Howard Stovall knows his road to being the Chairman of the International Association of Corporate Entertainment Producers (IACEP) was paved with the blues.
His love for blues music charted his course to become Executive Director of The Blues Foundation (1997-2002), during which time he oversaw the Blues Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1998 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, conceptualized and produced Ray Charles' 70th birthday party in 2000 at the House of Blues Los Angeles, and executive produced five nationally televised W.C. Handy Blues Awards.
Those cumulative experiences prepared the Managing Partner of Resource Entertainment Group, LLC (REG) for his position as IACEP Chairman, a two-year term that began in 2008 and runs through September 2010. "Being Executive Director of The Blues Foundation helped in understanding how staff and boards divide up duties and interface. That experience has served IACEP better than my years of experience serving on numerous non-profits' boards," said the Memphis resident.
Getting involved with IACEP was "just a smart business decision. It's the only organization that focuses on what we do on the producer side, as well as the supplier side. I happened to step in when there was an opportunity to be on the Board and was ultimately asked to serve as Chairman.
Initially urged by Steve Thomas (Vice President, EastCoast Entertainment, Inc) to join the then-fledgling organization, Stovall said that once he learned about the management of the organization, "I thought I could help-not because I was the most experienced producer in the room, which I'm not when among other IACEP members, but because of my knowledge at running organizations. You can have people with the best of intentions and abilities, but if there's not a well-defined set of deliverables, process and structure, you can't get much done." He said IACEP as an organization was at a "level of maturity necessary for us to start looking closer at structure and process. There's a lot of work being done by subgroups within the organization, which allows the board to focus on strategy… which is where it needs to be."
Established in 2005, IACEP is the only professional association in the country especially for Producers and Suppliers who service clients in the corporate entertainment market. Known as The Corporate Entertainment Experts, more than 90 percent of IACEP's Supplier and Producer members are the CEOs and presidents of leading entertainment and production companies.
Each September, the Association hosts a three-day, Conference, Showcase and Exhibit Hall that offer fast-paced seminars and high-level networking to this elite niche market. Sold-out for both registration and Exhibit Hall booth space for the past three years, the Conference includes hot topic sessions such as the Agents' Roundtable and Emerging Trends and Talent; the cutting edge of corporate entertainment technology; and the chance to preview some of the hottest acts working in the corporate marketplace.
This year's IACEP Conference will be held September 9-11 at the Green Valley Resort, Spa & Casino in Henderson, NV. Led by a Board mission to set higher standards each year, this year's event includes some interesting sessions. Topping the list of topics and Speakers is TV and Movie Celebrity William Shatner, who will speak on "The Fear Factor." Other topics and speakers include:
"Getting the Gig"- Adam Christing, an Author and Film Director ranked as one of the top five after-dinner speakers in America by Success magazine;
"Contracting Versus Expanding Your Business-Economic Fears" – Cheryl Cran, expert author and TV guest commentator on workplace trends;
"Great Client Service … Remember Your Business Depends on It" – Lisa Ford, CSP, CPAE, an outspoken author on customer service, leadership, team issues, and change; and
"No More Excuses"! – Sam Silverstein, MBA, CSP, humorous author and speaker who helps audiences realize they alone are accountable for their choices, actions, and results, all of which can be applied to sales, leadership and customer service.
For complete information on IACEP Conference details and registration, membership applications, and a full description of membership benefits, including a $100 discount to Celebrity Access, go to www.iacep.com.
Being Chairman is a huge investment of time and energy. What are you getting from it?
Developing strong relationships with the top people in our field. It's introduced me to a concentrated mix of great people who are both partners and resources. When I joined there were many aspects of corporate entertainment for which my company had had little involvement, and I was able to learn from those who were doing the business we were not, and to apply that knowledge to REG here in Memphis.
Has IACEP drifted from the original vision?
No other group for corporate entertainment producers exists in which producers maintain the majority of membership. In that vision, IACEP has not wavered. We have responded well to the economic challenges thrust upon us and have used them as opportunities to develop useful programs for our members. A prime example is our series of business forum calls, which we present through the members-only IACEP Network. We constantly challenge ourselves as a Board to deliver more value to the membership without deviating from our mission.
IACEP has sold out its registrations and exhibit hall booths for the past three years of its four years. What makes this annual conference so special?
The Showcases have a lot to do with it… a great way to put acts before a target-rich audience of buyers. No other conference has such a concentrated audience of people standing by to do business with your act. Attendance indicates we're delivering value to an educated audience as well as showcasing performers who understand the parameters of what this audience needs.
In three days, conference attendees receive significant education for corporate entertainment producers, networking with other elite producers, and still have time to develop relationships with other industry leaders. Name one thing you have personally gained?
More than anything, it's talking to people who've been doing this for decades, learning the history of our profession while seeing the commonalities that make veteran producers successful. I've met many people I otherwise would never have gotten to. They've answered my questions on things such as fee negotiations and client management.
What brings top producers back to IACEP's Conference every year, even in these difficult times?
Other top producers. Face time with major agents. Expert analysis on emerging trends.
What's your goal for attendees? Is that attainable?
It's to replicate the type of energy and attendance we had last year. There was enormous uncertainty in planning this year in light of economy. Delightfully, our most pessimistic assumptions have proven untrue. We've been positively surprised in the association's membership growth this year and are looking forward to an actively-attended conference. To come out of a slow period with an advantage, you need to be at the forefront, and the IACEP Conference offers tools to do exactly that. I can't imagine a producer or supplier walking away from this conference without gaining or learning something.
There's been discussion on the size of the association and the conference. What's the ideal balance?
You have to ask the important question: what does success look like? Bigger is not always better. If your industry is one of specialists, then you are either an organization of specialists and not everyone is invited, or you open it to everyone and lose your specialization. We've done a great job with our 60-40 ratio (producers to suppliers). At the same time, we seek to create strong relationships with organizations like MPI and ISES because their members often employ the services of our producer members. We want to remain tightly focused on the core of this organization, which is the corporate entertainment producer.
Any big changes this year?
Our conference committee has secured William Shatner as a speaker, presenting "The Fear Factor." Having that level of celebrity speaker is totally new for the conference and contributes to a higher level of excitement, even for us jaded professionals. Our new video showcase is a great element for acts unable to perform live due to the scale of the act or the cost to come out. And, we are working to present a national acts showcase that would replace our Chairman's Dinner with a showcase of three headline acts who are seeking to work more in the corporate market. We are very excited about this new element, and it represents the most ambitious initiative for 2009.
Why has IACEP returned to Vegas for the third consecutive year?
Vegas is a great conference market where this business gets done. Great entertainers and venues. IACEP has a small staff and conference planning and production is time-consuming. Having it in Vegas where there's a track record of success for IACEP is easier on the staff.
"If could see this happen during my tenure…" what would it be?
I want the next IACEP Chairman to have the opportunity to serve as a national spokesperson for the corporate entertainment industry. We've seen lots of toxic press for our industry over the past year, and in future years, I hope that IACEP is positioned to serve as a national media resource for comment on our industry. If the media needs an opinion on corporate meetings, they call the IACEP chairman for a quote. I just don't want it to be me!
Doesn't IACEP have some innovative policies regarding memberships?
Yes. We give discounts to second, third and fourth producer members from one company. It just makes sense. Allowing additional qualified producers from the same firm to join at a discounted rate ($150/yr) makes it financially feasible for a company to add qualified producer members who can benefit from IACEP and the conference. One of this year's strategic initiatives is to reduce the wait time for suppliers on pending status to retain our 60-40 ratio. The more producers we have, the more suppliers can be admitted. With our new management strategies, we have accomplished that.
How does corporate entertainment differ from other entertainment?
There's a fundamental distinction for a musician on how to go. If you're pursuing your passion and craft, you need to get in the studio and tour to fans. From a non-headliner's standpoint, in corporate entertainment, you must be comfortable playing other people's music, making it look like you're having more fun than anyone else in the room, and coming with the highest level of professionalism to succeed. It represents a career path that takes a fundamental set of deliverables that don't necessarily exist for musicians who're performing for music's sake. For name acts, it's a great way to make significant money playing in typically better conditions than a night on tour.
Any acts whose success has rocketed by showcasing?
An immediate Yes! Dave Calzaretta's band, Maggie Speaks, showcased two years ago. They've benefited dramatically even in a time of tighter budgets, in which top-level show bands may be hired instead of name acts. They've seen a spike in corporate fly dates as a direct result of being in front of IACEP members. It may have taken a year, but it did happen.
Acts have 12 minutes to showcase. Enough? Too much?
Never enough and always too much. A result of a purely scientific process of blind stabs and compromises.
How are acts selected?
A Showcase Committee of savvy IACEP members reviews materials and makes recommendations, providing a good range of entertainment of interest to our clientele. Every year we learn what it takes to make a better showcase
If you were a fly on the wall, what message would you like to hear passed on by attendees post-conference?
That you can't miss it. Great benefits to be had from every aspect of it: educational panels, showcases, and networking. Those three things can only happen if you're meeting together in one place. As long as we can provide that unique value, then we'll have a great conference.