Sochi Closing Ceremony: How to Own Your Mistakes

Sochi RingsRussians aren’t exactly known for their sense of humour; sprawling literary opuses, revolutions, Soviet montage cinema, nesting dolls, shirtless horseback rides and a less than hospitable attitude towards homosexuality, sure… but not so much humour. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the organisers were able to laugh at themselves, specifically the Olympic Rings blunder/malfunction from the opening ceremony. As a troupe of dancers expanded to form the iconic Olympic logo, one last ring of dancers lagged behind the rest in a wry nod to the now famous ‘snowflake moment’ from the opening ceremony.

When we think back to the Winter Olympics of 2014, we’ll remember double toilets, we’ll remember protests, and we’ll remember stray dog culls – none of which were things that the organisers intended us to take away from the event. Yet the snowflake could well end up being the indelible image from the 2014 winter Olympics and it too came about by accident; it may even overshadow some of the nastier stories that came out of the Sochi in the last few weeks. I’m not here to talk about the other questionable aspects of the games, but there’s a lesson to be learnt here from how Russia handled the closing ceremony. They took hold of an element of their opening ceremony that went wrong and twisted it around in to something positive.

Not only is it a great example of a wily PR manoeuvre (as well as an example of how entertainment can be used to get a message across – in this case “Ooops”) but it also displays a surprisingly healthy attitude towards ‘mistakes’ at events. I’m sure that there were a few slapped wrists after the opening ceremony but after the dust had settled, someone recognised the fact that out of this pyrotechnic misstep, they could create something organic and playful. Here was one blunder from the Winter Olympics that the organisers could take control of.

In an industry so focussed on schedules and seating plans and military precision, there’s sometimes a danger of strangling all the fun and spontaneity out of an event. When something goes wrong, fingers are pointed, blame is apportioned and mistakes are hastily swept under the events rug. But while it’s good to stick to the plan, maybe sometimes it’d be better if we all accepted that serendipity is a big part of what makes live events so exciting and memorable.

Have any examples of memorable accidents in events or live performances? Let us know in the comments.

Can Women in Events Change Event Entertainment?

Amber Topaz at Cafe de Paris

How many times have you said or heard the phrase “The audience is _% men, soooo…”? I’m guessing a few at least. In our particular corner of the events industry, it comes up a lot. It’s usually a roundabout way of saying “we would like a something that features young, attractive women, please.” That could mean anything from a burlesque show to a background string quartet so long as the performers are women, preferably young, conventionally attractive.

2013’s recently announced Event 100, as featured on this very website, features 43 women – 23 more than the previous year which, in our experience is far more representative of the industry than the list has been in previous years. The events industry should be an example to other industries with regards to how many women feature in prominent positions and I hope it’s something that continues in the coming years.

But if there are so many women high up in events, why do we still get those “_% Men enquiries”? Why are we still asked to indulge any male guests that want to see a pretty young woman playing a saxophone rather than, say a more experienced performer? We’re of the opinion that a really good act is a really good act whatever the split of people in a room, but too often people hedge their bets by trying to pander to what they think an audience might want. There’s nothing wrong with an all female string quartet, there’s nothing wrong with a burlesque show but if they’re being booked to perform at an event it should be because they’re great performers, not because they fit someone’s skewed perception of the audience.

To be clear, this isn’t all enquiries, this isn’t all clients and it works in the opposite direction too (“_% women sooooo…”) but it’s still something that comes up with alarming frequency. And I say this fully aware that we in the entertainment business are at least part of the problem. We’re about to head in to the World Cup this summer, during which you can expect to see a lot of exposed flesh and feathers, and while we can rant and rave all we like, we’re most probably not going to rock the boat during what looks to be a lucrative period.

We’re not in a position to berate a client for their… let’s say ‘old fashioned’ attitudes to our performers. We do our best when someone crosses a line, but at the end of the day we one small cog in a larger event machine. So if we can’t bring these issues up, who can? Well hopefully, as women increase their influence on events, we can all start to openly question some of the things we take for granted when it comes to entertaining audiences… whatever the gender split.

If Your Company Could Sign a Band– Who Would it Be?

Sex Pistols Signing Record DealIf you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the first week and a bit of 2014 reading a number of the “Hot Trends for 2014” articles that make up about a third of the Internet in January – you may even have been asked for a few tips of your own for the coming year (Ours? Get used to the sound of Samba Drums, fast.) One trend that’s popped up in a few music industry discussions this year is that of brands getting cosy with the music industry; last year brands pumped more than £100m into the UK music industry sponsoring tours and festivals and working with artists to create unique content for their websites and social media channels.

Brands like Red Bull, Mountain Dew (through Green Label)  and Toyota (via their “lifestyle marketing division” Scion AV) have gone further, creating their own music labels, signing acts and supporting anything from EP releases and video shoots to entire tours. Interestingly, the artists that accept a little helping hand from big brands aren’t doing so with cries of “Sell Out” ringing in their ears. Sure, they’ll still receive the odd upturned nose here and there, but with music sales on the fall, performers are increasingly willing to align themselves with brands in order to further their careers and its becoming less and less of an issue among their peers.

It just goes to show how powerful music can be in helping form the image of a brand. Take a quick browse through the acts that Red Bull Records have signed and – while they’re a varied bunch – you get a clear indication of how they want people to perceive their brand. We’re finding our clients are thinking the same way about the music at their events too – becoming more and more discerning when it comes to matching an act to a particular event.

So imagine your company got into the act signing game – who would you sign? What does a *your name here* act sound like? Let us know in the comments…

For more on events and entertainment, take a look at our blog.

Ed Milliband’s Music Taste


Ed Miliband’s musical taste has been the subject of much media scrutiny following his appearance on Desert Island Discs this week. The Labour Leader’s music choices are either ‘Cheesy’ ,’recherche camp trendy’ or prove that ‘he doesn’t appear to  like music that much at all’. A-Ha’s Take On Me sat awkwardly next to Robbie William’s saccharine Angels and even Miliband admitted he would have had people “shouting at the radio” for some of his picks. Whatever you take away from Ed’s appearance on Radio 4, one thing is for certain – trying to define yourself in 8 songs is no easy task.

But isn’t that what we should be doing when we select the entertainment for an event? It might not be 8 songs but the principle is the same; a few acts or performances that sum up a company, a brand, a product… even a whole year.  Is this a Beat Boxing kind of product? Are we a Flamenco kind of brand? Has it been a Heliosphere of a year for us? Entertainment can be used as a way to reinforce brand values, reflect the strengths of a product or service or even just give a sprawling multinational corporation a bit of a human side.

To Miliband’s credit, it’s clear his list wasn’t a focus grouped attempt to make him seem relatable or anywhere approaching ‘cool’ (see Gordon Brown feigning familiarity with the Arctic Monkeys or David Cameron professing an unexpected love of The Smiths) but rather a guy who was, for better or worse, being pretty honest. If we can take one thing away from Miliband’s Desert Island Discs it’s that – as Alex Petredis put it “He seemed to be picking music almost entirely for what it signified, not how it sounded”; Paul Robeson reminded him of his father, Neil Diamond reminded him of Boston – we might not want to give him control of the jukebox, but we at least know a little more about him after those 8 songs.

For more of our thoughts on entertainment and the events industry, take a look at our blog.

Is It Good to Frighten Your Guests?

blog_London Dungeon Violin (4)Like a knife wielding maniac in a rubber Shatner Mask, October has crept up on us again here at Sternberg Clarke… or should I say Scareberg Clarke? No, you’re absolutely right, I shouldn’t. The point is that, come October we generally start thinking about putting together Halloween themed corporate events and in particular, the kinds of entertainment that that entails. But the thing about corporate events is – they’re rarely all that scary.

The lack of genuine fright in corporate events is often down to the ‘corporate’ part. If you’re putting on an event, chances are you’re trying to promote a product or a brand and there are few brands that want their customers to associate them with ‘abject terror’. But are we missing a trick by not filling our guests with fear? This video review from Mark Kermode got me thinking (particularly around the 2:52 mark when he discusses audience responses to horror.)

In the video, Kermode talks about how an audience watching The Evil Dead would talk to each other to ‘calm themselves down’ after a particularly big scare. It’s something we’ve all seen in the cinema, people turning to each other to calm their nerves, but it occurred to me it’s something we could take advantage of in an event. Scaring people allows them to let their guard down a little, it bonds a group of people (be that guests or cinema goers) and has them turning to complete strangers with relieved laughs, giggling “did you see that?”

Aside from events at The London Dungeons – where guests are routinely shocked by all manner of ingenious tricks and special effects during the course of the evening – we rarely get the chance to make guests jump out of their seats with entertainment, but it strikes me as a great way to get people chatting and loosening up straight off tha bat (bwah ha ha vampire joke…) But what do you think? Would you like to scare your guests? Or does that sounds like an events  nightmare? (Bwah ha haI’ll stop now…)

For more of our thoughts on entertainment and events, take a look at our blog

Edinburgh, Musical Comedy and Corporate Events

Musical Comedy from Tom Binns

In our last post here, I mentioned that Sternberg Clarke team member Rob was heading off to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. Well, he’s back now and the festival has given him plenty to think about both as a performer and an entertainment booker. In particular, he’s been considering musical comedy and its use at corporate events.

Music and comedy, what’s not to like? When done well, musical comedy can be wonderfully diverse, uniquely surprising and absolutely hilarious.  As a self-confessed comedy and music geek I am naturally disposed to enjoy entertainment that combines both disciplines; but having come back from this year’s Edinburgh Festival, I’m inclined to argue that musical comedy is not just a great option for corporate events, but one that’s sorely underused.

Events are full of distractions: “where’s my next canapé?”, “is this Champagne or Prosecco?” and “is that so-and-so from such-and-such?” (and why can’t I remember their name)…  All of these distractions create an environment where any entertainment is going to have to work hard to grab their audience’s attention. It’s something we’re constantly weighing up when we suggest acts for corporate clients.

“Traditional” stand-up comedy is perfect when you have an audience’s undivided attention; say, if they’re seated at an awards ceremony or dinner, or if you’ve got a big name comic. But if you know your event has other elements vying for your guest’ attentions, it can often be better to go in a different direction. A punch line will always fall flat if guests miss the set-up because they’re chatting, or concentrating on where their next drink/canapé is coming from.

Musical comedy is a different proposition altogether. Whether it’s with a familiar hook or a catchy tune, musical comedy has a way of cutting through the background noise without being overbearing. In Edinburgh I saw Jollyboat win over a tough Friday night crowd by opening their show with a stunning 8 minute medley straight off the bat.  By the end of the piece they had transformed a rowdy distracted crowd into an attentive audience.

In fact, I was lucky enough to catch a number of fantastic acts that incorporated music into their performance.  I’m not here to end my career as a performer by actually writing a full review of these acts (“Why” you ask. Here’s why…) but I’d warmly recommend comedians like Darren Walsh, Hill & Weedon, Jollyboat and the brilliant Tom Binns (as Ivan Brackenbury, pictured) to anyone looking to add some humour into proceedings.

Music is a powerful tool that can be exploited to alter the mood and tempo of an event so it follows that a musical comedy act can lift the mood and the tempo of an event in a very different way to a classic stand up.  It’s an option I hope that more of our clients explore in the run up to Christmas and one we’ll be happy to discuss in the coming months.

For more of our thoughts on entertainment and the events industry, be sure to take a look at our blog.

Our Man in Edinburgh

Edinburgh FestivalFor the last few years, we’ve sent an emissary from our cosy corporate event entertainment world into the harsh wilderness of the Edinburgh festival, to bring back news of untamed cabaret stars, comedians and circus artistes. They return wide-eyed, babbling enthusiastically about edgy routines, risqué jokes and death defying stunts.

But this year it’s slightly different, as Sternberg Clarke team member and aspiring stand-up Rob is taking his show to Edinburgh and doing a spot of talent scouting for us while he’s there. For his show, Rob takes on the persona of pop-music obsessed American preacher, Pastor Owen who attempts to convert sinners with the help of his bible and an iPod stuffed with tenuously-related top 40 hits.

It’ll be interesting to get Rob’s perspective on the festival as he’s in a bit of a unique position; straddling – as he does – the line between performer and booker, entertainer and agent. Anyone who’s ever been in front of an audience has a special kind of admiration for people who make a living performing, but it also gives an insight into what it takes to make a good act.

It’s important to consider the performers perspective, especially during something like Edinburgh which can be both an exhilarating and exhausting experience for acts. But tough as the festival can be on artists, it offers artists a great opportunity to sharpen their act and hone in on the core of their show – what might seem like a rambling, formless half hour can eventually wind up being a thrillingly tight 7 minute show that’s perfect for corporate events (or an even more ramblingly formless hour and a half that isn’t… both are fine.)

We’ll have a few updates from Rob on our blog in the coming weeks, but if you’re in Edinburgh – make time to see ‘Pastor Owen’ who’ll be performing as part of the Wits End Comedy Club at The Laughing Horse.  Any Event Magazine Readers involved in an Edinburgh show this year? Let us know in the comments!

Glastonbury, The Stones and The Importance of ‘Being There’

The Rolling Stones at GlastonburyHaving taken on The Beatles last time, it’s only fair that The Stones get the Sternberg Clarke Event Magazine blog treatment and wouldn’t you know it, this weekend offered the perfect opportunity to talk about the ageing rock icons.

Few could have missed the fact that The Rolling Stones weathered a barrage of “You’re Old!” gags to make their first appearance at Glastonbury on Saturday (sadly not on the pyramid stage – because they look like they’ve been mummified… mummies live in pyramids… They’re Old!) And while on-the-ground reviews of the 2 and a half hour set were generally glowing, there were a few grumbles from people who watched the highlights of the show on TV.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that a lot of those grumbles stem from the fact that those people who were watching on TV were, well, watching on TV. Sure, there’s the usual hyperbole that you hear from festival goers caught up in the ‘spirit’ of the event or rather caught in the vice-like grip of some intoxicant or other, but nothing quite captures the feel of a performance like actually seeing it. It’s a thorny issue for those of us who make a living from suggesting acts for events.

Now that everyone carries around a camera/ recording device in their phone, we’ve gotten used to the idea that every event can be captured with little hassle – as a consequence, people expect video of everything. Unfortunately, while phone cameras and digital recording devices grow more sophisticated with each passing year, they’re still a long way from the equipment needed to fully capture a live performance and even with all the fanciest video and editing gear on the market, you’ll still never quite bottle the lightning of a truly great live show. It’s at this point that you have to start trusting the people who were actually there.

It’s one of the reasons that we’re so keen on auditioning and going to see acts in the flesh, because while we can send YouTube links till we’re blue in the face (or fingers) after a point there’s only so much a video can tell a client about an act. Of course on the flipside of that, we have to hope that clients recognise the value of talking to someone with firsthand experience of the act they’re discussing and that they don’t place too much importance in video links and sound clips.

For more of our thoughts on entertainment and even a few auditions, head over to our regularly updated blog.

Sometimes, it’s better to reject The Beatles…

The Beatles A copy of the Beatles rejected audition tape for Decca resurfaced recently and aside from sending shivers down the collective spines of aged record company execs who once proclaimed guitar music as ‘on the way out’ – it got me thinking about rejection.

How could anyone turn away the band that went on to create some of the most beloved pieces of pop music ever recorded? How could anyone claim the Fab Four ‘had no future in show business’?

Easy, they were barely the same band.

What many people don’t mention when they discuss the Beatles Decca audition is that they played a set comprised mostly of covers with just 3 Lennon/McCartney originals thrown in. The band even sang in mock-American accents in order to sound like the Rock n’ Roll groups of the era. There were hints of greatness in their performance, but the tape hardly showcases the Beatles that people know and love today.

What people also fail to mention is that the Beatles had been turned down by countless record labels before they were picked up by EMI. By the time of their Decca audition, the band were no strangers to rejection. You have to wonder whether those rejections shaped the band and their sound?  Whether, had their Decca audition been successful, they’d have been quite the band they turned out to be?

In events – and entertainment in particular – the process of coming up with suggestions and having them rejected is laborious, but also hugely valuable. Ideas often get rejected for perfectly good reasons and it would be foolish to cast everyone who turns down an idea as a 60s Decca record exec, stubbornly failing to recognise genius. Instead, it’s better to see each rejection as another step towards getting your event right.

That being said it’s important not to reject something on some kind of arbitrary principle – i.e. guitar bands have had their day, drag acts are too racy, magicians are too corny…  Dismissing things based on these kinds of principles can mean you end up inadvertently depriving yourself of something special further down the line.

For more of our thoughts on entertainment and the events industry, head over to our regularly updated blog.

Guilt Free Pleasure

Soprano at launch of The Recitalists The term ‘guilty pleasure’ comes up a lot when discussing entertainment. From campy tribute acts to kitch cabaret shows, event planners often try to tap into the part of our brain that makes us hum Stock Aitken Waterman songs on the tube or gaze slack-jawed at the TV when Deep Blue Sea comes on Channel 5 late at night. It’s a tactic that’s been used in advertising for years – jingles are made to stick in your head whether you like it or not, slogans are often moronic but you can’t help remember them. Clearly it’s a trick that works.

But there’s another side to the guilty pleasure coin that we rarely talk about, especially when it comes to events. Is there a way to harness guiltless pleasures at an event? Or to put it another way; what pleasures are completely guilt free?

The obvious answer, to me anyway, is that we get guilt free pleasure from entertainment when it stretches our minds, when we’re challenged… basically, when we come away feeling enriched culturally… even a little smarter. When was the last time you felt like that at an event?

The main concern with ‘going high-brow’ at an event is that you might wind up alienating the audience – no one wants a room full of people left scratching their heads or worse, walking out altogether. But that kind of thinking does a disservice to your audience. While there’s always going to be room for guilty pleasures and low-brow entertainment at events, guests also want to be challenged from time to time.

It’s an idea we’ve recently been exploring with our newly launched Recitalists, a roster of incredible young musicians performing short classical pieces on stage. We were amazed at the response to the launch event we put on with Wise Productions at BAFTA 195 Piccadilly last week, not only were guests willing to listen to classical music as something more than background noise during dinner – they were engaging with it as we hoped they would. There was complete silence for the performances; each musician was received with rapturous applause and the responses we had on twitter showed the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for death-defying circus acts.

There comes a point where people don’t want to feel guilty about the entertainment they’re taking pleasure in; shouldn’t guests be allowed to enjoy something without a layer of irony? Shouldn’t they be allowed to feel proud to enjoy an act?

For more on The Recitalists, take a look at their recently launched website. There’s also a full write up of The Recitalists launch event on our blog.

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