INTERVIEW: Marcel Oudejans Explains Success in Corporate Entertainment
Leading entertainer discusses making a career out of magic, comedy and MCing
The Aurical spoke to corporate entertainment specialist Marcel Oudejans, who combines magic, comedy and general entertainment to create unique shows for corporate and other events. We spoke about approach to business, what inspired such an unusual life path, and what clients really look for when booking entertainment.
First, some background: How would you describe what you do and how on earth did you come by such an unusual trade?
Because I offer a number of entertainment, speaking and training presentations, I like to say that I work anywhere there’s an audience that needs to be captivated, entertained and amazed.
I’m predominantly known for my Comedy Magic entertainment shows – performances for gala dinners, conferences, product launches, road shows and the like, but about half of my bookings are for corporate events that require some form of customisation in the form of either scripting or brand-integration. I’ve also been developing my professional speaking and training business (I’ve been a registered professional speaker with the local Speakers Association for seven years already), and I published a business book in 2008.
I agree that it’s an unusual trade because are only a handful of people on the continent who offer similar services; that said, what I offer is still quite unique. Although I was interested in magic and performance as a youngster, it was only when I started to earn money for my skills that I started taking it seriously.
By the time I was 20, I started performing in a trendy restaurant-cum-club six nights a week, three hours a night, which is where I really started to see the potential to make this into a career. I then moved on to become the ‘house magician’ for the Madame Zingara restaurant -group, which lead to excellent exposure to the corporate event market.
After three years with Madame Zingara, I decided to focus entirely on the corporate market, as I was (and am still) able to offer a highly-entertaining and captivating performance AND offer a highly-professional pre- and post-show service that my clients love. Thirteen years later, I’ve performed for over 180+ blue-chip companies and created a sustainable career for myself.
I believe it’s because of my fast and professional service, clean comedy, amazing visual magic, and understanding of the business of corporate events that I was able to create a career that has given me tons of opportunities to work and perform around the continent (and even overseas!).
Many people associate the idea of magic with kids. But you’ve been very successful in creating a show based in magic that corporates rave about. What is it about your show that engages people so effectively?
I think people make the ‘magic is for children’ association for two reasons: Firstly, it’s possible that the only place that they’ve seen a magician perform at is a child’s party, and secondly, because good magic has the ability to create the same kind of wonder and fun that many of us associate with childhood.
While I no longer perform for children, preferring instead to focus on adult audiences, I can understand why this association exists. It can be difficult to change a lay audience’s perception of magicians. However, in my experience it only takes a few minutes of my show for my audience to engage into my performance, and they soon forget their misconceptions or perceptions of what a magician supposedly does.
The reason I get those reviews is three-fold:
- I perform magic that I personally find fun, visual, engaging and that integrates lots of audience interaction. After all, the show is about the audience and my ‘host’ – not about me. So in the selection process of my material, I always into consideration how the audience is going to react to what I do, how much they’ll enjoy at the comedy, and then what they’ll talk about after the show. That’s why I keep ‘boring tricks’ (like card magic) to a minimum, instead I prefer to perform visual magic combined with comedy, quick wit and a touch of improvisation – because that’s what I enjoy when I watch a show!
- There are a number of ‘styles’ in the performance of ‘magical entertainment’. Some magicians display dazzling sleight of hand, or they perform mentalism (‘mind magic’), or big stage illusion. Personally, I’ve chosen to perform Comedy Magic where the focus is on wonder, amazement and laughter, as opposed to ‘flashy’ skills or trying to convince people that what I do is ‘real’. I’m not trying to impress people with my skills, nor do I like to perform ‘serious’ mentalism, because I think that audiences these days are too smart to believe that that kind of magic is real. Rather, I integrate different forms of magic and then have much fun as possible with the comedy and light-hearted audience participation, so that the audience remains captivated and having an enjoyable time.
- I understand what my job at an event is. It’s about making the host, client or brand look good, and I need to support that objective. Because of my extensive experience as a corporate event entertainer, I understand what my clients want: a consistently reliable performer/presenter, fast service and reasonable prices. At the same time, they want the audience (typically their clients or staff) to have an enjoyable time without any concerns for offending or upsetting anyone. When I deliver (and over-deliver) on those expectations, it’s inevitable that my clients will rave about my work.
I now have over a decade’s worth of material to source from, from strolling close-up magic, stage shows, keynote speeches and MCing. That means I’m regularly booked to perform for a wide range of blue-chip corporate clients who are hosting quite large or important events.
I also have two 45-minute one man shows that I’ve performed at the National Arts Festival and Cape Town Fringe festival since 2013. These festival shows are quite different from a corporate event performance; nevertheless, they still involve quite a lot of preparation, rehearsal and investment.
What’s been happening over the past few years is that I’ve had to decline invitations to perform for smaller events, either because I’m already booked, or my fee is higher than the clients’ budget allows for. It’s been quite frustrating because I really, really love performing, but it just doesn’t make business sense to accept every offer that comes along.
The Little BIG Magic Show is my new offer that attempts to solve this problem. The ‘tricks’ in this show are visually amazing but require much less time to prepare than any of my other shows, as well as ‘packing small and playing big’. Another positive is that it’s fraction of the cost of my regular corporate fees, so it becomes much more affordable, especially for a small audience of less than 40 people. And it’s short – only 35min – so it doesn’t require the same amount of work as my hour-long shows.
That said, while I’m able to offer The Little BIG Magic Show for smaller events, I can’t afford to lose my ‘bread and butter’ bookings for large corporate events! My compromise is that I’ll only confirm a Little BIG Magic Show performance 21 days before the event date. Normally large events are booked weeks in advance, so I have a good idea of my upcoming schedule about 3 weeks from any given day. If my client is happy with the short-notice booking, then I’d rather have a full schedule of bookings than not performing for a week or two.
In the end, I’m hoping that by offering The Little BIG Magic Show as an alternative to my other shows, I’ll be able to share more fun and laughter with even more people!
The fundamental difference between a theatre show and a corporate event performance is whether or not the audience has made the choice of going to see a particular performer. When you choose to see a show at a theatre (or comedy club), you’re making a choice of how you’re going to spend your time, attention and money. That’s not the case with a corporate event – the guests at events rarely have any choice when it comes to the entertainment.
For me, that means I have to bear in mind that when I am performing my theatre show that the audience has chosen to see me, and I have to live up to their expectations. However, for a corporate event, the audience probably doesn’t even know who I am, so I have to live up to my client’s expectations.
Corporate event audiences also typically reflect a wider spectrum of society, so it can be pretty easy to offend someone because you’ve said something inappropriate! If you don’t mind listening to curse words, political jokes, sleazy or ‘racey’ material, then you take all the risk of being offended if you bought a ticket to a show. But I reflect my client’s brand at corporate events, so I have to ensure that my material is still fun, but doesn’t risk embarrassing my client. Unlike my theatre show where I take all the risk for the material I perform, a corporate event can be a potential minefield for an entertainer, so I have to always bear this in mind.
So the immediate difference between my theatre show and my corporate entertainment performances is that I can take responsibility in my own show that the material I perform is going to satisfy my needs, whereas my corporate entertainment must satisfy my client and my audience’s needs (which is normally to have a fun and memorable experience).
You’re very vocal about the benefits of shows like yours over traditional corporate years-ends and so on. Tell us a bit about why you think your concepts are better value overall?
You say ‘vocal’, I call it marketing! (laughs) But you’re right in that I do try to make potential clients aware about the value of corporate events, and how they can use entertainment to enhance the quality of their guests’ experience, without taking unnecessary risks.
When it comes to a corporate year-end event, there are normally several basic requirements:
- Appropriate venue;
- Good food;
- Drinks – just enough so that people can relax, not so much that you spend your entire budget at the bar;
- Good conversation; and
- Fun and enjoyable entertainment
Now I’m not saying that every event needs entertainment, but that’s often the case. And when it comes to choosing an entertainment option, there are just so many different offers to choose from that it can be quite daunting. Particularly because the quality of the entertainment plays quite a significant role in the success of the event.
Ideally, you want entertainment that’s going to be entertaining – this may sound quite obvious, but to be honest, it’s not that hard to call yourself ‘an entertainer’, market your service and get bookings. So you want to make sure you’re bringing in a consistent and reliable performer who really can deliver on what their marketing material suggests they can offer.
You also want an entertainer that’s going to enhance the event and create great memories, with your guests remembering the event for all the right reasons. Your guests may have different tastes, morals and values, so picking entertainment that will please everyone can be challenging but certainly not impossible. You simply cannot risk even a well-known celebrity saying or doing something inappropriate, because this could have impact on your business.
You want to work with an entertainer not an ‘ego’. Too many celebrity entertainers think that the event is all about them; it’s not. It’s about the host, the hosting company and the guests. The best kind of entertainer is the one who understands this vital difference. Another potential risk of hiring a ‘celebrity’ is over-paying for the performance where a less-known entertainer might be charging less but exceeding your expectations of the performance.
The entertainer you hire should be flexible and able to work under a wide range of different situations. It’s not abnormal that an event doesn’t go to the plan, and you want to know that your entertainer is going still going to be able to do their job.
And finally, you want to book an entertainer who listens, supports your objectives, and delivers excellent customer service. You’re unlikely to book that many entertainers in your lifetime, so you want to work with an expert who is able to entertain but also make you feel comfortable and relaxed before, during and after the event.
It’s because I bear all of these recommendations in mind when I’m talking to a prospective client, and then deliver a show that suits their wants and needs, that I believe I have a value-for-money that delivers a lot of ‘bang for your buck’!
Truthfully, I’m passionate about this business and I’m planning a long and successful career, so it’s totally to my advantage to make sure that I make my target market aware of the benefits of working with me, that I enjoy myself on stage and make the audience happy, and help my clients spread the word about my results so that I can assist more event planners to turn their next event into an unforgettable celebration!
Marcel Oudejans’ official website: http://www.corporatemagician.co.za
More info on the Little Big Magic Show: http://www.corporatemagician.co.za/littlebigmagicshow