After you spend years with college students planning campus events and working with agents, you sometimes don’t stop to realize the knowledge that you have amassed. One of my best friends (Laura Gilman of Fresh Variety) came from the campus activities professional and talent agent relationship. Together, we wrote an article based upon some of the sessions that we would offer at regional and national National Association for Campus Activities conferences.
Read our joint article, “That Agent Won’t Stop Calling You?” on ISSUU here or the full text below.
That Agent Won’t Stop Calling You? Communication is Key in the School/Agency Relationship
There always has been and probably always will be a love/hate relationship between agents and entertainment purchasers. There are agents that clients love to hear from and those that they dread. In the NACA market, the agent’s most important job is establishing and maintaining a good relationship with clients and finding new prospects. Determining the balance point between being informative and helpful and being a nuisance to the buyer is a very hard tightrope to walk.
Everyday, artists are adding and losing dates from their calendars and agents are constantly updating their rosters. Communicating this information effectively to buyers is how agents save schools money. If a school can catch an artist when they are coming to their state or town, it can save them hundreds and even thousands of dollars depending on the size of the act.
This past NACA season, I had the pleasure of hosting an educational session that dealt with the communication issues of agents and buyers and had panel members from schools all over the country – advisors, students and agents. We were able to sit together and talk about what kind of communications were important to the buyers and ways that students and advisors can try to lessen the burden of the overwhelming influx of calls, emails and mailers that they are receiving on a daily basis, from artists and agents.
Everyone has a different approach to business and sales and those styles are received differently by each and every client. Agents have to be versatile and know their customers in order to cater to their needs and keep them as clients. Agents make a living by booking events. Making hundreds of unanswered phone calls everyday is a daunting task that we must do in order to keep communication lines open with our customers. Without feedback from those customers, there’s really no way for agents to know if they are wasting your time or their time or if what they are calling about is exactly what you need. By guiding agents to what your budget constraints are, what kind of acts you do and don’t book and when you are looking to get artist information for booking, you are helping them to narrow down their marketing spectrum and just send you the information that you need and want. If you just let those communications go ignored, then they will continue to market the existing information to you in hopes that it is what you are looking for.
Many school’s programming needs are very specific to certain dates that they can utilize venues and also the content that they need for those events. With thousands of colleges in the country, it is hard for agents to always know each school needs and its great to be able to update them annually as to who the contacts are for each group and what it is that you are looking for. For instance, my company, Fresh Variety, sells only variety entertainment. There are certain events on campuses that call for just that and others where our acts just aren’t a good fit. If a school is looking for a big concert event, I am simply not the resource that they need. My reaching out to and soliciting the concerts or lectures chair is not of help to either of us and simply adds to the pile of communications they get from agents that they must sort through to find the information that they actually need. If a school were to ask about big concerts, any agent in the market could probably point them in one of several directions even though we may not all represent music acts. Agents are a great resource to utilize; we have seen thousands of acts during our careers, from all genres and can help to point you in the right direction.
Block booking is the foundation of NACA. Schools from all over the USA go to NACA to see and meet agents and artists and to save programming dollars by getting acts to their campus when they are nearby. Block Booking should not stop when your school leaves NACA. Agents and artists love to block book year round, it helps them to fill calendar dates and also take the added burden off the entertainers of excessive travel. Blockbookitnow.com is a website in which NACA houses all of the activity from the conference season and also provides artist booking calendars. Every co-op form submitted is entered into the portal. At any time, any NACA member can log in, type in information ranging from their zip code, state or artist names and find out which entertainers have bookings in your area and when. This makes a great opportunity for talent buyers to call up agents and help them with routing and be rewarded with great deals!
Another way that block information can be found is by opening up the lines of communication with agents who have acts that interest you. Calling an agent and letting them know that you like their act but only are interested in looking into having them when the price is right and they are in your area, helps the agent work for you in getting you just the information that you want.
Every year, several times a year, there comes a point where schools are finished booking for that particular season or part of the school year. Unless there is some sort of hiccup or cancellation, once a calendar is filled, there’s really no need to be seeking out acts. Having the phone continue to ring with sales calls about deals for that segment in time, is useless to the buyer. It also is a wasted effort for the agent, as they are spending time trying to contact you about entertainment that you have no use for at the time. A quick email or phone call saying, ”No thanks, but we’d love to hear from you when we start booking again in (insert month).” It’s a great way to keep agents informed and lessens the burden of unnecessary communication to you and from us.
Schools and students are the agent’s customers – keeping customers happy is what generates business and keeps clients. Picture this scenario: You go to McDonald’s and order a Big Mac and then open your bag to find a Fish Sandwich. Do you just eat it after you paid for it and it wasn’t what you wanted? Chances are you would go back and explain that it wasn’t what you wanted and that you would like them to give you the Big Mac that you ordered and paid for. Well, you are the customer and we want to make sure you get what you ordered and that you are offered what you like or need. If we are sending you things that you don’t want, send that Filet-o-Fish back!
Will there always be people who call your office and don’t take no for an answer? Of course! Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement. A strong relationship with a vendor or a school will be formed by helping each other communicate effectively with one another and using our resources to get great entertainment to schools and save money!
Great! Now we know how the business works, so what can we do on the school side to make sure that we are maintaining good partnerships, too? As advisors, we spend countless hours teaching skills to our students each year. We teach them how to book acts, how to block book, how to conduct professional phone calls and how to plan logistically sound events. Just when students are really getting the hang of it, we experience officer transition and lose some of that knowledge. Here are a few strategies that can be used by advisors and student programmers to manage communication and information from year to year:
- In the beginning of each year, compile a contact list of current programming board students. Send this contact list to associates in your network so they can do business directly with students. The students will receive tailored messages that relate directly to the business they are most interested in.
- Provide the programming board with updated associate information. This information is programming gold for students. Advisors can begin the year by printing copies of the NACA associate member directory to distribute at a retreat or training. Advisors or student officers can also create their own directory of commonly used associates.
- Encourage active networking in the marketplace. Advisors and students alike should take the opportunity given to them during CAMP and make some new connections. Booths and associates change with each NACA conference, so it’s important to introduce yourself and mention some of the programming that takes place on your campus.
- Create an alternate email address or inbox rules to filter programmatic emails. Think it’s an easy out? Think again. This is a fantastic way to manage your inquiries without seeing them pile up in your main inbox. Use a department or programming board email address and distribute that for ideas and leads.
- Let associates know when you need to do business. Ask them for deals, dates to fill any programming holes, and most importantly – IDEAS! This is their business and they have probably worked more events that we have planned in our careers. If you’re stuck in a rut or just need to pull a quick program together, develop a relationship with a few associates that you can call on a whim. It’s a win-win.
- Provide feedback to associates after an event. It’s important to share feedback about events whether it went good or bad. Associates will work with their performers to tailor an act for other similar schools, provide them with praise or let them know when a school was displeased. Share this information with other student officers in the form of program evaluations to replicate the event in the future or avoid certain performances.
- If you can’t do business with an agency, say so. As mentioned before, this is helpful to associates so they can manage their call load. This also provides an empowering lesson for students and advisors in creating boundaries. Give timelines and deadlines for call back and any reasons, if appropriate.
- Pass on the programming ideas to others. Often, the student activities office and programming boards are not the only people on campus that plan events. We are fortunate to attend NACA regional and national conferences to network and collect a plethora of information. If you can’t use it, bring it back to campus and pass it on to others. For example, the Diversity Office might want to hear about new cultural awareness programs or the campus radio station might want to know about that new band you saw during the showcase. Share the wealth!
We each have an important part to play in campus activities, and if done thoughtfully and respectfully, we can expect to have plenty of ideas to consider, effective block booking business and a network of individuals on both sides that support each other’s work.
Now let’s do some business and plan some events!
Fifer, T., & Gilman, L. (2012, September 1). Campus Activities Programming™ – Back to School 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from http://issuu.com/naca/docs/back_to_school_2012/52