event publicist will thank you later.
  • MISSION-RELATED: Do they have a connection to, or an affinity toward the work that your group does?
  • PERKS: Are they willing to include in the contract a meet and greet with attendees or sponsors during the evening, or are they willing to come into town the day before for a special sponsor/media event.
  • PRIZES: Are they willing to donate memorabilia, concert tickets, personal appearances to your auction?
  • THEIR PERSONAL STORY: If applicable, will they share a cause-related story on stage that will enhance their appeal to your audience?
  • THEIR PROFESSIONAL HISTORY: Call colleagues in other cities where they performed. Ask how they were to deal with, before, during and after the event. How they related to the audience and how they were perceived by event attendees. Of course the real question is whether they were satisfied with their return on investment?
    Also, and especially if we are talking about headline talent, make sure they haven’t appeared in your market in the last 9 – 12 months.
  • DO NOT FORGET THIS: Make sure they are willing and able to do a ‘corporate show’. With corporate clients it is always best to AVOID ANY PERFORMERS OR CELEBRITIES THAT USE RACIALLY INSENTIVE OR SEXUALLY EXPLICIT LYRICS OR JOKES, VOCALIZES STRONG POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OR DEMONSTRATES INAPPROPRIATE OR ERRACTIC BEHAVIOR. Even if the agent assures you they will keep it clean and behave. Sitting back stage biting your nails all night is not fun and you and the organization can find yourself in real trouble if promises are not kept.
  • TAKE A LOOK AT THE PERFORMANCE RIDERS FIRST! I’ve seen requests in celebrity riders that cost more than what they are actually getting paid. Demands range anywhere from cases of expensive champagne in the green room to chartering a private plane (at your company’s expense) to get them to and from the performance.

4. The Big Talk
Now you are ready to meet the client. Make sure you are armed with a solid list of names in different price tiers for each position that needs to be filled. All the information above that could be collected should be presented to your client in a well-organized spreadsheet.
It is equally important, if your client or any representatives have asked you to consider a certain performer/celebrity,that you do the due diligence as listed above and provide the details on the spreadsheet as well. If they clearly won’t work, it will be right there in black and white. If it appears that they may work, it’s time for you to put away your personal biases and present them as a viable option.
Clients and all of their constituents can be very passionate when it comes to entertainment choices. It’s easy to do. But a professional talent buyer must guide the meeting using the information you’ve collected and your own industry knowledge. Make sure you have on hand what you started with- their needs assessment and event goals. If an entertainer can’t check off a majority of those boxes, regardless of who they are, then they don’t belong on your list.
My last point brings to mind what my mentor, the legendary Boston-based impresario Fred Taylor once told me. I remember this always when I’m about to go into this kind of meeting. “Never forget who we are and what we are trying to do. We’re not teaching a class, we are running a business.”

As always, if I can assist you or your group in your search, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
Happy Hunting!

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