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Event Planners: Keep Your Star-Studded Talent Budget from Exploding

Adding a celebrity to the lineup for your fundraising event can help you build attendance, but spending too much to land that big-name guest can backfire.

“If the increase doesn't cover the cost of the event, you've lost money — so there's a balancing act," says Jim Lopolito, principal of Jim Lopolito Hospitality Productions, based in upstate New York.

An appearance by a well-known celebrity can range from $10,000 to more than $1,000,000 for a megastar, according to Celebrity Talent International, a booking agency in Carlsbad, Calif. Besides appearance fees, you may need factor travel, ground transportation, hotel, per diem, special perks, thank-you gifts, audio/visual equipment and other production costs into the budget. Fortunately, there are ways to keep those costs under control.

Hire A Professional

Start by getting an expert help to hire talent. The bigger the production a top talent is bringing to your event, the more advisable it is to let a professional handle the contract negotiations and logistics, Lopolito says. Hiring a $5,000 band might go without a hitch if you do it yourself, but a band that costs $20,000 or more is another story. That's when you start to get into the complexities of contract riders for details like celebrity perks, lodging needs and production equipment. Most performers don't travel with their own equipment, unless they are already on tour. You'll have to acquire it for them, along with personnel like the stage manager and the rigging crew.

Negotiate Fees

Talent fees are always negotiable. Sometimes performers' schedules can help you out, depending on where they plan to be immediately before or after your event.

“If they are passing through or going to be in your general area at the time of your event, you can negotiate a better price," says Lopolito .

For instance, you may be able to get them to pay for their own hotel accommodations and transportation, while you cover the production costs and make sure they get their favorite snacks and special towels.

You can also cut costs for musical performers by opting for a track show instead of a full band show, Lopolito says. A band show includes all the musicians and crew who travel with the star performers on tour. In a track show, which is much less expensive, singers or featured musicians perform to the accompaniment of a CD.

Hire Local Talent

Fundraisers can sometimes cut costs by inviting a less expensive local or regional celebrity to the event or asking their organization's members if they have connections to a star who might offer a price break or even a free performance. But don't count on that kind of generosity when you're planning your budget, Lopolito warns.
“Generally you cannot get a performer to come to fundraiser for free unless they have a genuine heartfelt concern for what you're doing," he says. “Even then, if they have to travel any long distance, those expenses need to be covered."

Star power can provide a great boost to a charitable or civic cause, as long as you use smart planning and negotiating tactics to keep your entertainment budget down to earth.


Sonya Stinson is a professional writer based in New Orleans. Her business content writing and reporting has appeared in Forbes.com, Bankrate.com, Entrepreneur and a host of custom, trade and association publications. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.

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