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The Magic Business by Michael Bailey

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 1998)


I tend to approach books about the business side of magic with at best resignation and at worst pure dread. It's not that I have anything against business; I've been known to engage in it myself from time to time. However, I tend to find such books rather bloodless and disturbingly divorced from the art. So when this huge book was delivered to me, I was certain that my life was ruined until such time that I would finally be able to slog my way through to the end. I simply did not want to read yet another chillingly cold-blooded analysis of how to negotiate a better fee, or another gospel-cum-corporate presentation of this-is-the-client-and-this-is-the-customer for Hippity Hop Rabbits. I've done my share of corporate shows, from national meetings to trade shows, and it's always both more demanding and subtle in reality than when one reads about it in some out-of-date magic pamphlet.

As it turns out, however, this is the best book I've ever read specifically about the real- world side of using magic to communicate corporate messages. Michael Bailey is a leading, if not the leading corporate magic messenger in England, and his client list is an impressive catalog of Fortune 500 companies and the like. His career has obviously been a long and successful one, and clearly he is abundantly qualified to speak authoritatively and informatively on the subject. He does so with clarity and thoroughness in the pages of this massive tome.

The book is divided into three large segments; The Exhibition Business, The Meeting Business, and Any Other Business, each consisting of ten chapters. The first section, which addresses trade shows, opens with an homage to Eddie Tullock, a founding father of trade show magic and a seminal influence on and inspiration to the author as well as so many others. However, while Mr. Bailey apparently does at times perform close-up magic in the front of the booth at a standard trade show pedestal a la Mr. Tullock and the countless numbers who have followed in his path, the author also often performs platform and stage magic as well as full-scale (and occasionally giant-scale) illusions. In this section and indeed throughout this volume the author gives countless examples of how to adapt magic tricks to corporate messages and vice versa. I strongly suspect that in many ways these examples—sometimes lengthy and detailed and sometimes little more than a remarkably useful yet succinct sentence—will serve as among the most practical and stimulating segments of the book, especially to newcomers who may know something about magic but have never thought much about how to seamlessly blend tricks and routines with a message that suits the various performance conditions, needs and challenges of corporate venues.

This is not to suggest that Mr. Bailey gives short shrift to other kinds of advice and information, ranging from how to pitch your services in a letter or a meeting, to practical matters like booth arrangement, stage layout and production details of lighting and sound. Although no one volume is ever entirely complete—this one, for example, doesn't say much specifically about hospitality suites, nor provide many details about how to "build the tip" at a tradeshow (in some settings the biggest challenge of the job), nevertheless there is a banquet of expertise and experience here all laid bare for the taking. The ambitious worker who wishes to plan a wholesale attack on the corporate marketplace will find his or her battle plans thoroughly blue-printed in these pages; they need only provide the ammunition of talent and material to completely equip themselves for the battle.

In the section on meetings the author offers up his experiences in an entirely different approach to adapting magic to corporate settings. Here, for example, Mr. Bailey might appear as a guest speaker who opens a conference as a stealth magician of sorts; i.e., someone introduced as an expert on the focus subject but who then melds magic with his presentation as an unexpected and entertaining surprise for the audience. In similar manner one might also close such a conference with a summary speech, host or moderate a panel, or serve as a master of ceremonies of sorts who provides transitions and moves a conference or meeting along throughout its duration. This is interesting work in which magic is often almost never mentioned yet is significantly present, and about which little has been written previously in the literature. Like trade shows this is demanding work that is not suited to just any magician who might happen to have a performance repertoire of tricks. As the author comments, "By now it must be obvious that my definition of corporate magic doesn't include table hopping at a company dinner, which is simply entertainment performed for a trade—rather than a lay- audience." But the author provides superb examples here, especially of how one can take a basic magic repertoire and then adapt and re-adapt such material to various corporate messages and scripts. This is a fundamental requirement of magic used in the business arena, as in general one can only do the best job of managing a constant flow of new scripts by adapting them to performance material that is polished and can be intuitively executed as a result of long experience and repeated use. Throughout the author makes clear that "(m)agic can be a wonderful 'visual aid,' but the way it's utilized to help business meetings isn't by taking a standard act and adding some words about the product, and it isn't by devising a new act with all tricks made up to look like the product." Speaking specifically about the meetings market, Mr. Bailey concludes this thought by explaining that, "The end result is a balanced blend of magic and marketing which is entertaining, but is not an entertainment." Also in this section the author provides a detailed account of how he pitches a new client, including what magic he uses to demonstrate his proposition and skills. There are some excellent ideas here that will certainly be put directly to use by some of his readers. Also in this section is a 24-page chapter on tricks with corporate messages, many with wide application; one notable item here is a simple but eminently useable idea for Alan Shaxon's Confabulation. A thoughtful study of this chapter will go a long way toward teaching readers how to adapt their existing material to corporate messages and settings.

"For any magician serious about moving into the meetings business, the first task is to dispel some of the popular perceptions of magic. The traditional accoutrements have to be replaced by a more sober appearance and attitude. A good start is to hang up the dinner jacket or evening dress and buy something more suited to this new environment. Then delete all references to magic wands, top hats and rabbits."—Michael Bailey, The Magic Business

It may take longer to fully grasp an important paragraph about what tricks are suitable and what might seem "out of place" in the corporate venue. The points here are subtle and more subjective than objective, but they raise critically important issues that, properly grasped, separate the corporate klutz from the corporate maestro. Such intangibles are touched upon again when the author explores the differences in appropriate performance style for various corporate audiences. "Sales conference work brings the most enthusiastic reaction, because the sales team appreciate watching another good salesperson at work. ... Dealer and customer meetings need to be softened in selling terms, and should include more entertainment value to encourage the goodwill factor which is so important. Staff meetings are different again. A fair amount of cynicism is present at most of these, so there's an important job to be done. The employees first need to be convinced that you're on their side. Then they'll listen to the messages —and enjoy the magic." These are examples of what it really means to know your audience and truly connect with them. As the author says, and every professional entertainer knows (no matter the type of audience): "Once you've established that rapport, it's very difficult not to be a success."

The final section guides the reader through a broad range of examples of how the author has found a place for magic in other business settings, sometimes through unexpected strategies. In the end, this is a book about problem-solving, which is exactly what corporate magic work amounts to. "Corporate magic," writes Mr. Bailey, "carries its own definition: a careful blend of message and mystery designed to achieve a specific business objective." The joy that Mr. Bailey finds in this work quite obviously lies not merely in the financial rewards, but in the adventure of solving new problems on a regular basis. I don't always like the corporate magic I see, and too often I find it dismally unimaginative and formulaic, performed by skilled schmoozers and glad- handers who couldn't care less about the creative side of their art. There is no question that some individuals succeed in these fields on their sales skills alone while possessing not a whit of skill, taste, insight or artistic passion. But there also are and have been fine magicians who have been successful in the corporate marketplace, from Derek Dingle and John Thompson to Giovanni Livera and Tim Conover. This book won't assure that you end up an imaginative creator rather than just a pushy hack, but if you are at all interested in the corporate market, and indeed even if you have been at it for a time but believe that you still have more to learn, this book should be required reading. I would have preferred better production values—a book of this size deserves some kind of hardcover binding, if only to assure that it will last on your shelf—but there is no doubt that the information within these flimsy covers is worth more than the asking price to anyone prepared to actually put it to use.

8" X 11-1/2" perfect bound; 391 pages; illustrated with photographs, also diagrams, clippings, etc.; 1998. Publisher. Magic Promotions