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Topic: Back in the Biz
Message: Posted by: Avocat (Jun 6, 2008 03:04AM)
Greetings all,

Just thought I'd share a few thoughts from the trenches. It's a long'un, so if one guy's thoughts on tradeshow magic ain't your thang, feel free to hit the back-button.

I just got back from a smaller Vegas convention, only about 600 attendees. But I wore myself out pretty good just the same. Reason is, this time I pulled out all the stops and hit every possible venue.

That means I not only worked the booth for eight hours straight, two days in a row, I also did walkaround at the wine & cheese sponsored by my competitor, the social mixer out by the pool and the awards lunch (before the awards, obviously).

For the booth itself, I had a 20-minute presentation ready which I think I did only twice. The rest of the time, it was attention-getters followed by a few quick effects and a much-shortened version of the corporate pitch.

Incidentally, the thinking behind Docc Hilford's published tradeshow act turned out to be largely spot-on. I used none of his tricks and only one of his actual come-on devices (but the one I used was a whopper!). However, Docc's seamless weaving of corporate message with magic was something he explained better than anyone I'd ever read (including Bauer, who I don't think mentions it at all).

The only other source I've come across that's just as useful (more so in some ways) is Anton Zellman's interview in "Conversations with Mindreaders." He works pharmaceutical conventions where legal considerations force him to script every second of his shows, which also subject them to approval by marketing and sales as well as in-house counsel.

Just FYI, so this isn't just a rambling mess of generalities, my approach was to use Bank Night as a come-on. I'd offer a chance to win $100, but actually pull the four Bank Night envelopes from a flaming wallet (Docc's idea - that way they know you're doing a trick and don't get upset when they don't win the $100). I used Osterlind's routine, except that I gave away $1 slot-machine vouchers in place of lottery tickets. The routine is noisy (especially when you're using a 10W Fender amp in an only 50' x 100' space) and runs long enough to build a crowd. Then I'd move into the pitch with whomever I'd gathered.

And that, by the way, is the key reason I'm posting this: I think "corporate acts" could benefit from pitching first, mag'itching second.

During the dot-com boom, I saw a lot of tradeshow magicians just doing a fixed stage act of ten to fifteen minutes. Some of them would work the product or company name into the routine, but in a forced and affected fashion.

One example:

A guy I saw at several shows would say, "This next card trick shows how we solve problems here at Gemplus [mispronouncing the company's name]." He'd then proceed to perform ... the Cassandra Deck. So is he saying that his company solves problems by fishing around blindly before stumbling onto the solution? (For people who don't know, Cassandra is, among other things, a pumping deck).

He'd then move on to his second trick, Becker's Flashback (which I think is a bad follow-up, since it also involves pumping). For this, he'd claim he uses NLP, and again mention that this is "a Gemplus" trick. Well, Gemplus (generally pronounced, "zham-PLOOSE") is a smart-card wholesaler. So what's the connection between data-storing credit cards and a beat-up paperback with a suspiciously retro bookcover?

(BTW. Docc's manuscript has some GREAT ideas on working the corporate message into your act in a manner that's not forced).

During that period, I only saw a few magicians who made it a point to structure their acts AROUND the product or corporate message. I did, but then I was usually hired as a corporate pitchman who happened to do magic tricks, when I wasn't simply an in-house employee.

Nowadays, companies are more careful with their cash (most of the time). More importantly, they can and probably often do track exactly how many new leads the magician brings in (it's easy - just compare the numbers before, during and after the magic act).

That's why I think it behooves performers to become salesman more than magicians. It might even be worthwhile to do what I did and start by creating a good corporate pitch, then adding tricks that make sense in that context.

In my case, I was pitching a new SAT course that uses handheld RF remotes issued to each student. The remotes make it possible to see if the class as a whole understands a given point, and allows the teacher to gather performance data on each individual student right after each exercise.

I used Bank Night as the come-on. Since it involves multiple-choice guided by the magician, it was an easy segue to multiple choice guided by a teacher - the essence of an SAT course.

After explaining the basic course, I'd ask if there were any educators in the crowd (they ALL were - it's a joke). I then have someone pick a card (a force) then pick an educator to "read your mind." The force card appears behind me and the subject, so whoever he picks will be able to "mindread" the proper card. That trick allows me to ask, "wouldn't it be neat if you really COULD read your students' minds, see what they're learning and how well?" THAT became a lead-in to demonstrating the actual technology.

Finally, I'd use PK Touches to represent the distance communication our SAT teaching method enables.

Point being, every effect blended seamlessly and naturally into the company pitch.

Now, of course, I have to admit to you at some point that I was not HIRED to do any of this. I actually created the company and the teaching method, so my emphasis on corporate message is not coincidental. Just the same, as a literal corporate rep speaking to you as a potential client, I can tell you that I'd be much more inclined to hire a magician who first asks me what product I'm selling and what features I'd like him to highlight, and only later shows me what tricks he plans on doing.

Anyway, that's it in a nutshell - a lesson I learned a while ago revisited during my first gig as the actual company owner, rather than its employee. And while I left Sin City pretty much exhausted, it was a good kind of tired. Time will tell whether it was also a profitable kind of tired. At the very least, a good number of college counselors will remember my company's name and technology.

Oh yeah, one last thing: at the wine & cheese, my competitor left survey cards on all the tables and counters. This gave me my perfect approach: using the Perfect Pen to punch a hole in my competitor's "product," then healing the hole to show that I'm unconventional, but not disrespectful. Again, great trick, perfectly in context, and for some reason REALLY appealed to pretty much everyone I hit up. I was especially tickled because I'd largely retired my Perfect Pen and only brought it with me on a whim. Ya' never can tell!

Magically yours,

Jim Kawashima
Message: Posted by: ClintonMagus (Jun 6, 2008 05:19AM)
Jim, you really seem to have an unusually spot-on understanding of what makes for effective trade show magic, and being the owner of the company gives you much more reason to make the message work. I, too, have attended trade shows where famous corporate magicians forced the companies' messages to fit stuff they already used, rather than the other way around. What results is something akin to using a wrench to drive a nail - it might work eventually, but it's just not the right tool for the job, and everyone watching will think you are an idiot...

In my experience, if most people remember the product or company, it's because the product or company is worth remembering and not because of some magic tricks. The magic does, however, provide some lagniappe for the clients and shows them that yours is much more than the typical stodgy corporate fortress.
Message: Posted by: Bob Sanders (Jun 6, 2008 05:27AM)
I was an entertainer long before becoming a marketing professor. Once I got beyond the MBA level in professional marketing, my focus for trade show magic really changed forever. Adding advertising and promotion with considerable more depth also changed the focus.

Trade shows are not about tricks. They are about identifying and connecting with real, high quality prospects. One of the real "tricks of the trade" is effective prospecting for those who meet the employer's objectives rather than identifying those who will let you entertain them. It is a conceptual leap that I rarely see trade show magicians make.

Bob Sanders
Magic By Sander
Message: Posted by: sethb (Jun 6, 2008 07:16AM)
Sounds like you did a great job. I considered trade show work for a while and have read Seth Kramer's "Modern Trade Show Handbook" and a few other works. But in the end I decided to stick with my Svengali Pitch (a distant relation to trade shows).

One question -- why would you also work a competitor's event at the same show? From what I've read and also heard by Eddie Tullock, this is pretty much considered to be a no-no. Can you explain a little more about that portion of it? Thanks. SETH
Message: Posted by: Avocat (Jun 6, 2008 04:02PM)
Sure, Seth! Simple answer - I also understand it to be a no-no but I did it anyway.

Sorry, I actually should've made that clear - I did knowingly cross some lines, and I need to acknowledge that. I actually expected to draw complaints (their booth was right at the entrance of the event, so they could see me "punching holes" in their cards) but they were pretty much indifferent. I also thought companies might get upset at me working tables at the awards lunch, making myself so obvious at the mixer, and using my own sound-system (only 10 watts!) in a relatively small ballroom.

Worse yet, when they had music problems, I generously offered to help out, and installed my stage-show sound system (an older iPod with an iJet transmitter - it really does have a 100' range!). That way, I was able to stop the entire room's music when starting my pitch (only did that twice, honest!). I resisted the urge to turn up the volume while competitors were trying to hold meetings.

I fully expected to get censured (Bauer claims he gets in trouble all the time for jamming up aisles), but I only got praise, some of it from the competition. Honestly, I don't think they cared, since most of the companies were just there to show face (I was one of only three companies with an actual product designed FOR the college counselor attendees - everyone else's target markets were students or administrators).

So yeah, bottom line, I did it though I shouldn't have. Can't really justify it. My reason (not excuse) was that I'm running a small start-up in a fairly mature market, so I'll scrabble for any leg-up I can get.

The competitor, by the way, was The Princeton Review, whose founders were trained by the same SAT prep company I started at 25 years ago. They've long since gone corporate, so their tradeshow staffers tend to be apathetic place-holders. Not that it makes it okay to break tradition, mind you!

Thanks for the reminder, though. Good to remember where the boundaries are.

And thanks, too, for the comments from Clinton and Bob - good to know (again, speaking as a client not a magician) that the importance of the message is already understood by some "workers" out there. Without it, magicians are really just booth-gimmicks, when they could be the best salespeople the company's ever seen.

best wishes,

Jim Kawashima
Message: Posted by: ClintonMagus (Jun 6, 2008 05:17PM)
Just remember - it's easier to get forgiveness than permission.

I think it's a hoot!
Message: Posted by: sethb (Jun 7, 2008 05:03PM)
Well Jim, that's one neat way to get a toehold in the trade show business that I hadn't thought of -- rent a booth yourself, then hire yourself to promote your own product!

I'm sure more than a few other vendors took notice. Good Luck! SETH