Successful Event Promotion – Behind the Scenes

My recent article, “Event Promotion: A Great No-Capital-Required Business” brought in a huge positive response. The article also drew a fair share of skepticism … like this e-mail from Phil Johnson of Milpitas, CA:

“Making $1,200 off the back of fledgling comics just happy to have stage time is no way to run a show. I am a music artist and comedian myself, and these are the kinds of shows that don’t last long.

“Why should I, as a comedian, bring 10 of my fans and their money without getting a piece of it? I’m happy to bring people (and lots of them) if I’m being paid for the show, but using the idea that the comic or band is just happy to get stage time is a thinly veiled way of taking advantage of them. I can go to an open-mic night if I just need stage time.

“When I’m doing a show that I’m going to put work into, I get paid for it. Plus, if you’re only willing to book comics who will perform for free, you’re going to get the bottom of the barrel and it won’t be a good show. You can only fool an audience a couple of times before they get sick of paying $5 for a bad show.

“As you always say, business should be done as a win-win situation. You making $1,200 while your comics get a few measly minutes on stage is hardly win-win.”

Phil is right. In the world of comedians, there are some who will not want to work for free. I’m a stand-up comic, myself. (I’ve performed onstage in all the Improv clubs in South Florida, the Hollywood Melrose Improv, and the Laugh Factory in LA.) And I can tell you that, in my experience, these are comedians who are at a higher level in their careers.

Phil is also right that many places have open-mic nights where comics can perform without bringing any paid guests. But it’s been my experience that the audiences for these shows are made up primarily of other comics. While stage time of any kind is great for a comic, that doesn’t offer the same benefit as performing in front of several hundred non-comedians.

Every part of the country is different. Here in South Florida, there are four major comedy clubs. The only open-mic shows they have require the comic to bring five to 10 paying guests. My comedian friends in NYC tell me it’s the same thing there. In Los Angeles, there are places (like the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory) where you can get stage time without going to a “bringer” show. But you have to wait outside for hours, and only a few of the dozens of swarming comics are chosen (by a lottery). And, once again, your audience is other comics.

As I explain in my event-promotion program, when choosing your event, you must consider local market factors. If you are expecting the entertainment to bring the audience, the deal must sound attractive to them.

I recently promoted The International Sketch Comedy Championship in Los Angeles. We not only asked each group to bring 20 paying audience members, we also required them to pay a fee just to be considered to perform. (In LA, that is a customary way of doing this kind of business.) But we made sure there was a huge benefit for the performers: We invited a number of heavyweight entertainment industry players to watch the show. And since then, nearly all of the participants have expressed their gratitude for getting to be part of the event.

One comedy group wrote: “The 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors are proud to have been part of the 2006 Sketch Comedy Championship. We were truly impressed by the professionalism of all parties involved and the high level of organization that was required to put such a high-profile event together. Our hats off to the producers for their support of the wacky comedy form known as sketch comedy, and a salute to all the talented performers we shared the stage with. What a wonderful, exhilarating experience it was!”

Another group said: “Friends With Benefits was very honored to be chosen from groups all over North America as one of the six finalists in the first-ever International Sketch Comedy Championship. Bringing our unique brand of comedy to an appreciative, sold-out, 296-seat theater right in the heart of downtown Los Angeles was a thrilling opportunity for us, as was being asked to participate in an event which served to promote and advance the state of sketch comedy entertainment. We would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Some of our participants have since advanced their careers. The Competitive Awesome, for instance, was signed by a prominent management firm whose representative saw the group perform at the Sketch Comedy Championship.

So, it was clearly a win-win situation for all involved. And that’s crucial to successful event promotion.

You’ll have to come up with a way to make your event sound attractive to the entertainment. If it’s a show featuring musical groups, for example, you could get a scout from a recording company to come out and watch the show. With comics, as I suggested before, it might be enough to simply offer them a chance to perform. Like I said, it all depends upon your market. In South Florida, while the advanced working comics won’t be interested in doing a “bringer show,” there are hordes of newer comics that consider it a win-win situation if you can provide them with a venue where there is a large, live audience to watch them.

Despite Phil Johnson’s concerns – which you may share – event promotion is an excellent, risk-free way to earn thousands of dollars. And you earn even more money when you do it the right way … by making sure that your event is beneficial to all parties involved.

“A lot of comedians, when they have a bad gig, will blame everything but themselves. They’ll blame the crowd, or the room was wrong, it had a weird vibe, or the promoter promoted a weird atmosphere.” – Allan Carr

(Ed. Note: Paul Lawrence, a regular contributor to ETR, is a produced screenwriter, direct-mail copywriter, and business author. He is also the creator of the Quick and Easy Microbusiness System, ETR’s program for starting a business for under $100.)