By Casey Mulcare
Coordinator for Student Programming, Office of Student Involvement and Leadership
I’ve been there. You think you did everything right, and you open the doors to your highly anticipated program and…crickets. A room set up for 150, with barely the front row taken. It’s a buzz kill to you, your organization, and your performer or speaker. Sometimes, it was circumstances out of your control (I’ve lost crowds to rain, snow, and sporting events on TV) and you have to chalk it up as a loss. Other times, however, it was a lack of proper planning and prepping, which can be avoided.
I’ve compiled a list that has helped me to greater success with a performer on campus. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to start the process early (at least six weeks out from your desired date) and to seek the advice of others. I’ve learned quickly that what I thought was cool or interesting or timely may not be what my audience wants to see anymore, so I always run ideas by my peers and students to be sure I’m on the right page. Here’s some other helpful hints:
- Shop around – The one thing about showbiz is, there’s always someone new trying to make a name for themselves. Once you decide what kind of performer you want and what your budget range is, reach out to multiple agencies to see who they would recommend. Need agencies or don’t know where to start? Ask folks who have attended conferences like the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) conference, where they focus on college performer business.
- Involve others – Get some input from your students or committee members on who they’d like to see from your short list of options. Getting others invested in the decision will only help to build hype for the show. Be sure your performer is keeping up with current trends and is relevant to your target audience.
- Read your contract/rider – It may seem like the easiest part of hosting a successful event with an act, but you wouldn’t believe how many hiccups can occur that could have been avoided with another glance at the needs of the act. Most good acts will send you their list of needs, or “rider”, when they send you the contract. Be sure to read it and go over their needs ahead of time. The day of the event does not count as ahead of time.
- Get their contact info – Another simple task, but a crucial one. As we know with our new students, BSU has a lot of their own acronyms and lingo that may not make sense to a performer coming here for the first time or once a year. Get their cell phone or personal email, and give yours to the booking agent (who may be the act). Having a backup contact person is also a good idea.
- Prep that venue – Be sure to work with your CESO contact ahead of time to book and prepare the venue that is right for the performance and expected attendance. An intimate speaker panel may get lost in the Grand Ballroom. A comedian used to performing in dark comedy clubs won’t hit their jokes as well with bright lighting and an audience seated too far away. Have questions on what setting works best? Talk to the booking agent, they’re usually happy to help you. You’d also be amazed what a small decorations budget can do to transform your venue for the audience.
- Fill the seats – You’ve been advertising, right? Research has shown that you need to see a marketing message 3 to 5 times minimum for it to really sink in. Make use of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get the word out, but don’t rely on it. Print advertising, student and staff announcements, table tents, personal emails to possible interested parties, and tabling in the ECC or RCC are all great ways to get the word out. Don’t be afraid to do something a little out of the box to spread your message (radio stations do a great job at this!). Reaching out to classes that may see this as a great co-curricular experience (a.k.a. extra credit) will also help your numbers.
- They’re people too – A lot of these performers spend a majority of their year on the road. Having water or a snack ready for them (check that rider) or recommendations for hotels or meals can really make a difference to the performer. Doing that little extra for them will pay out dividends when they take the stage!
- Follow up – If needed, follow up with the act or agent and give them feedback. I have a number of agencies I can turn to at a moment’s notice in an emergency because I have taken the time to build relationships with them as a business partner.
On multiple campuses and in a variety of settings, these steps have shown success with acts that are just starting out to veterans in their field. Simply being a good host and doing your homework ahead of time can truly make or break your next event.