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May 2, 2012 10:24 PM   Subscribe

How do you sell an entertainment booth/game/contest to something like a trade show, fundraiser or festival and/or its sponsors?

I may find myself in the position of having to derive revenue from a giveaway game hardware/software package designed to be played by many event-goers on large screens. Everything will be fine legally/contractually but we won't have the well-connected person who was supposed to bring in the business after all.

I want to make some money with it, but I don't know anything about booking events with it or signing up sponsors. I am looking for some inside information I can apply to this situation in the form of anecdotes and/or links.

Some more aspects of my question:
How do I go about renting this thing out?
Are there agents/distributors?
Do the sponsors come first or the events?
Who are the people I have to sell to and what do they want to see from me and the game?
How far out are these kinds of decisions made in the industry you're familiar with?
Is it hard to get paid?
Are we expected to pay but profit off the sponsors?
What are the gotchas?
What am I missing?

There is enough money to travel around to meet qualified prospects but not to hire a salesperson.
posted by michaelh to Work & Money (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm finding your questions kind of hard to answer because it's not clear what your basic plan is.

Is it:

1) You own/control the rights to the game and are looking to sell/rent/lease the game to other people who will then go to events and run the game?


2) You intend to take this game to events & run it yourself.

If #2, then you want to find yourself a booking agent. He or she will operate as a salesperson and marketer & take care of a lot of the business aspects of the gig in exchange for 10 to 20% of your gross. You want to look for one that handles magicians, jugglers, mentalists, casino nights - "acts" other than just musicians, since they'll have the experience and connections to find gigs.

Colleges & universities seem to be a common place to book shows like that.

I'd think for a game like this to be successful it needs a charismatic & energetic frontperson to run the game at the events. If that's not you, you'll want to hire somebody. Local semi-amateur actors, maybe.

It also seems like this game could be fairly labor-and-equipment-intensive; sound system, video screens & projectors, maybe costumes & props, some way to transport all of this stuff and probably at least two people to set it up and break it down.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:33 AM on May 3, 2012

Response by poster: It's #2. Yes, we will definitely hire more personable people to run the game, and we will be there to set up/fix problems/tear down. A company that moves stage equipment will deliver the large items when and where we need them and we will bring the smaller items.

Is it hard to find good booking agents? Would an event be more receptive to a large company's agent or do they just work with agents with which they have a personal connection?
posted by michaelh at 9:36 AM on May 3, 2012

Best answer: Well, I really only have tangential experience with this aspect of the entertainment biz, but maybe I can clarify a few things for you.

The first being that basically, you are now an "entertainer", like a musician or a wedding DJ or a magician, and the entertainment business is a little different from other businesses. So some of the terms you used in your above questions aren't quite relevant as you used them.

How do I go about renting this thing out?

As I said, you're now an "entertainer", and you're selling an Experience (or a service) rather than a Thing. The Game is just the tool you use to entertain people, like a magician's top hat and fake flowers & rabbits.

Who is interested in your entertainment I think depends a lot on what type of game it is. Is it family-friendly ? Kid-friendly ? Can it be customized for different age ranges or even for specific groups (i.e. if it's, say, a trivia game where you can create the questions and answers, you could market it to corporations as a fun team-building exercise, since you could have company-specific questions and answers.)

So this is where a booking agent is useful - they'll know or come up with ideas about who to market it to.

Are there agents/distributors?

It was the word "distributors" that made me think you might be looking to sell copies of the game. "Distributors" deal with Things, and as I said above, you're not actually selling a Thing, so "distributor" isn't really a relevant word.

"Qualified prospects" was another phrase that didn't really compute - you're trying to sell them your services as an entertainer. The only qualification they need is that the check clears.

More on agents in a minute.

Do the sponsors come first or the events?

The events, if I'm interpreting your question correctly. For example, you wander down to the Rockford Illinois 5th Ward Blues Festival & Rib Cook-off, you see that there are all sorts of games for kids, you think, "hey, my game could work really well here! How do I get in on this?"

Two ways - if there's some way to directly monetize your game (3 tries for a dollar or such) you can pay a fee to the festival organizers for a space in the festival area and then hope you sell enough to pay for the "booth space" & expenses & some profit. If that's not possible with how your game is set up, you would approach the entertainment committee looking to be hired as one of the entertainers for the festival.

In this situation, "sponsors", (as in banners all around that say "Sponsored by Swedish American Hospital") are more of a generic thing. A company doesn't generally sponsor specific acts - they either donate money to the festival as a whole in return for some promotion, or they might donate to a specific area; the Main Stage, the Second Stage, the Kids' Play Area, etc etc. Some events might be set up so that a company can sponsor a specific act, but even then the money probably has to go through the festival committee, most of which are probably non-profits heavily staffed with volunteers.

Who are the people I have to sell to and what do they want to see from me and the game?

Besides the generic answer, "Fun, " it's too hard to say without knowing more about the game.

How far out are these kinds of decisions made in the industry you're familiar with?

Highly variable - 2 years to 24 hours.

Is it hard to get paid?

This is another place where a booking agent helps - he's the one who chases down the money, and he knows the quirks of his various customers. My guess is a lot of your work will be for corporations or festivals or colleges, many of which operate on a 30-to-90-day billing cycle - that is to say, it'll take 'x' number of days for a check to be cut from the day they get an invoice. Again, an agent will take this into consideration (invoicing customers before the event), but it'd be a good idea to keep some cash reserves around so you can pay your overhead (frontperson, labor, transportation, storage) in a timely manner even if your customers are slow to pay.

Are we expected to pay but profit off the sponsors?

See above explanation of "sponsors." Unless you're thinking of the word in a different use, this question isn't really answerable - that's not how "sponsors" work.

Would an event be more receptive to a large company's agent or do they just work with agents with which they have a personal connection?

Well, even in a large agency, "personal connection" is really really important. The thing is I don't really know of any large agencies that book non-musical acts - not that I'm super-familiar with all the booking agencies in the U.S. It's kind of a niche market, and anyway, you don't really need much to be a booking agent - a phone, some generic contracts and some acts that will agree to pay you a percent if you get them a gig. There's no reason a one-man operation can't be a successful booking agent. I'd look for longevity rather than size.

Is it hard to find good booking agents?

Actually, you're probably going to want to find more than one - as far as I can tell, you won't sign an exclusive contract with a single agency, you'll work with several different agencies with various combinations of territory and customers. For example, one guy will get you corporate and college gigs in Madison, another can get you corporate work in Milwaukee, a third can get you the college gigs around Milwaukee, a fourth guy is hooked in to all the small-town festivals in northern Illinois, so on and so forth. Again, I think you should look for longevity (if he's been in business for 20 years he can't have screwed over too many people too badly) and experience with non-musical acts.

Hope this helps.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:19 PM on May 3, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, thank you for that perspective and information. It's going to be interesting for this developer to switch from product mode to entertainment sales mode but I better see how it can be done.
posted by michaelh at 6:52 AM on May 4, 2012

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