Hi Dave – Your recent discussions about corporate comedy and speaking raises a question about back-of-room (BOR) sales. Merchandise sales are common in comedy shows and speaking engagements open to the public. But what about corporate gigs where the company is paying you? Is that something most companies accept, or is it generally frowned upon? At the very least, I would think we should focus very little on our products during the presentation itself (30 seconds max). How do you handle this? Thanks! DG
Hey DG – Like just about everything else in the speaking and comedy biz, it depends.
BOR sales of merchandise is so common today that I’m always surprised when the speaker – or comedy headliner AND feature act AND opening act – isn’t camped behind a table full of merch (show-biz slang) and selling everything that isn’t nailed down after the show.
It’s a big source of income. In fact, it’s not even looked at anymore as extra income. In some cases BOR sales can add up to more money than what the comic or speaker is being paid by the talent booker just to do the gig.
For a big-time, big money example…
A few years ago, I was talking to a comedian friend (who will remain nameless because I’ll drop dollar amounts in this story, but as a hint she is in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers). She was in a panic going from a show in Florida to another in Cleveland because she had completely sold-out all her BOR merch. She needed her agent to send a shipment over-night so her money-making DVDs, CDs, T-Shirts, photos (to autograph for $$’s) and books would be available for fans to purchase after her Cleveland show.
If I remember correctly, she was paid about 10 grand for the performance itself. What I do remember correctly is that she told me she made 22 grand selling merchandise after the Florida show!
Yeah, I’d be in a panic too.
Comics and speakers sell all kinds of stuff. Audience members can look at these items as souvenirs of a fun night and also a chance to get an autographed copy of something. And just in case the performer becomes famous the fan can make some money selling it on eBay. But that’s a totally different business proposition…
But you’re definitely correct it’s different when playing a corporate-paid gig. It can be done – and is quite often – but in my opinion, you need permission in advance from the person signing your check.
You don’t ever want to surprise a corporate client or event planner by setting up your mini-store at an important training seminar or formal banquet without an agreement made in advance. In fact, I recommend you get the permission in writing and that it’s included in your signed contract. I use a contract rider that includes everything from BOR sales to the exact wording of my introduction and what type of microphone I prefer.
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So even if they don’t remember giving you permission for BOR sales and ask you to start putting all your merch back into the trunk of your car, you’ll have proof of the prior agreement.
So how do I handle all this? Thank you for asking. As usual, it depends…
I do two separate corporate programs. One is based on my comedy workshops and communications course I designed for Cleveland State University. It has a 60-page workbook, but it’s not for BOR sales and I don’t pitch it during my program. The client has an option to purchase copies in advance for audience giveaways. If it’s a half or full day training seminar, it’s added into my fee so everyone in attendance will have one because we’ll use it during the program. Either way I’ll know how many are needed and can have them printed up in advance.
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So I won’t even make a 30 second pitch for BOR sales during this particular corporate-paid program. I’ll stay afterwards to talk and trade business cards because as you should already know, it’s all about networking. You never know who’s in the audience that might want to hire you for a future gig.
And when that happens, ask them in advance about BOR sales!
My second program is not for training purposes, but as entertainment. Since this is what comedians do in clubs, pay attention…
This is a pop culture program based on my books The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. For this one it’s already in the contract that I do BOR sales. Like I mentioned above – and how most comedians and other entertainers should look at it – I consider this as part of my payment for doing the gig. It also helps in negotiating since BOR sales will allow me to come in for a lower fee than a no BOR sales training seminar. Book sales make up the difference.
Then again, that’s what I do and I’m only spelling it out because you asked. I’m in no-way a know-it-all about this and I’m sure there are working comics and speakers reading who will have more thoughts and personal experiences about this topic.
Care to share? We’d love to hear from you.
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