Corporate Hocus-Pocus --- Magicians -- Presto! -- Turn Into Business Motivators And Reap Big Rewards
By Joel Rosenblatt. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Sep 11, 2000. pg. B.1
Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc Sep 11, 2000
MAGICIAN PAUL GERTNER is entertaining a recent gathering of sales managers from Domino's Pizza LLC. But instead of a top hat and tuxedo, he's dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit. And part of his patter revolves around ways to "build the brand and increase profits."
This is magic? Ah, but wait. At one point, Mr. Gertner conjures up a cell phone and orders a pizza from a nearby Domino's outlet. When the steaming pie arrives, a torn $100 bill that disappeared earlier in the show is baked inside. "I've heard," the magician deadpans, "there's money in pizza."
These days, there is also plenty of money in corporate magic. Eager to find new ways to grab the attention of jaded employees and customers, more companies are turning to magicians to help deliver sales pitches and motivational messages. Prestidigitators who once worked birthday parties for a pittance are now making as much as $20,000 an hour to push corporate themes at meetings, trade shows and training sessions.
To some extent, the trend reflects a general resurgence in the popularity of magic, as evidenced by the huge audiences for big-name acts such as Siegfried and Roy and David Blaine, along with soaring amateur interest. Sales at Hank Lee's Magic Factory in Boston have more than tripled in the past decade. Other magic stores around the country report similar growth.
In the corporate world, magicians increasingly are being seen as an effective and novel alternative to traditional presenters such as motivational speakers, musical acts or comedians. Some magic lovers are disdainful, complaining that corporate messages have no place in a bag of tricks. But many magicians are delighted to find another lucrative stage, and company executives say that magic, if done well, appeals to nearly every type of audience. It also has the advantage of being politically correct, unlike off-color comedians or the scantily clad models who have long adorned many booths at trade shows.
Companies that have recently hired magicians for corporate events include International Business Machines Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc. and General Motors Corp. To push its Marlboro cigarette brand, Philip Morris Cos. is employing a small army of 30 magicians to perform in bars across the country.
Smaller companies are also finding that magic does the trick for them. Craig Elliott, chief executive officer of Packeteer Inc., a Cupertino, Calif., networking software firm, for the last three years has hired magician Lisa Menna to perform at his company's booth at the giant NetWorld/Interop trade shows. He pays her $60,000 for a three-day stint at this month's show in Atlanta.
Ms. Menna, 36 years old, weaves detailed descriptions of Packeteer's technology into her act. In one optical illusion, she asks audience members to stare at Packeteer's spinning logo, then look at their hands. The trick makes it appear as if their skin is crawling across their hand. "It's bizarre," Mr. Elliott says, adding: "People remember our logo."
Mr. Elliott compares notes with rivals at trade shows, and figures Ms. Menna brings in 10 times as many sales leads as conventional booth displays. Many visitors stay to watch her show several times, he says. He calls Ms. Menna "a product-marketing person disguised as a magician."
At Campus Pipeline Inc. of Salt Lake City, which designs internal Internet networks for educational institutions, magician Giovanni Livera is credited with helping hone the performance skills of its sales force. For a fee of $144,000 for a three-day session, Mr. Livera shows the sales staffers how to jazz up their pitches, by using storytelling, jokes and music along with conventional product descriptions.
Darin Gilson, Campus Pipeline's president and chief operating officer, is so impressed with Mr. Livera that he recently put the magician on the company's board of advisers, which includes such luminaries as Dell Computer Corp.'s chairman and CEO, Michael Dell, and Keith Krach, CEO of e-commerce firm Ariba Inc. Mr. Gilson says the performer knows every employee and once a month sends e-mails to reinforce the sales lessons.
Mr. Livera, 36, is one of two dozen or so magicians at the top of the heap in corporate work. As a boy, in Orlando, Fla., his father posted a picture of the young charmer on a mirror at his hairstyling salon. "Five bucks, book him, I'll drive him," his dad told potential customers. "While my friends were bagging groceries," Mr. Livera recalls, "I would go do a couple of birthday parties on the weekend and make more in two hours than they would make all week."
The money has only gotten better since Mr. Livera came to wide attention while doing halftime shows at Orlando Magic basketball games. In one trick, he made 7-foot-1-inch superstar Shaquille O'Neal appear at midcourt. He has performed at events for Unisys Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp., among others, and says he made more than $1 million last year.
Philip Morris has been quietly deploying its army of magicians in bars around the country since 1997. The performers appear unannounced and mingle with the crowd, performing sleight-of-hand tricks using cigarettes, bar napkins, shot glasses and coins. Brendan McCormick, a Philip Morris spokesman, says the magic campaign is targeting adult smokers in bars as part of a strategy to "reinforce brand loyalty and encourage brand switching."
For Domino's Pizza, Mr. Gertner was hired to help rally the company's sales force, after job reductions had hurt morale. Mr. Gertner's hour-long performance before about 130 sales managers mixes a healthy dose of motivational spiel with legerdemain. In one trick, Mr. Gertner tears apart a newspaper page and crumples it up, telling the audience that the torn pieces are "an important part of the total paper," just as each employee is "part of the company as a whole." Then he shakes out the now-untorn paper, and it has a new headline: "Domino's Pizza -- Say Cheese."