Planner's Spotlight: The Producer

Sherry Eaker never needed to make a dime from her event. Until now.

For 17 years, Eaker, an editor at Back Stage, a trade paper for performing artists, produced the Back Stage Bistro Awards honoring outstanding cabaret performers, and didn't think about her bottom line until last year, when Back Stage's parent company, Nielsen Business Media (which also owns Successful Meetings), was sold to a consortium of venture capitalists . . . and her event was left out of the 2007 budget.

Undaunted, Eaker convinced her managers to let her do the awards if she covered her costs, but by the time she got approval, she had just six weeks 'til show time. So she turned to the vast network of theater contacts she'd built up over three decades in the industry. "The key to pulling off this event," she says, "wasn't my great negotiating skills or knack for raising money, but dealing with people I know and basing my business dealings on friendships."

Life Is a Cabaret
Hat in hand, Eaker went to BMI and ASCAP, the music copyright organizations, and got a sponsorship package. She convinced the owners of her venue to waive the down payment and require only a beverage guarantee. Through a press agent contact, she got a liquor company to donate two cases of champagne. "That was essential, because it meant I could sell premium tickets to a pre-show champagne reception with the award winners, and I didn't have to buy drinks."

Eaker also found folks willing to work for free. "The cabaret community is a very small, supportive community," she says. That's no exaggeration—her pianist, emcees, stage manager, makeup and hair person, logo designer, trophy presenter, and photographer all donated their time and labor. Even her caterer took a steep pay cut. "She's a cabaret singer herself," explains Eaker.

There's No Business Like . . .
To promote the show, Eaker ran ads in Back Stage and worked out trades with other theater publications and websites that publicized the event. A Broadway producer friend sent out e-mail blasts to her personal database of over 40,000 people. Another friend got her booked on a midnight radio program to talk about the show. And when she bumped into Joe Franklin, longtime talk-show host and self-styled "King of Nostalgia," one night at a supper club, Eaker convinced him to plug the event on his Bloomberg Radio show.

The bottom line? Eaker sold out the show and put some serious cash in her new bosses' pockets—she even surpassed the profit margin they had obligated her to meet. True, this required 16-hour workdays and round-the-clock weekends during the last two weeks, but it was worth it: "The cabaret community is still talking about it," she says. "Weeks later, I'm still getting phone calls and e-mails thanking me."

Originally published June 01, 2007

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