At MeetingsNet's Las Vegas Corporate Invitational Destination Showcase, held April 11-13, Matthew Gucu, a 25-year-veteran of the entertainment industry, spoke to meeting planners on entertainment for events.
Gucu, who is a professional singer and entertainer as well as the owner of New Moon Entertainment, a booking agency for talent and production experts in Las Vegas, began his presentation with the five-ingredient-formula for a great entertainment event: venue, décor, audiovisual, catering, and talent. “All of these are pieces of a larger puzzle that weave the tapestry of the experience,” he said, “The backbone of entertainment is hospitality.” Gucu defined hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors, or strangers,” but his presentation to the meeting planners in the room included a warning not to limit hospitality only to attendees.
Gucu said, “Creating good energy for the whole team of staff, vendors, and entertainers means making sure everyone is involved. You don’t want a bartender in a crappy mood serving your CEO.” Gucu recommended talking to everyone working at the event beforehand. “Let them know the nature of the event, who will be there, and really focus on creating a good atmosphere for everyone.”
Make Good on Promises
Gucu described an experience where his 1980s tribute band, 80s Station, had been contracted to play at a nightclub every Saturday for several months. They were promised a dressing room to change into their costumes, but after signing the contract they arrived at the club to find they were expected to prepare for the stage in a tiny room used to store cleaning materials. There were no chairs, tables, or mirrors. Management told them conditions would improve but somehow, they never did.
Gucu said, “We are professional, so we smiled through the pain and made it work, but, here’s a rhetorical question: How excited do you think we were to play that venue? How do you think our energy translated to the audience and the staff when we came out of the broom closet each week?” Gucu pointed out that everyone contributes to the energy of an event so the “friendly and generous” part of hospitality should pertain to the entire team of people, not just the invited guests.
Know Your Audience
Gucu mentioned a Fourth of July event at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas many years ago, where 80s Station was hired to play. On arriving at the hotel to set up for the gig, Gucu saw a 1960s Bell AH-1 Cobra Attack helicopter sitting in the middle of the ballroom. It was not a good sign. It transpired that the band had been hired to entertain a room full of Vietnam Veterans. Gucu described the situation: “As I recall from history books, the soldiers who returned from the war were not greeted with appreciation. Only six short years later in August 1981, MTV was launched and the Brat Pack generation was born. The indulgent, “me” era was in full effect. Let me tell you, our 80s music was the last thing on earth these guys wanted to hear for the next three hours. So, after numerous angry requests for “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” by The Animals, we finally got the hell out of that place, leaving behind a trail of frowns and disappointment. Lesson learned: Know your audience.”
Choosing the right talent for your event is critical. More recently, one of Gucu’s clients hired a DJ from his agency. The meeting planner specifically requested music from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but when the DJ started his set the audience of mostly 32-year-old employees of the startup company hosting the event started making their own requests. Gucu says the music literally became a tug of war between the increasingly inebriated planner and the rest of the attendees switching back and forth between Bon Jovi and Donna Summer, and 50 Cent and Beyoncé. The result made the DJ look bad, disappointed attendees, and made the planner look very unprofessional when she started yelling “Where’s my disco?” Gucu’s advice to planners is to choose the entertainment for the attendees, not yourself.
Negotiating with an Act
Gucu says that although booking entertainment may seem more complicated than hiring a venue because many acts have riders with special requests, it is the same as negotiating with any other vendor. Planners who can’t fulfill all of the artist’s requests can sometimes still book the act if they upgrade a room or make a compromise somewhere else.
The biggest leverage a planner has is the date; artists are likely to be a lot more amenable during the week because they often only get work at the weekend.
Gucu said, “Nine times out of 10 an artist wants to get booked, and meetings are a great source of work for them.”