Even when entertainment budgets are falling, the search for good acts continues as clients become more exposed to all types of shows through increased travel and social media. TTGmice finds out how event management companies are meeting the challenge head on
Written by Raini Hamdi with reports from Mimi Hudoyo, Lee Pei Qi, Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, S Puvaneswary and Rosa Ocampo
THE CURTAIN RISES
Weâve all been there. Attended product launches, corporate functions and gala dinners. Sat through the entertainment, which was a âwowâ rarely, decent frequently, predictable mostly and downright cheesy occasionally.
Why canât it be the other way around: a âwowâ mostly, predictable rarely and never downright cheesy?
The answer, according to event management companies (EMCs), is not rocket science. When corporates think âentertainmentâ, their immediate concern often is cost, not the quality or the relevancy of the entertainment to the intended audience. Small priority and budget given to entertainment cannot possibly translate to class acts, EMCs pointed out.
The fact is, corporates want big entertainment but are willing to pay only a small amount for it. Many do not understand that good acts do not come cheap, whether the event is in Singapore or Indonesia.
In Singapore, a highly-sought talent costs more than S$10,000 (US$8,122), according to Kelvin Wong, manager, Dynamite Productions. But the corporateâs budget is half that. âFinding the second best to suit that budget is a challenge,â said Wong. âWe have been advising all clients that they have to pay for what they want.â
In the Philippines,Â costs vary from 50,000 pesos (US$1,222) for a small act to 15 million pesos for a grand one, said Vaugh Anthony Aquino, vice president and COO of Icon International Events Productions Corp.
In Malaysia, a 30-minute local aerial dance performance costs between RM12,000 (US$4,023) and RM15,000, while a similar performance by overseas talent costs between RM30,000 and RM80,000, according to Francis Cheong, Apxara Travel & Events managing director. âCorporates with small budgets usually use their in-house talent to entertain,â Cheong said.
Entertainment prices are rising. âPerformers are charging more for their services nowadays,â noted Thanate Kienpotiramard, managing director, BIC Phuket. âMost performers are based in Bangkok, so costs are higher when they perform in places such as Phuket and Chiang Mai.â
Andrew Koh, managing director of Events Architects, Singapore, agreed that clients have small budgets but expect big performances. âThe problem today is, clients have a bigger appetite for entertainment but do not understand the actual costs involved. So we have to manage their expectations. An example is when they see a big performance overseas and expect to get the same entertainment here (although they donât have the budget for it). So we will counter-suggest local ones that might not be as big but are of a similar genre and suit their budget.â
Said Micky Ng, events manager, Above Creative Events Malaysia: âWhen the budget is small, we will propose a less lavish entertainment. For example, if a seven-piece band costs RM10,000, we would propose a two- or a three-piece band costing about RM3,000 to RM4,000.
âCompanies should set aside at least RM3,000 for entertainment. This could be a stand-up comedian, a two-piece band or a 10-minute to 15-minute steeple dance performance.â
Smaller budget for entertainment, in fact, has become a bigger challenge today amid continued world economic uncertainty and sensitivity among corporates towards conspicuous consumption.
âThe budget for many of our clients has gone down by a lot,â said said Alvin Oon, director of Encore Showstation, Singapore. âIn the past, we have corporate clients who are willing to spend half a million dollars on a dinner and dance. But now it is not possible. My guess is that many of them have to cut their budget on such one-off events.â
Pacto Convex Indonesia business development/social event officer, Ruhadi Wirawan, explained: âThe challenge for us is not so much on getting ideas for entertainment, but how to meet the budget and get maximum impact from it.
âMany clients let us come up with the ideas, but press the cost down or demand more than the budget could meet. So we just work around it. For a colossal show like the Ramayana epic, for example, we cut down on the number of performers and keep the main characters. But sometimes, itâs not as simple as that. Clients sometimes think they know everything about a venue through the site inspection. An open-air venue like Garuda Wisnu Kencana in Bali, for example, needs a minimum of 30,000 watt sound system; some clients think 10,000 watt is sufficient. That power is enough only for an indoor event.â
Another big challenge facing EMCs today is that event attendees are more exposed to unique acts through more frequent travels, YouTube and social media, thus are harder to surprise with unique entertainment.
Corporate groups, too, are now looking for events that blend entertainment with participation, but itâs an area countries like Thailand still lack, said Montana Yodjug, Optimum Groupâs conference manager who also manages events.
âFurthermore, with more Asian groups coming into Thailand, there is an increasing demand for emcees and performances in other languages other than English. Thaisâ proficiency in languages other than English, especially Mandarin, has to be ramped up. Occasionally we get requests from clients for emcees to host in other languages, or for bands to play songs in their own languages as their group wants to sing along during the event,â she said.
Thailand has a good mix of acts, its EMCs say
Picture by Optimum Group
EMCs across major South-east Asian destinations with the exception of those in Malaysia said they are satisfied with the range and quality of entertainment available.
In the Philippines, whose tourism tagline revolves around âfunâ, the choice of entertainment is simply rich. Said Joy Gador, CEO of Megareach Public Relations and Marketing Communications, which also does event management: âWe have a broad base of world-class talent and a rich and diverse culture to showcase to a vast and widely segmented local and global audience. The superiority and versatility of our local talent, be it in music, performing arts, hosting, stand-up acts, are endemic and deeply rooted in our culture. There are many more undiscovered talents out there to make our MICE entertainment even richer, yet more affordable.Â We just have to find them.â
As well, EMCs in Thailand, where sanuk (fun) is also taken seriously, find a good mix of acts to cater to the destinationâs geographically-diverse clientele mix.
âAsian groups generally prefer dynamic events that allow participation from the audience and with a touch of sanuk, such as cabaret shows or performances with glitzy costumes and ample photography opportunities.
âOur Western clients, on the other hand, are more into culture-driven acts instead of fusion acts that blend East and West cultures, and they are also more interested in cultivating an ambience, having good music bands and ample social interaction opportunities during the event,â said Optimumâs Montana.
Kritidech Srabua, founder/CEO, Oriental Events, wished that Thailand has better music bands.
He said: âWe need more variety. Jazz bands are often requested for, as are rock DJs, but bands must be able to perform a wider variety of pieces from different eras. Foreign bands can produce their portfolio when requested â an area that Thai bands need to improve on.
âPerformers should take the initiative to spread the word about themselves and their work. However, this comes at a disadvantage. Often, when performers become famous, their prices go up and we have to engage their services through their managers instead.â
BIC Phuketâs Thanate gives Thailand a three-star rating for entertainment choice. âI think whatâs available in Thailand today is still okay. We always try to use local acts in each locale, for instance, Phuket performers for a Phuket event, Bangkok performers for a Bangkok event, and so forth. But we have a high return rate for clients, so we constantly need new acts in order to keep our entertainment fresh and original,â said Thanate.
Over in Indonesia, EMCs said they are blessed with musical talent, traditional performances and dramas that can be played out to impress audiences.
âMusicals and dance dramas are growing in Indonesia,â said SixProduction general manager, Inre Suryokusumo, whose clients are in insurance, electronics, banking and finance.
âMatah Ati (a colossal Javanese dance epic in the tradition of the Mangkunegaran Palace, Solo) or the Laskar Pelangi musical (adapted from the popular Indonesian novel by Andrea Hirata) are among the successful ones.
âSome companies want to create spectacular events, which set the benchmark for other companies, and they are willing to pay more to achieve the goal,â said Suryokusumo.
âThe challenge we face usually is the short timing to prepare for a show and changes in the event date. This is a challenge because we are dealing with many parties such as the venue, the musicians, the dance workshop, etc.
âAnd while we have many local talents to create spectacular events, we donât have venues such as The Esplanade by the Bay in Singapore to host such events.â
Added Pacto Convexâs Wirawan, who spearheads the social functions of the companyâs clients: âThe social functions of international conferences (gala dinner, award night, etc) usually include performances. We come up with the event concept. Traditional performances with a modern twist or modern performances with traditional elements are well accepted.
âIndonesia is rich in traditional performances which we can package for events. An example is Wayang Pasir (sand puppet), where the puppeteer tells his story through drawing on sand, which is
spread on a glass table and projected onto the LED screen. He can tell a story related to the event, such as the companyâs history.
âI have also worked with Ayu Laksmi, a Balinese singer, songwriter, dancer and theatre performer, and her musical group, Svara Semesta, in creating a modern dance drama about a traditional Balinese story.â
However, Cakrawala Production director Nafriwan cautioned that some of the epics and folklores are just too heavy for corporate events and must be refreshed to suit todayâs audience.
âInstead of the Mahabharata story and characters, for example, we show the real, living characters such as Indonesian politicians or celebrities.â
EMCs in Malaysia wish they are as blessed as their Indonesian counterparts with local talent.
âA lot of good talent goes to Singapore or elsewhere as the pay is higher and it is easier to get jobs,â said Apxaraâs Cheong.
Above Creative Eventsâ Ng added that the local talent also perform the same routine, posing a challenge to repeat clients who want something new and do not want to pay for overseas talent.
Singapore, meanwhile, has no shortage of good acts but few that really âwowâ, according to EMCs interviewed.
Said Encore Showstationâs Oon: âWe have the usual stand-up comedians, the local singers and magic shows which are acceptable â but they do not have that âwowâ factor that takes everyoneâs breath away. The market is growing, with more local performers and musicians (to choose from), but their standard is pretty much the same.â
That said, Dynamite Productionsâ Wong observed that the entertainers do try to improve themselves and come up with new choreography, which helps to cater to new client preferences.
On how guest preferences are changing, Oon said local clients are more âmatureâ now, so belly dancing or pole dancing is seen as a form of dance, instead of being viewed as raunchy.
An Icon International Events Production
SOURCING FOR ACTS
Commonly, EMCs source for entertainment through word-of-mouth from clients, friends and âfriendly competitors in the businessâ; local competitions such as Thailandâs Got Talent or TalentQuest in Malaysia; local television shows;Â YouTube and social media channels; and overseas contacts for foreign acts.
Dynamite Productionsâ Wong said: âOne of our directors was in the entertainment scene and has a network of contacts with some agencies. Nonetheless, we have a team who is always on a lookout for potential acts to promote and groom, like a pre-audition/selection, before proposing to our very own Simon Cowell.
âWe donât get many requests for overseas performers because clients know they have to fork out a big budget. But if there are requests, we will be able to source for them. For instance we once flew in Wang Lee Hom for a private concert but that was just a one-off request. There are just too many hidden costs with overseas acts, such as accommodation and flight transfers.
âLocal performers are good enough for our clients and in Singapore it is quite easy to get the contacts because the industry is small.â
Said Oriental Eventsâ Kritidech: âAnything and everything can yield entertainment ideas for me, from TV shows like Channel 3âs Star Stage to magazines to hotel visits.
âIâve got a funny brain â I always think out of the box. You need to have a good imagination in the events field.â
However, EMCs could do with better channels of sourcing.
Ahem Ideas Malaysia managing director, Aloysius Wee, pointed out a problem: âI source through social media such as Facebook and YouTube. I read reviews from clients who have used these talents in the past. But some performances may appear good on the video posted on You Tube or the video they give to me, but on the ground, their performance may not be as good. Performing to a camera is different from performing to a live audience.â
Agreeing, BIC Phuketâs Thanate said: âTV shows, especially Thailandâs Got Talent last year, are a source of entertainment acts. We went on to contact some of the performers after watching their performances on TV. Despite the rave reviews these performers got during the competitions, due to the Thai-oriented content, clients sometimes do not appreciate their performances. Therefore, modifications are still needed. However, sources from the TV have declined since this year, probably due to the smaller pool of talent and lesser original content available for tapping in subsequent seasons of Thailandâs Got Talent.â
Finding overseas talent is not an issue, according to EMCs, and is only done when there is a budget for it.
Optimumâs Montana said: âWe only source overseas upon special requests, for example, acrobatics performance from overseas. Occasionally, some groups will also bring their own celebrities to add on to their programmes in Thailand â so far, we have encountered this for Chinese and Mexican groups. Otherwise, I think Thailand has a ready stable of entertainment ideas. Our creative team will brainstorm the ideas and then explain them to the choreographer, who will in turn recruit the necessary performers required for the event.
âThai performers are skilled and talented, but they need to be more professional and have ready a portfolio to display their capabilities whenever the opportunity calls.â
Ahem Ideasâ Wee also sources for regional and overseas acts if there is a bud-get for them. âUsually I look to neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Australia. Australia is able to provide the artsy stuff and come out with something really different from what Asians can do. Most professional MCs are based in Singapore. Again, we will only use them if there is a budget for it.â
Megareachâs Gador said a consolidated MICE directory of talent and their managers will help. Apxaraâs Cheong suggests that convention bureaus such as MyCEB could include a database of local entertainers and a corporate entertainment website where performers can post their video clips of past performances.
Entertainers themselves should have their own websites which should also include videos of their past performances, added Above Creativeâs Ng.
The act Â that blew me away
The cultural performances for the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2006 and MICECON 2013, both in Davao City, featured local talent. Both appealed to national and international audiences.Â The performances differed in many ways but were similar in world-class quality.Â Both promoted the themes of the two events effectively while showcasing the Philippine tourism brand and providing visual definition.
Joy Gador, CEO, Megareach Public Relations and Marketing Communication, Philippines
An open-field private concert in 2008, featuring the local band Urbandub and pop rock singer Kitchie Nadal for the 3,000-plus employees and officers of a foreign bank. We did everything from scratch â chose the venue at The Fort, set up various stages with nice visuals and severalÂ tents. The entertainers were the best. We continued producing private concerts for that bank in 2009 and 2010 using the same concept but different bands.
Vaugh Anthony Aquino, vice president and COO, Icon International Events Productions Corp., Philippines
The Beatels (pictured top), from Sydney, Australia, is probably the best Beatles tribute band around. They look and sound like the Beatles.
Alvin Oon, director of Encore Showstation, Singapore
During a dinner we organised for over 600 pax at a hotel in Pattaya, the performers pretended to be part of the hotel staff, mingling with the crowd as chefs, waitresses, etc, before jumping into a percussion performance using the materials they have on hand. It was a spontaneous show that everyone enjoyed.
Kritidech Srabua, founder/CEO, Oriental Events, Thailand
How to be a show-stopper
1Â Know thy audience, since the act must suit their taste, advises Alvin Oon, director, Encore Showstation, Singapore. âIf they are (the stiff upper lip type), a stand-up comedian who cracks the wrong jokes will cause problems,â said Oon.
âOne of the most mismatched performances I experienced was when an entertainer performed with knives in front of a family crowd. There were many kids aged from five to eight years.â
Vaugh Anthony Aquino, vice president and COO of Icon International Events Productions Corp., Philippines, recalled an act that was downright wrong. âFor the 2012 conference of a maritime agency attended by foreign and Filipino investors, businessmen and top executives, a sexy star was chosen as the host and entertainer. It proved inappropriate for such a conference and the delegates, mostly men, became distracted.
Aware of its mistake, the company hired us and became an early booker for its conference (last month).â
âMost of the time, the organising committee members try to satisfy themselves or their bosses but not the audience,â slammed Ahem Ideas Malaysia managing director Aloysius Wee.
2 Know and protect the corporate image.
You may like a particular type of performance but it may not fit well with your corporate image. âSometimes we advise against an act because we know it is wrong but they are just too stubborn. So my advice is, be open to our advice and see things from our point of view because we have the experience and know which acts are best-suited for the types of corporate image,â said Dynamite Productions Singapore manager, Kelvin Wong.
3 Know what you want. Be clear about what you want from the beginning. âSome clients are fickle and want to change a performance at the last minute which is a big problem,â said Wong.
Added Joy Gador, CEO, Megareach Public Relations and Marketing Communication, Philippines: âWe will strive to provide the most suitable acts for our clients, but first they have to give us a clear agenda, objectives and what they need for each segment, in order for us to give the best recommendations.â
4 Focus on objective, not cost. âCorporates and even some event management companies are concerned with the cost of entertainment without looking at the quality,â Iconâs Aquino said. âThey are concerned whether the entertainment is too expensive or even too cheap. When we suggest good bands with good prices, they think the entertainers arenât good. Then there are the clients who think entertainment is cheap and thus are not willing to pay for it.â
5 Provide a clear brief. âCorporates need to provide a clearer and better brief â for instance, what entertainment style is preferred by their clients, what makes them tick, etc â in order for us to choose the most suitable act. If the decision-makers are Westerners but they are planning for a mixed group of Asians and Westerners, then they need to take into consideration the cultural preferences. The reactions from the audience can vary across different geographical groups,â said Thanate Kienpotiramard, managing director, BIC Phuket.
Added Montana Yodjug, Optimum Group, Thailand conference manager: âIs the audience comprising people from management level, overseas clients or factory workers? If a lot of them are factory workers, we would propose something that has slapstick or dance.â
6 Work closely with the agency and make sure it knows your requirements. âWe are here to service and conceptualise everything. So communication is very important as it is where everything begins,â said Andrew Koh, managing director of Events Architects, Singapore.
7 Avoid a one-man act. A mistake a company with a small budget makes is to hire a singer to entertain for the whole night. Said Micky Ng, events manager, Above Creative Events Malaysia.âWe would suggest interactive sub-activities for the audience to get involved in. Have game booths, caricature artists and close-up magicians who go table to table to perform.â
8 Have a DJ or a good compĂ¨re who can control the flow of the programme. Recalled Wong: âWe once arranged an award ceremony and it got so uncomfortable when there was a moment of silence. It would be good to have some music or moving spotlights to take away such awkwardness. âWe had one performance which involved performers breathing fire out of their mouths. It grabbed everyoneâs attention and made them talk about it afterwards.â
New acts, hot acts
The Shanghai Swingers
Compiled by Xinyi Liang-Pholsena, Lee Pei Qi and S Puvaneswary
Name of act The Beatels
Date launch 1996
How it entertains The Beatels performs music by The Beatles in a two-set show, a Black & White set (1962-1965) and a Psychedelic set (1966-1970). Its performers wear a variety of costumes and play instruments that reflect the era in which the songs were recorded.
Types of event it is good for Corporate and dinner events
Cost Around S$30,000
Tel: (65) 6384-3181
Name of act Luminance by JimmyJuggler
Date of launch 1999
How it entertains The show is an engaging blend of colourful juggling, amazing stunts and comedy which engages the audience from beginning to end. The finale features fire juggling.
Types of event it is good for Corporate events, dinner events, launch events and family-friendly events
Cost Upon enquiry
Tel: (65) 9730-8342
Name of act The Shanghai Swingers
Date started 2010
How it entertains The Shanghai Swingers, an old-school Oriental jazz band, plays the music of old Shanghai. Reflecting the Western-influenced days of glamourous cheongsams and rustic splendour, this East-meets-West concept captivates audiences with its authentic depiction of the time.
Types of event it is good for Corporate and Shanghai- or oriental-themed events
Cost From S$1,600 for two sets of 45-minute acts
Tel: (65) 6735-3269
Name of actÂ Urban Drum Crew
Date of launch July 2005
How it entertains This arts and drum performance group is touted as the âdefinite showstopper whenever and wherever they performâ. They are able to rouse the crowd by playing many rhythmic instruments and music with a creative blend of innovative ideas.
Types of event it is good for Large outdoor events
Cost S$3,400 & up
Tel: (65) 9199-7740
Name of act The Main Wayang Singers
Date of launch 2009
How it entertains These five colourful performers will provide a Peranakan culture introduction with a Singapore representation, while delivering vocal harmonies of folk songs, original Baba Nyonya songs, golden oldies and latest pop songs â all with a Peranakan touch.
Types of event it is good for Corporate dinners and events, weddings and anniversaries, birthday parties and cultural events
Cost S$3,200 for two sets of 30 minutes
Name of act HypnoTWIST
How it entertains HypnoTWIST fuses elements of hypnotism with surprise entertainment âhoaxingâ, resulting in an interactive surprise. The European hypnotist selects three volunteers from among your guests; excitement builds as the volunteers perform increasingly amazing feats under hypnosis which then continues to escalate to a finale of hilarious show-stopping hits. Only at the end do the actors reveal their identities.
Name of act Celebrity impersonation
How it entertains To impersonate legends such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Mr Bean in dancing, acting and singing.
Types of event it is good for Dinner parties
Cost RM5,000 and above
Above Creative Events Malaysia
Name of act Modern dance performance
How it entertains To perform a dance routine with a special theme to suit clientsâ needs
Types of event it is good for Product launches, corporate dinners and exhibitions
Cost From RM4,000 to RM12,000
Above Creative Events
Name of act Mid Air Circus Art
Date of launch August 2011
Origin A cross-country collaboration between Australia, New Zealand and Thailand
How it entertains Providing professional aerial circus acts and entertainment, as well as aerial bartenders/champagne pouring and fire performers
Types of event it is good for Corporate functions, gala dinners, product launches, weddings and VIP cocktails
Cost Varies depending on complexity of the event with regards to equipment and rigging requirements as well as the specific acts chosen, but more suited for entertainment budgets of 100,000 baht and above
Tel: (66) 8 6954 0699
Name of act Mirror Fantasy
Date of launch 2011
How it entertains Lights and specifically lasers are used to reflect off the costumes to create a magical experience. LED lights and other props are also used to enhance the act. The futuristic costumes go very well with brands in sectors such as telecommunications, computers, technology and electronics.
Types of event it is good for Corporate gala dinners, product launches and press conferences
Cost From US$8,000, plus travel and boarding expenses
Vishal Sood, Jabu Events
Tel: (66) 8 5666 5504
Name of act Muay Thai Kickboxing Reality Performance
Date of launch No date in particular as this have been around for a long time
How it entertains This performance enables corporate groups, particularly those from overseas, to watch a real Muay Thai match live at any hotel ballroom, complete with boxing ring set-up accompanied by live traditional music, experienced Muay Thai fighters, a referee, three judges, a boxing ring girl to display fight rounds, as well as trophy and champion belt.
Types of event it is good for Welcome dinners, gala dinners and openings for conferences
Cost 100,000 baht
Jeffrey Soh, director of events â Thailand, Conceptual Events
Tel: (66) 9 0978 3882
Name of act Exotic Percussion
Date of launch 2001
How it entertains Exotic Percussion uses a combination of musical instruments, everyday objects like dustbins and chairs, as well as dances and body movements to create a theatrical performance. One of the finalists on reality TV series, Thailandâs Got Talent, this group offers a wide variety of performances and are very flexible with concepts to suit events.
Types of events it is good for Grand openings, corporate functions and beach parties
Cost Upon enquiry
Thanate Kienpotiramard, managing director, BIC Phuket
Tel: (66-76) 355-781
Website: www.exotic-percussion.com and www.bic-phuket.com
Name of act Viva!
Date of launch December 2010
How it entertains Lauded as Thailandâs first pop opera group, VIVA! consists of five good-looking, classically-trained singers whose eclectic repertoire ranges from traditional opera to contemporary pop classics like Prayer in the Night, You Raise Me Up and Unchained Melody. The quintet also sings in English, Thai, Italian, Spanish, French and even Swahili.
Types of events it is good for Christmas parties, year-end celebrations, festive events and gala events
Cost Upon enquiry
Tel: (66-2) 6103-915