$5000 ad for a "magician"

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Postby George Olson » 05/04/12 02:29 PM

I just saw this on line:

TOP TWEET
jeffrensei
NOAA removes ad for $5000 magician in wake of GSA scandal http://t.co/elFxmGGI #scandal

NOAA must have a real brain trust working for them!

GO
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/04/12 02:39 PM

Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Joe M. Turner » 05/04/12 05:28 PM

Eric Henning was quoted in a Politico article addressing this issue yesterday: http://goo.gl/BIXwc

I am quoted extensively in an article in Government Executive magazine today: http://goo.gl/yekZ0

I also put out my own blog article on the subject today: http://goo.gl/yqqaL

Enjoy.
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/04/12 05:54 PM

First, good job to those quoted in the articles

I just came across an article in the wsj from a few years ago where companies were lauding the effectiveness of magic for sales events and corporate training.

I find it odd that those who claim that government should be run like a business get so upset when government makes the same choices as incredibly successful businesses.

I suppose consistency of position and thoughtful analysis of fact is less important than politically motivated spin and attack. (a bipartisan condemnation of partisanship).
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Postby Joe M. Turner » 05/07/12 08:22 AM

Frankly, I think they're right to question having anyone with the title "magician" at the conference. Left or right, the fact is that "magician" and even "mentalist" are terms that drip with low-end entertainment kitsch, and do not sound like value-adds for a business conference. This is the hole we have dug for ourselves. There is far more reason to be suspicious or outraged at an expense for a "magician" than there is reason to give it the benefit of the doubt. I fight this battle daily.

If I were putting together a serious conference, spending taxpayer money to do it, and I saw a listing for a magician... well, I'd certainly wonder whether it was frivolous or not. I'd definitely question it. We all know that there are far more performers out there who would in fact make that a truly frivolous expense than there are performers who would make it a reasonable expense with a good return on the investment. That's not something I'm happy to say, but we all know it's true.

Yes, there is some political theater involved. It's Congress and it's an election year. In 2004, a Democrat challenged the expenditures on magicians for the Easter Egg Roll - and that was just an entertainment event! It was a different party in the White House and a different party raising the issue for scrutiny.

The sad thing here is that NOAA wasn't ready to step up and defend their selection of speaker/entertainer on the merits. Perhaps they couldn't - I don't know who they had their eyes on and I don't know whether the expense would have been worthwhile or not. I have no idea. But if I see that my employee has reported an expense that looks questionable, it's fair enough to question it. It's not my job to do the cost-benefit on it before scrutinizing it; it's the employee's job to be ready to explain it.

We have an industry full of people who decide to go from doing a day camp on Monday to selling themselves as corporate management experts on Tuesday with absolutely no credibility. They hear "motivational speaker" and decide it's another way to make a buck, so now I'm a "teambuilding expert" or a "success coach" even though I've never built a team and I'm in $50k of credit card debt. As long as the suit is clean and I can GTFM, why should I care?

Well - we all pay for it when the buyers glom onto the fact that our scams go beyond what we can hide in a fake thumb... all the way to what we can hide in a fake resume.
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Postby Anthony Vinson » 05/07/12 08:56 AM

Joe M. Turner wrote:We have an industry full of people who decide to go from doing a day camp on Monday to selling themselves as corporate management experts on Tuesday with absolutely no credibility. They hear "motivational speaker" and decide it's another way to make a buck, so now I'm a "teambuilding expert" or a "success coach" even though I've never built a team and I'm in $50k of credit card debt. As long as the suit is clean and I can GTFM, why should I care?


How true. Unfortunately those posers far too frequently get the gigs. I recently lost out to what I was told was a "corporate magician". The HR manager confided that she was looking for something different. Fine; losing bids is a part of business. Wanting to see what I was up against in the marketplace, of course I checked out the guy's website: It was dedicated solely to his role as a children's performer and there was no mention of any experience working for companies or corporations. Hope he doesn't screw the pooch... But I couldn't help but wonder if the HR manager even bothered to ask for or follow-up on references - My guess is that she did not and for me that's the great big "WTF!"
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/07/12 09:31 AM

We have undoubtedly brought a lot of this onto ourselves, and have squandered the good press we have received. And while I agree 100% about market being over run by people who think "speakers make a lot of money, I'm going to add that to my list of shows", I think there is one little item we are also ignoring - entertainment, on it's own, has value.

As Joe said, people retain less when they are not engaged. And while hiring an engaging speaker is always a smart decision, sometimes just having something to break up the day and re-energize the team serves an important purpose.

People in "the private sector" have known this for years.

I agree with everything Henning and Turner said in their comments, but I think it can even be taken a step further.

If you want to get the best out of people, a positive, fun workplace environment filled with people whose are energized and thinking creatively will go a long way, entertainment can encourage that - even if Uncle Sam signs the paycheck.
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Postby Joe M. Turner » 05/07/12 09:41 AM

Just for clarity - I'm not overlooking the intrinsic value of entertainment. Heck, I am 12 years into a fulltime career based largely on the intrinsic value of entertainment. I have written on it before. The two blog posts on my blog immediately prior to the one linked above delve into that very idea in places.

My main point is that creative, engaging, entertaining presentation is a wonderful and effective way to improve the communication and retention of substantive information... but it is not a substitute for the content. Too many people, I think, believe that it is.

Also worth noting: different venues and slots in a conference line-up call for different kinds of value. I think it's up to the planner to be ready to explain what value each piece adds.
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Postby Andrew Pinard » 05/07/12 09:51 AM

I think that Joe has stimulated what I hope will be a positive and important dialogue.

There seems to be a belief in the industry that the standard descriptive words "magician" and "mentalist" are enough to turn a prospective client off. The oft-repeated "hire a bad musician, hire another musician; hire a bad magician, never hire another magician" are used to describe public perception of the entire industry and to decry the low state of quality in the marketplace.

Simply retitling oneself "deceptionist" or "illusionator" or even "chief entertainment officer" is not necessarily enough to combat negative public opinion. It is simply a way to fool oneself that what *we* provide is special, while what *they* provide is crap. Titles are only that, titles. They are about as meaningful as the phrase "award-winning" when the competition is a local one in which every competitor was awarded a title to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. The title does not help the buyer when they are seeking a service, it just adds more smoke to the screen.

The terms mentalist or magician are very valid to the buyer. They describe, in part, the medium you perform in. The what. When people are looking for a performance of magic, it helps them to use that term to search. The "how" is what distinguishes one performer from another and is just one factor that sets them apart from others offering that basic service. It also can be used as a metric to differentiate an exceptional performer from a competent one.

Would it be helpful if all performers aspired to being more than competent? Would it be nice if performers targeted specific markets and focused on exceptional service? Wouldn't it be great if we could all agree on what a "magic" performance is?

The answers to all of these might be in the affirmative, but there is no one answer except this: do your best. Provide good value and keep your client's best interest as the core of whatever you aspire to and you can't go wrong.

As an industry this is arguably what we suffer from the most: not enough people working in the best interest of our clients and our industry.

As someone who has managed to eke out a decent living performing magic the last twenty-plus years, I might recommend the following: focus on producing the best show you can, design it for the audience *you* desire, and do good work. Treat every performance as an audition for another performance (it is) and do no harm. I heard a wise performer once remark that if you remember that in every show there may be one audience member who has never experienced what you do and may never see another magic performance, you are more likely to feel the responsibility associated with your work and aspire to do your best.

After all, we are makers of memories. What memories we create are up to us. We owe it to the audience in front of us to inspire a passion within them to look at the world with fresh eyes and leave them full of joy.

Which, after all, is one feeling we all desire...
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Postby Edward Pungot » 05/07/12 10:10 AM

Aren't more people in the industry using the terms "mystery entertainer" "mystery performer" just for the reasons described above? Or how just about our names without all the labels? Is this too vague for a client?
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/07/12 10:53 AM

Joe,

Sorry if I misunderstood you - it seemed as if we were disagreeing. I just think it interesting that many people say government should be run like a successful business on one day, and then criticize government for engaging in the same practices lauded by successful businesses in the most successful business newspaper of record.

I think if all politicians (regardless of affiliation) thought about what they are going to say, and for a moment thought first about what they have said in the past, the world would be a much better place.

Was just pointing out the irony of condemnation and acclamation coming from the same direction.
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Postby Joe M. Turner » 05/07/12 03:16 PM

I think the condemnation/acclamation thing is true from both directions in multiple situations.

That being said, just using magicians at business events is not a key to business success. The successful businesses use magic successfully and choose credible presenters. There are certainly many more examples of performers who shouldn't be placed in serious presentation situations than performers who would make such expenses wise. I remember a WSJ article about businesses successfully using magicians, but extending that to a general business principle is kind of shaky ground.

Unless NOAA was bringing in a credible presenter, we have no idea if they were engaging in the same business practices lauded by successful businesses in the most successful business newspaper of record. They could have been bringing in junk. Statistically they were more likely to bring in junk than value. That is the depressing thing - that criticism of bringing in magicians is probably accurate... wonderful WSJ examples of "man bites dog" notwithstanding.

We are in agreement - I just think that as politicized as Brown's objection may be, we run the same risk in taking political shots at him or others when the fact remains that he was probably right.

That sucks to think about.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/07/12 03:33 PM

Mundus vult decipi
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Postby Brad Henderson » 05/07/12 06:51 PM

Its not about taking political "shots:. It's about going on record that the truth is more important than partisan gamesmanship, regardless of what side it comes from. In this case, we experience the sting because it affects us personally. But every time this happens, someone is getting stung.

We can lament that the condemnation/acclamation hypocrisy "comes from both directions in multiple situations", but what matters is it's happening NOW. and NOW is the time to call attention to the gamesmanship and reveal "the truth" which gets lost in the partisanship (your article nicely does that).

But in many ways that's closing the barn door after the horse has already left.

Until we as a culture hold our representatives (political and otherwise) to the standard of TRUTH, until we tell them that lying and misrepresenting facts for the purpose of political spin is wrong, we will find ourselves here again and again. Ok, maybe not us - but somebody. But that doesn't make it any better.

Articles like you wrote, Joe, are the first step. The second is condemnation of the hypocrisy, attack mentality, and world of spin. And YES it comes from both sides. But it has happened NOW. So NOW is the time to address it. And the next time. And the next - regardless of who says it, and who we like.

(but yes, given sturgis's law - he was, probably, sadly, right. But even a broken clock is right twice a day!)
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Postby Anthony Vinson » 05/08/12 08:07 AM

Brad Henderson wrote:Until we as a culture hold our representatives (political and otherwise) to the standard of TRUTH, until we tell them that lying and misrepresenting facts for the purpose of political spin is wrong, we will find ourselves here again and again.


Whose truth? That's the crux of the problem. I believe that it is more a lack of empathy and cooperation. The myriad cognitive biases that we know of, combined with cultural and religious differences, make it nigh impossible to reach even a basic compromise (as opposed to concession), much less a consensus, of what constitutes "the truth." Seeking such is most likely futile, but at least it presents the illusion of movement. But even that is preferable to feelings of helplessness and lack of control...
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/09/12 08:05 AM

If you can get someone else to believe that you're being sincere- you've got "truth" effectively defined.
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Postby Jonathan Townsend » 05/09/12 08:57 AM

on the off chance it would help - it gets the capital T when they believe they could get the same reaction from others.

now it can be your truth too.
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