Like so many millions of other “wannabes,” I started writing music when I was six or seven years old. None of it was any good, but I was lucky and determined enough to get a recording contract when I was 19 and sold a couple of songs that were recorded on a major label, published, and distributed. Dutifully, I joined BMI, in the hopes of having a hit on my hands and bazillions of dollars streaming into my bank account for years to come.
Naturally, that never happened (it happens to one in more than one million people, but don’t quote me on that, the number is probably higher). I think I got a check for $2.59 because one of my songs got on a vinyl record selling on late night TV in compilations of Disco tunes that sold for $12.95.
The point is, I’ve now been in the event and entertainment, production and A/V, and branding and messaging business for 34 years, and I can’t remember how many of my clients call in fear of what or whether and how much they’re going to have to pay fees to ASCAP or BMI to have music at their event. I’ve linked an article below that I think every meeting planner should read and memorize (seriously), and share with your friend in the industry so that you know the truth and can work with it.
Now there are a lot of legitimate fees that should be paid, like mechanical licenses (if you want to use someone else’s music in your film or TV show) and other live performance licenses. For example, “Proud to be an American” was going for $25K during Gulf War one when everyone wanted to use during programs.
Check this article out as it’s pretty mind-blowing, and very, very true. It is part of the demise of live music in our current day life. People really like to see a live musician perform, even if they’re performing “covers” or other people’s music. And sometimes, Virginia, yes, there is a Santa Claus and there is something other than a DJ that works really well in a night club, for a wedding or social event, for an awards ceremony (imagine how much more exciting the “bumpers” would be if they were live, like at the Academy Awards) or a dinner dance etc.
Why have we resigned ourselves to pay someone (and I have nothing against DJs) thousands of dollars to play their I-tunes collection? That’s really unfair because some DJ’s do remix music and a credibly musically interesting job “performing” the music and as their own interpretations.
Even fashion shows rock with live music. Cirque shows have live musicians. What I’m trying to say here is, IT’S COOL TO WATCH A LIVE PERFORMANCE
So, this article is about who gets paid when that music is performed. If I wrote that hit song, I would want to get paid. It’s on the radio, millions of people are listening to it, I published it, poured my heart into and I should get something. Here’s what happens and why I (or the people who really do write hit music) don’t get nearly what they deserve for baring their souls.
Believe it or not, these are two of the most dangerous phrases anyone (especially a GM or Manager) in any organization can ever use.
We all know the myriad of reasons why these phrases should never be used, how maddening they can be, and yet, we hear them all the time. The only one that’s better is “Its company policy.” Just what a customer wants to hear when they’re already angry over something that would likely take a second to fix.
Now, I’m not taking credit for the assessment of these dangerous phases. I recently read an article on LinkedIn that made a lot of sense and pointed this out.
Of course, it’s 2014, and we’re all way too enlightened to even think these things much less actually say them, or think them, right?
Well if we’re being honest, not exactly. I’m certainly not saying that our customers aren’t willing to change or consider changing. I am saying that it often takes a long time to get them to listen, and an even longer time for them to evaluate what the change will bring them. Dependent upon the metrics they’re using. Is it customer service improvement, ROI, differentiation, bottom-line driven or top-line driven? There are so many questions and every question is worth asking. Sometimes it’s perceived that there’s no actual “problem,” with doing things they way we’ve always done it, so why go through the process of examining where you are currently?
It’s a simple issue really. One hundred years ago, I was told that as a “vendor,” that no hotel would use my company exclusively because it made no sense to “put all their eggs in one basket” and, if I had a contractual exclusive, I would certainly get complacent and service levels would slip. These clichés kill me. Especially when coming from upper management. So you want to be a great client for one (or two) companies, as opposed to a really crummy client for 9 companies? Who’s going bail you out when it gets tough? And, complacency? I don’t think so! My goal is to retain client! I’m likely to work harder for that exclusive client giving me a ton of business than the one who is worried about my “complacency.”
It’s hard to invent a better mousetrap, but the hospitality industry is definitely in need of some better mousetraps. The Scottsdale market is so challenging to break into that you can’t get an appointment with a decision maker even if you were giving away a free Tesla with every appointment! And moreover, they might even call your competitors to tell them that you’re sniffing around at their account. That’s really true!
So, I invented a better mousetrap. A better way to deliver a very simple service and in delivering that service or services, I can save the client money, offer them more robust and involving experience overall, generate additional revenue for the hotel (yes, even by saving the customer money) and probably have the customer spend the savings on upgraded anything at the hotel rather than take it home and risk next year’s budget.
Guess what? The extra money is interesting, and that gets a little attention. Getting the appointment however, is still not easy. Getting the decision maker to change? Hmmm, well the most interesting response, besides, “We don’t do it that way, and our customers want that service the old way,” is that “you should try it on another hotel first and come back to us after you see how it works and what your track record is.”
I won’t tell you what the service I am exactly referring to is, but I will tell you that almost every hotel has one, some are internal some are outsourced, and it is a concept that has been a part of the hospitality in one way shape or form for dozens of years. Our company can just do it better and for less money because we own our inventory and our creative people are really creative people (like real ones with college degrees) and we’ve made an investment in plant and equipment! Go figure. Or I guess you can avoid all that figuring and just keep doing it the way you’ve always done it, right?
As you look back to the beginning of this blog, note that these are two of the most dangerous phrases in the English language, and will remain so, as long as you’re a manager who is convinced that there’s nothing new in the market that’s worth your time or attention.
Last week we lost a member of the Encore Creative Family. Kevin Crowder was our Print Shop Manager & Fabricator, and was a loyal team member for over seven years. He will be remembered for his incredibly funny spirit and kind heart. Thank you Kevin for all that you did to make our company a success. We’ll miss you Kevo, rest easy brother.
I recently read an article in BizBash about the 16 things to ask your event designer, and in typical BizBash fashion, their suggestions were spot-on and possibly a more intense than things I might think to ask an event design team.
There are two major “types” of clients: social and corporate. Surprisingly, many of them have the same needs and would likely need to ask the same types of questions: budget questions, service questions, and an array of questions to determine what each party should expect of the other. This list has continued to grow over the years as technology and priorities (being green for example) have changed.
There are subsets of both of these major categories of course, and that’s because anyone planning any type event has different priorities or hot buttons. The categories also have to jive with the event/production company’s priorities and business methodologies for the relationship to work.
For example, there are “celebrity” or “wannabe” celebrity planners of all stripes. How many wedding/Bar and Bat Mitzvah planners have huge “minimums” these days? There are hundreds of event planners who won’t even consider dealing with the riff-raff with less than a $250,000.00 budget. Is it worth it?? Sometimes. Sometimes, you’re really just paying for the right to say that “so and so” planned my daughter’s wedding and I had to spend over $500K just for them to show up! And, then, most of them have their “minions” and sub-contractors do much of the work. But, hey, a celebrity affair is a celebrity affair, and bragging rights are occasionally worth a half million bucks.
There are probably a lot more than 16 things to ask your event designer. Our contract, for example went from a one-page form 20 years ago to a 20 page agreement these days. Naturally, we live in an ever more litigious society, but there are so many nebulous and non-quantifiable things that happen at events that its best to outline and put in writing as much as possible.
About a million years ago I read an article by a huge association’s meeting planner who literally had a group of thousands of people going to San Diego and was shopping for a DMC and an event company for a “Beach Party” for his 5000 people. Obviously, a very busy and important person, this gentleman boiled his RFP down to ONE QUESTION. Not sixteen. ONE. I am willing to bet that in interviewing companies, putting out RFPs and the like, it saves an inordinate amount of time and helps narrow down your choices really quickly.
He put out an RFP to three companies and got three extremely detailed responses. They all dealt with service delivery, service quality, inclusions, concepts, budgets, and the usual things that we were all concerned with back in the day and it was before we thought about social media, “green” elements and ROI. Even associations had money for events and pretty nice ones overall.
To make a long story a LITTLE shorter, these companies were all very creative (or had creative sub-contractors) and included everything you could think of for a beach party from national acts to full sized Ferris wheels, tons of staff, and an assurance and description of the excellent service delivery that this buyer could expect. He dutifully read all of the information in the RFP answers, examined them to ensure that they were all in his budget and then interviewed each of the companies in person.
In person, being the busy, but polite and get to the point kind of person he was, he complimented them all on their creativity and hard work and asked ONE question. NOT SIXTEEN. ONE. And, depending on the type of company you have or the type of planner you are, some variation of the question would get right to the heart of the matter, and make selection by planners much easier.
WHAT WILL YOU DO IF THE BUSES BREAK DOWN?
As planners, producers, whatever, we all want to showcase our brilliance, creativity and knowledge and dazzle and amaze our prospective customer, and while many of the 16 questions in the BizBash article are extremely important: “Can you work with this budget,” “What is your style of communication,” “What elements will I own after the event,” and “Does your crew need to be fed” are all valid, there are potential heartache and unaccounted for dollars at risk. However, I don’t think very many people writing RFPs really ask we’re going to do when the plan starts to unravel.
Anyone in the event business for as long as its taken you to read this knows, just like every military commander knows that the plan lasts only until the first shot is fired (or doors open). That being a given, the most important question for anyone you’re considering doing business is all about Plan B and how they’re going to implement Plan B without guests noticing. (Meeting planners note: We all, as an industry, should make all of our judgments regarding whether or not there is an impact on our guests—and deal with the details of what might have blown up behind the scenes at a later date.)
Every planner can tell you in the proposal phase what will go right and how great it will be when it does. What’s more important is what the planner tells you they will do when things go wrong.
I really can’t say with any degree of confidence (or humility) that I’m qualified to “judge” the quality of a nationally televised, enormous, bazillion dollar budget, watched by billions of people, awards ceremony, but since everyone has an opinion (and some of mine are pretty strong) I’ll weigh in on the Oscars as probably millions of bloggers across the universe have already done.
Actually, I’m going to weigh in on the Oscars (and every other live television “event”) with the unique perspective of the meeting planner; mostly as it relates to our mutual expectations.
I thought the Oscars Awards Presentation show was great. I long for the day when any customer gives me a quarter of that budget to produce any kind of event at a killer venue, and access to the best and the brightest talent in the City of Angels. That would make me very happy. If for no other reason than all the toys I would get to play with, and all of the options available to pick from when putting together even the basic stage design. And of course I’d need about a year to plan it; that would come in handy too.
Of course Ellen DeGeneres is always a blast. She’s funny, cute, irreverent, and enough of a grown-up to pass the hat for pizza and get Brad Pitt to give her $20 and Martin Scorsese and Harrison Ford to chow down. As a host, she’s not even a little controversial and she can pull off calling all of those otherworldly beings by their first names.
The set was interesting. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t read one other review of the Oscars so that am just blurting out my true opinion without any bias. It was modern but classic (bare light bulbs, typewriters) with a nod to what’s now known as Steampunk, elegant with the addition of the beautiful reappearing red drape, and awards-y in the requisite clips of nominated movies, a celebration of the Wizard of OZ, and great live performances. And unless you don’t think Pink! is the right choice to pay homage to Judy Garland you probably agreed that girlfriend has chops!
Ok, so now, the anxiety. We all do events (certainly if you’re reading this, its likely). The interesting thing for me and perhaps it’s the niche that we play in, but I don’t think it matters if you’re in the wedding business or the high-end corporate business, here are the differences between producing the Oscars and what we do every day (and they warrant a list):
No meeting planner ever gives you a year to plan.
Often you’re bidding against 6 other companies and are at least being asked for your “vision” in advance. (That happens with the Oscars, but their set designer has a much better resume than you or I).
If you’re designing and building a custom set, you don’t have the budget for the exact right materials, or it just isn’t worth the expense for a one or two day meeting.
You might have a couple of days to load-in, set-up, sound-check and if you’re super lucky, the corporate types will show up prepared with presentation materials that don’t have to be rebuilt on site.
And if you are unbelievably lucky, lead a clean life and go out of your way not to step on insects, you might even get enough time for a rehearsal.
The anxiety comes into play since some of us smaller guys (and some of you bigger guys too) don’t get any of those things. Or at least not enough of them. Not a big enough budget, not a big enough crew, not enough time to build, not enough time to load-in, no rehearsal, etc., etc. So what’s the problem, we’re used to it right?
The problem is that the expectations never change. The corporate meeting planner has the same expectation of perfection regardless of any of the above variables. So, you, producer-type are now committed to making certain that everything is perfect, that your set will pass a white glove test and that everyone will do their jobs (including the presenters) show up prepared and it won’t matter that you didn’t have a rehearsal, unless there’s feedback, something falls backstage, the slides don’t advance properly, the VP advancing the slides doesn’t know how to use a confidence monitor and on and on.
Well, of course, you also have the linens and napkins and food and beverage, and entertainment, and every other element that usually comes together perfectly, but causes you so much anxiety that you’re lucky to still be alive, and/or still have that client should one of those things have gone wrong.
Back to the Oscars. I doubt that anyone got fired. I’m pretty sure that Ellen didn’t get screamed at for the pizza bit, or for getting too personal with Meryl Streep or Whoopie Goldberg or for calling Mr. Scorsese “Marty,” But more importantly, the guys in the truck likely still got paid (ever have a client not want to pay because the “feedback” or just the sound in general didn’t meet their expectations?) even though that on at least two occasions, on the way into or out of a commercial break, you could hear stage directions coming from the truck live on air. And, oh, the musical number that, unfortunately, left Pharrel, literally hanging for what seemed like an eternity (frozen in final position) until they could break away to commercial.
Forget the Oscars for a minute. I’ve often wondered if the guys that travel with the POTUS get fired (or just water-boarded) when the big guy’s microphone doesn’t work, feeds back or when the Seal of the President of the United States falls off the lectern. What are the President’s expectations? Are they lower because he’s so high on the food chain that it doesn’t matter and he’s beyond being embarrassed by that small time stuff as opposed to the meeting planner whose president will throw a fit if, heaven forbid, that happened to him?
And since it all flows downhill, how many accounts have we collectively lost because the expectation of perfection in a live event (I don’t do TV or Film, so very few, if any rehearsals) is still perfection?? Is perfection a reasonable expectation in any type of live event from a television show to a Presidential news conference, to a Broadway play, or a corporate meeting? And if so, why and how does that come to be and also to be considered normal and acceptable?
So, I guess in retrospect, the Oscars weren’t that great. If I were producing it next year, I might have to choose a host who isn’t as cutesy as Ellen (ordering pizza, really?), fire this years director and sound tech for not making sure something as simple as mics being turned off and horrifically bad camera angle shots don’t appear on the viewers’ screens on the way to commercial.
I’m going to guess that other “critics” were either much more kind or much more mean than I have been. I’m certain that you’ve noticed that I’m not as funny as I think I am, and in the real world, live performances and live events are inherently never perfect. Or if they are, the producer/director, whomever, is one lucky son of a gun, and certainly doesn’t have that experience with any degree of regularity. Especially on those three hour load-ins in the middle of the night with inexperienced speakers, presenters, and no rehearsal time. If only we could match expectations with reality. We could all legitimately stand around the water cooler (do people do that anymore?) and criticize a show like the Oscars that even in its worst years is glorious and continues to be something we all look forward to, or do we look forward to it just so we can find all the things that went wrong?
We live in a new world (as it pertains to events of all types) at least when you’re looking at it from my perspective: that of an “in-denial,” yet hopelessly middle-aged businessperson whose company was founded before the advent of fax machines and desktop computers, let alone social media, tablets, and terms like “engagement,” or “experiential marketing.” Seriously, I started my company with a pegboard accounting system (you youngsters will have to Google that one), two IBM Selectric typewriters, and a couple of phones with red “hold” buttons. Thank God I’m not old enough to have had rotary dial phones.
With all of the changes in technology however, some things remain the same or have become even more important given our current technological capabilities. Our customers (you, the meeting/event planner who I’m desperately hoping is reading this) still have high expectations that we strive to exceed, budget concerns, and working diligently to demonstrate how exciting and engaging an event can be for that budget. Most customers still expect high-touch, high quality, personalized service so they can increase attendance or meet their company’s ROI needs and impress and engage customers, employees or other stakeholders.
Back in the prehistoric era, it was not unusual to find a hotel departmental configuration designed to use multiple, specialized vendors to assist in putting together the myriad of services needed to support an event. This team of people came together and in my experience, most professionals were able to play together in the sandbox, providing the end-user the solutions needed for incredible event, and now to the point, the ever-elusive “added value.”
Here’s where the buying behavior has changed with many event planners. Whether it’s a Fortune 500 company or a Fortune 100 company or a much smaller company, association, brand, etc., budgets and overworked planners need or want “easy”, thus the promulgation of the “one stop shop.” Overworked planners want to have one point of contact, one vendor in their system, one check to write, etc. The big change came when rather than a list of preferred vendors in their area of expertise, many hoteliers have opted for an in-house DMC or a contract with a DMC, so they can make one referral. The inherent challenge with working with a broker of services (aka one single contact) is a lack of specific expertise. Specific expertise can be defined as something you’ve done all of your life, have a college degree in and would otherwise be considered to be an expert or a professional in your field. So, in a world where “easy” involves dealing with one contact whose “expertise” is being the person who can hire all of the experts on your behalf, the question becomes whether there is any value-added, and/or how much? This person works with their network and brings the above mentioned experts together to execute your event, but they personally may not have the knowledge you need and they don’t allow you to interface with the actual team working on your event. So it may be “easy” to have one contact, but let’s explore what that really means.
I agree that easier is just that: easier. It’s less time consuming, it’s less trying, there are less decisions to make and only one entity or person to praise or criticize should things go exceeding well OR not quite according to plan.
Regardless of your age, one thing your parents taught you (I hope) is that easier is not always better.
A bus is a bus, a linen is a linen, a band is a band, A/V gear is just gear, and on and on. Much of what planners buy are commoditized in some way which is why sometimes the only added value needed is the relationship and the service quality and delivery. But, what if you can have it all? There are more and more companies that are demonstrating that you, the buyer, really can have it all: a great relationship, great service quality and delivery and added value plus they enable you to get an off-the shelf or fully customized event put together by a cohesive team all working for you with as much or as little contact as you want. There are hundreds of extraordinary companies who make it “easy” and still provide the expertise that you want, the price that you need and the convenience that makes the process easy. Otherwise, there’s an account or project manager who will make sure that its done and you don’t get bogged down in micromanaging your events, whether they’re general sessions (and all of that content) or gala dinners, trade show booths, etcetera.
These concepts are being delivered every day to customers by numerous companies who have diversified enough to have the real people doing the real work on staff to limit the amount of sub-contracting and outsourcing and, thus enabling the company to provide “The Easy” with “The Value.” Adding value, by definition is delivering what is promised with all that implies, including the relationship and the service, but also the product and the in-house expertise to achieve all of the goals including creativity, and innovation, all in a way that is still easy.
Here’s where the added value comes from and why one point of contact (in the literal sense of speaking to and dealing with only one person) isn’t where the benefits are derived. You should want and need a team. You want all of the players to have play on the team and care about your needs and take pride in the outcome. A company that simply provides “easy” is adding the easy value, meaning they provide the one-stop shop, single billing and single point of contact “easy.” But they don’t provide real value that comes with teamwork and a comprehensive solution.
Think about how many fingers are in the pie that is your event, from the company that designs your incentive, to the in-house department working on criteria for attendance, the hotel, and all the people who actually do the work to make the event run. If you are using a “one-stop-shop” model to put on an event, that amounts to approximately 4 or 5 markups from the talent (talent is what drives great events on all levels) all the way up the food chain to wherever you started, third party or hotel/resort, and they’re all making money on almost every aspect of your event. Before I get flamed by every other entity in the industry, there absolutely are scads of excellent “one-stop-shops” who are truly working in your best interest. They work to get you the best rates on almost everything from room nights to Food and Beverage to A/V and more. These companies also know how to source other suppliers suitable to your needs and can put a team together for you. Here’s the key: finding a one-stop shop with the fewest hands in your pockets and a commitment to the highest level of quality and service delivery for every event. I do believe it is somewhat challenging to source very transparent “one-stop-shop” companies who allow you direct access to the teams who are executing on your behalf thereby gaining both “easy” and “added value.”
So to recap the essential question to consider is this: Where is the added value in your event, and who is providing it? Moreover, how can you obtain the most added value you can, keeping the process easy, saving money, increasing your ROI and still produce the best possible event for your team or client? I’d love to hear your feedback!
According to LinkedIn, two of the most overused words in resumes and in company names in the corporate world are “creativity” and innovative. Synergy and passion are close seconds. Yet, as I plead guilty to my company overusing both of these words, and actually include them in our name, along with hundreds of likely competitors, I wonder how much value, if any is placed on the creative process by meeting and event planners?
As we all continue to strive for that next event, whether it be an “experiential” (another choice buzzword) branding event, synergistic (another) or innovative theme party (the worst), I often wonder how much our customers think about, place or even if they place a value, in real dollars and cents for the vast spectrum of creative (oops) disciplines that are involved in coming together (synergistically of course-ouch) to create that one of a kind, once in a lifetime event, out of the box event. Out of the box is a painfully overused, underappreciated and misunderstood concept. It also requires a multi-disciplinary team coming together with a lot of creative minds, technologies, and approaches.
As corporations cut budgets for meetings and increase budgets for marketing, or vice versa, the need for creative (sorry) or innovative (sorry again) solutions becomes even more important, but what is a reasonable expectation with regard to the cost and delivery of “creative” services? Including but not limited to: industrial design, graphic design, lighting design, stage design, sound design, and the associated tangible services (printing, layouts, floor plans, custom builds and fabrications, and even more once you get into entertainment and food and beverage) when seeking a company or companies to bid or actually hire to provide these services.
So this is where I get stuck. And please feel free to respond (whether you’re a buyer or seller and a “creative” or not). How much is too much? Plainly, if you’re faced with an RFP that is asking for specific ideas attached to a specific budget, you’re now faced with an extraordinary challenge. If you provide a fully fleshed out concept with costs and you can’t charge for your time in developing all of that creativity, ingenuity, and resources that are required to get there, and you provide it free of charge, you’ve now placed a value of zero dollars on your creative services. In fact, I’ve even had clients ask for full color renderings, storyboards, material call-outs, etc. So the question remains, if you don’t place a value on it, or the value you place on it is zero, then the buyer will place the same non-value on your creativity and work.
I recently saw a cute post on a social media site, as musicians get increasingly frustrated by their ever shrinking business in the corporate world (except national acts at the highest level) and the lack of value or the questioningof the value of a live musician. It was called “What You Get When You Hire a Live Musician,” and there was a long list of answers that apply here as well—
Years of study and practice
Tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear and instruments
Transportation to and from your venue-labor to set and strike
A breadth of knowledge of styles and specific music
The ability and experience to entertain an audience
If you don’t place any value on these things, try putting yourself in that position, or think of what your value to any company is and why?
Creativity and Innovation are the keys to any successful event or endeavor in the corporate or small business world. Without it, you can have a lovely gathering of any number of people without any “wow.” That works if, your expectations are greater (and they likely are), by definition, you need a group of talented “creatives” and I think we’ve beaten that to death.
What I’m hoping is that we all begin to realize and recognize that creativity is also an expensive endeavor. We don’t want to settle regardless of budget, and the tighter the budget the more creativity you require (unless balloons and crepe paper are your style or you’re a do-it-yourselfer). That brings us full circle: Creativity is important. And creativity costs money, which should be factored into your budgets, always. Paying for creativity is worth it because in the end, it’s what you need to ensure that you have the perfect event for the perfect audience and achieved all of your goals without having sacrificed what you originally set out to do.
We had the pleasure of designing the Jammy Awards in partnership with Circa Arizona for McGraw-Hill held this week in Phoenix. From gilded gold bar fronts to touches of 24 karats throughout the room, glitzy drape and a dramatic fabric swag red carpet entry, it was all about sparkle and glitz.
Encore has had the honor of working with the Phoenix Zoo on several occasions and this year’s Rendez-Zoo was an extra special evening for a very worthy cause. We designed furniture groupings, and multiple lighting treatments that created a very festive atmosphere.