The Agent's Perspective...Up close and personal with Gary Berg, of GL Berg Entertainment Pt II
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
When putting the final touches on these interviews I realized what an enormous amount of valuable information was being disseminated. Gary's transparency in this business is unusual. When I asked him if he thought his way of doing business was unique, he said, "Sadly, it's not as prevalent as it should be. In business, I know there are wonderful people out there that are ethical and straight forward. You know, if you're going to go and get your car fixed you are obviously going to go to someone who you can trust. That is who you want. I feel like that is what people should get with an entertainment agency." This sense of fairness also extends to the acts who work with GL Berg. I know from personal experience that the entertainers who work with Gary also carry a sense of ethics. It is not so much about the money as it is the opportunity to practice their craft and in doing so bring something positive to any given audience.
The interview was a pleasure. And now, here is Part II.
OK, I am an act and I want to come to GL Berg and pitch my services to you guys. What do I need to have in place before I even consider approaching you?
Well, you have to have a legitimate resume at this stage of the game. There are different phases obviously. There are your really good upstart people, there are people who have been doing it for awhile and your true veterans. Where we are at right now is this: I like talking to people who are looking at potentially doing it for a career, where they have an ambition and skill set. When those people come to talk to me I generally will tell them to read the book I wrote called ‘Entertainers Who Work.’
It has a ton of information in it. Really kind of a boiler plate template for entertainers. And I then say, if you can check off all the boxes in the book, then come back and talk to me because we can then potentially do something.
If someone knows they are going to be a full time professional or maybe they already are the very basic things we need would be a really high quality promotional video that is short; Preferably in the 60 second to 2 minute range. A video that is a legitimate, honest and well done professional commercial that tells what the act is. That is the biggest selling tool we have when working with clients.
It needs to be done professionally.
Same thing with photography. Something that will catch peoples eye. Something that is professional and doesn’t look like it was taken with a cell phone by your neighbor in the basement! Something that is actually interesting and speaks to a client and says, ‘Yes, this looks fun, professional and good.’
Then, we will look at these materials and learn a little more from the act what their accomplishments have been and what their goals are in the future.
And then, I make the effort to go out and see the act. There is always the possibility that it might be great but one we can’t sell.
Can you give me an example of that situation?
Well, I really enjoy original acoustic guitar music and vocals. I can’t sell that to anybody. Corporates don’t want to buy it, fairs don’t want to buy it and colleges don’t want to buy it. It is a wonderful art form but it isn’t for us. It doesn’t mean you’re not talented it just means we can’t sell it. Or maybe you’re in a band that is really good that works bars and weddings. Really good but we don’t sell to those clients. Or another example would be comedians who are really funny but work blue. We can’t sell that to anybody. They are great for comedy clubs but they are not anything that we can use.
So we go through a vetting process. If we feel that they are good people, good act, good promo and that it is an act that is unique and interesting enough where we have clients who want to buy this, then we try them out in essence. We will put them on a show or two and start the process. See how they do, how they handle paper work, how they handle clients and what the reviews are from the show. Then we grow it. If it all goes well, and it feels right, feels good and all the elements are in place, in other words the promo was there, they were on time, commissions paid and its all good, then we take the next step and book them on more shows. Eventually we get to a point where we sign a representation agreement for a year or two. Basically, if everybody does what they are supposed to do, then an agreement like that can stay in place for a long time. And then, we get as much work out of it as we can which is good for both parties.
Are you a proponent of exclusive agreements with acts?
Yes, I am. The reasons might be different than what one might think. Basically, an exclusive agreement will keep things legit and honest. In this day and age of technology, clients want to shop. What they have a tendency to do is this: they might contact us and say we are looking for something for such and such event. We will then send them a proposal lets say for a comic ventriloquist who is very good. We will then say the price is such and such for this date to do this. We send the video and info about the act. Well, if they’re not exclusive with us the client will check the name, go on the internet and might find there are two other agencies that are booking that act.
Or they contact the act direct. And the act might say, ‘yeah, I can do it, I’m open and I can do it for such and such, which is half the money that I just pitched that act. Well, I then look like a thief when in reality I was just trying to protect the act by getting them the kind of money they deserve. Our reputation is then damaged and our ability to work with that client is damaged.
Or another agent who hasn’t even seen the act gets contacted by the potential client and is asked if they can get this particular performer for their event. To which the agent says, “Oh sure.” Well they don’t know anything about the act but they go ahead and sell it. But they don’t know anything about the act. They don’t know how to price it, they don’t know availability, whatever.
On the other hand, if they are an exclusive act with us we can truly know proper ethical pricing and availability at that moment when we are on the phone with the client. We have everything in place from tax forms, to contracts, to promotional material. In other words we have everything to make it a clean good situation for everybody. And so, by far and away we sell our exclusive acts more often than our non exclusive acts.
Certainly we sell non exclusive acts when people have special needs that we don’t have. For instance, perhaps a client who love’s to work with us all the time calls and wants to book a country band for a country themed event and they say, “can you help us.” Well we have resources where we know a great country band but we don’t book enough country bands where we would have an exclusive relationship. But, we do have relationships, where we would book that particular country band and do so maybe 8 to 10 times a year. This, in comparison to an exclusive act where we might book them 40, 60 or 100 times a year.
Once an act signs with an agency, does that particular act then need to continue promoting on their own, or do they now turn that aspect of their business over to you?
They have to continue. But, it’s a little bit different. The act needs to realize that they are now in a partnership. The more that act continues to promote themselves the better off they will be. But, the agency will also promote at a higher level than they can. So, it becomes a partnership promotionally. A lot of the acts promotional efforts take place after shows when people come up and say, “Oh you were great, you should do such and such event.” It is important that the act makes sure they get that information and get it over to us so that we can follow up and get that next event booked.
Staying on top of high quality videos and pictures is critical. Promotional material gets old and stale quickly. Also, if the act gets involved in their own mailings to get their name out there, that is great.
Is GL Berg also involved in direct mail advertising?
Yes. We are actively involved in promotional mailings on behalf of our acts regularly. For instance, coming up in September we will be doing a mailing of our acts to over 9,000 clients and potential clients. We also do individual post card mailings, showcases and print advertisements. But, anything the act can do to supplement that is really good. For the most part, what we have done to keep everyone working is this: We don’t promote ourselves as the agency for any particular act on a large or macro scale. We promote ourselves as the agency that you can come to when you need great entertainment. We have built that reputation. So, now when people come to us and say, “here is our date, here is our budget, here is our audience. What do you have?” We then look at our exclusive acts and say we have the perfect act for this. We send them the material, we talk to them about it, and we contract it.
All in all, my advice to acts is to do everything you can to get the word out there. Maybe you get on television, or if you are at a state fair do an interview, they are always looking for people…do that. This is the kind of self-promotion I’m talking about. Don’t wait for the agency to set that up. The more you can do to self promote, the better. We have the calendar, the contract and the pricing. You, the act won’t have to worry about that aspect of your career.
You’ve written a really good book entitled: ‘Entertainers who work, a guide to turning your talent into a full time career.’ Why did you do that?
I think it is a bit of a legacy piece. I feel that I am really uniquely qualified to write it. I have been working and selling entertainment for the past thirty plus years. Plus, I taught entrepreneurship through St Thomas University. I understand there is actually a business to all of this. I understand the value of business plans and being an entrepreneur. I also understand mistakes that people make in this business. So, as I wrote it, I realized that the business plan for someone who wants to be a professional entertainer is very different than say a business plan for someone who wants to open a restaurant.
This book is geared toward specifically going through the process of determining how to be a professional entertainer. I actually found a big hole in that area. The processes I point out in the book, are simply not covered in the academic arena. Even if you’re a theater major or a music major or recording artist the process of understanding how one can get on a stage at a fair or corporate event, theater or post prom is a niche that no one really understands.
Being a professional entertainer is a valid career path, but the how to of that was a big piece of information that was simply missing. I spent about twelve years writing the book coming up with a template to help people ask and answer the questions they need to think through. This allows the opportunity to decide “No, I don’t want to do this,” or “yes, I do.” If the answer is ‘yes, I do,’ then the book shows you how to really improve your odds of being successful. Over the years I found myself so many times talking to people about bits and pieces of this. Frankly it’s a lot easier to say, get the book and read it all. (laughs) It’s twenty bucks or what have you. It will be the best money you’ll ever spend if you are at all interested in this career.
Is the book being well received?
I’m really pleased. I just recently received an order from Australia. That makes eight different countries now as well as every state in the United States. It’s on amazon and I feel it has become a really good resource for people. I feel it is really a unique piece for people that are considering entertainment as a career.
Do you consider yourself a mentor?
(pause) Yes, I think with my staff I do. With acts I think I’m a partner. I never tell acts what to do with their show. I never have. That’s not what I do. I do feel I’m creative and I know what sells and we can have good discussions but its up to the act what they are going to do with it all. What I’m really good at is sharing my experience with agency people who work with me. So, in that world, I do feel I’m a mentor.
Legacy…what kind of a legacy do you want to leave?
I love what I do. I’m healthy and I truly love what I do. That is the nicest part of the whole deal. Regarding legacy…I don’t get hung up on that at all. But, if I am really honest about it, I would love it if fifty years from now this company is still operating under the same cultural concept that we help people have careers bringing laughter and fun and joy to people all over the world. That’s a wonderful legacy. Whether my name is attached to that or not doesn’t really matter. But that was my goal when we started. I feel we are there now thirty years later and I see no reason why thirty or fifty years from now it continues.
I would love it if a whole bunch of people would say, “I love this career I have and I would not have been able to do it as successfully had I not had the help of GL Berg Entertainment.” That would be a pretty cool legacy. I hope when I am done, it doesn’t miss a beat. We have a very strong and talented staff of people who have been with me now for many years. I’m hoping that the approach and thought process of providing entertainment remains the same. That is, that we are trustworthy, ethical, good people who care. That’s the goal.
To order the book, Entertainers Who Work, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Entertainers-Who-Work-Gary-Berg/dp/159298651X/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=entertainers+who+work&qid=1567026404&s=gateway&sr=8-1
To visit GL Berg Entertainment go here: https://www.glberg.com/
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