Michael Cerbelli from Cerbelli creative joins us to share his experience and tips!
Tell us your story.
It all started back in 1977 as a DJ in Brooklyn, New York. I got my first paid gig on my 13th birthday, on September 10th, 1977. I had a half of a mill crate of records and I played for 8 straight hours at a block party. And the reason I know the dates so well because Labor Day weekend was September 3rd, it rained that weekend, they canceled they moved it to the next weekend and they gave me 25 bucks for Djing this party. 25 bucks. I didn’t have enough music for eight hours. So I probably played the same record six times during the course of that eight hours. And the career started from there. And then in the 80s, we met a gentleman from long island, and it may sound cocky, but we revolutionized what the MC Dj perform a market was. We were doing everybody’s events on long island. There was a company EJM entertainment that was us. And there was another company, heart to heart and some smaller companies out there. Either you had EJM or heart to heart. We were blue vest. They would red vests. It was kind of a gang back in the day.
We just owned long island, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, we were doing events for everybody in the eighties and nineties. And what always was my way of looking at things like who are we doing these events for? These are great clients, but I wanted to know more about them. And then I realized we were doing these events for captains of industry, major players in finance, major players in real estate. And they started to bring us into their corporate events too. And it was a gentlemen, that said, you’re going to do my incentive program in Puerto Rico. And I heard nothing about incentive program and heard him say Puerto Rico. And I was like, yeah, okay, let’s go. I think he gave us $5,000 to travel to Puerto Rico and we did an amazing event there and that got me into the corporate realm. Then in 2000 I took EJM, merged with another company in New Jersey, was with them 11 years and we built up another end of the business but really going more for the corporate market, understanding what that was, doing high end social look, high end corporate as well. And then in 2011 I merged with a creative agency in Los Angeles, we just parted our ways. And then in 2016 Cervelli creative started as an entity by itself. So it’s been been an incredible journey for me and I’m very lucky to say who the clients are and what we’ve done.
What kind of stuff are you doing these days?
Our business is based on high end social and corporate. So the bulk of our business is a true corporate end of the business where we’re doing an incentive program, we’re doing an opening general session. Sometimes we’re producing the whole meeting and sometimes we’re just a lane. And I think that’s something that people in our industry don’t understand. It’s okay to be a lane and that’s where we’re sort of an enigma that we are able to move into these different areas. So we were doing the social end, they brought us into the corporate end and now you’re doing both ends of it. So today, if I’m doing a corporate event for a client that I’ve had for maybe 15 years, 16 years, that were doing these events for, I may be doing the CEO’s 25th anniversary, I may be doing the son’s Bar Mitzvah, the daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. We may be doing their wedding. When you think about that, it’s amazing those bookends.
Let’s talk about collaboration and staying in your lane.
To what the latter that you just said. It’s staying there, staying there and saying, Oh, I can do it this way. It’s all right to share ideas. So if you look at this, and I think this is a big motto with me, share the wealth. So when that client calls you, let’s look at the corporate arena that may have an in house production company, maybe working with someone that’s doing their floral designs for many years, but now says, I have this incentive program. We need to entertain everybody at nighttime. We need to work together. We need to bring this wow into the event. You have this specialty so when you collaborate the right way, I could book the entertainment, I can bring in the wow, but all of a sudden I let others handle their stuff. Let’s work together with that production company. Let them handle on the back line, let them handle the riders, let them handle that stuff and we managed the process. You’re not taking away from someone that’s worked hard and maybe even been part of the program even longer than you have. Why do you have to step on toes? Let’s work together as a team. Sometimes that first experience may be, who moved my cheese because someone’s like, well, you’ve got someone new who’s over here, but if you prove to them that you want to work together collaboratively, you’ll will work a long time with those people and then what happens for them? They start recommending you.
Are you spending time offline with the vendors?
Absolutely. We do it all the time. We’ll sit here and then, get on the phone and talk to them about it because this backline rider that they need this special equipment and stuff like that. We didn’t have that last year that was in Italy. All this equipment had to be brought in that we needed for the event. So why does the client need to know all that? They’re handling that and the it, we’ll work directly with them, knew what it was. And then we wound up finding out that we were able to share some of the shipping cases that they were going to be bringing into Italy because they said can you just get it to our warehouse. We’ll put it in our case. Why do you have to pay for this too? So it’s talking, speaking together, working things out together. We all save money. Did it cost the client any more money cause that shipping container, whether it was $1,000 for one item or $1,000 for two items, it was the same cost. So we just shoved our stuff and they’re shipping container because there was room.
Speak to some common mistakes you’ve seen over the years.
If I’m working with somebody we see someone not sharing information, not coming back to us with detail and you sort of lost. I’m very honored when I hear my team came back from an event, maybe we weren’t that lane and we work with other people that may be on this event. They almost get excited when they see us. They’re like, are you managing this event? No, we’re just doing this today. Oh okay. Cause I don’t have this information. I wish I had more information. What does this event about? And the kind of lost in the process, but it’s because of where it’s coming from. If the head is able to talk to the arm and to the feet to the legs and hands, everybody will work together as a team. Don’t take off more than you could chew. A lot of times everybody’s working on this budget. They don’t have the money, well if they don’t have the money to do what they want to do properly, the process is different. You can’t just do everything, because the client doesn’t have the money. Then you have to be able to explain to your client, this is what we need. If you want this done properly and you want this done properly, we need a team. Lots of times the biggest mistake is someone’s not being a team player and just going into the event and thinking they can handle it by themselves and they’re frantic the day of the event. We have a motto in our office, don’t panic. Here is where we get the detail done and if we’re upset, be upset and say, I wish that was there, but the day of the event, that’s when you don’t panic. That’s where you get everything done correctly. The chandelier falls, go get a broom, sweep it up and go get a lamp. When you see the person that’s freaking out at the event, that means they didn’t plan properly, plan and have a good team. That’s the best way to get through.
How do you make an event exceptional?
The surprises, the moments make it exceptional. You could have great people, you can have great food and things like that, but that little moment of what everybody enjoyed together as one, is that exceptional moment. Something that they’ve experienced altogether. Not every event has entertainment and things like that, but thinking about that, if there’s something that’s gone on, something that brings it all together, that’s something that meshes it all together. A theme that works with the event, that’s when everybody’s sharing the same experience. You could go to an event and you have people in this corner, and that corner, but when they all come together, share something together, I think that’s what makes it exceptional.
How do you create that?
We can always go into an event and say, oh, this is great. This is what you should be doing and this is it. This is the easy booking. I can’t wait to book Bruno Mars one day I just want to work with in March, we’re born in Mars is not the answer for everybody, all right? Not Everybody has $1.5 million, $2 million to book Bruno Mars, but at the same time, is there a talent that you could bring in?
If you’re going into a meeting and there’s just a constant talking head on stage and going from meeting to meeting on a multi day event. We were rushed to get food. There wasn’t enough. If you give people these moments to spend time together enjoying each other’s company, then maybe they haven’t seen each other in a year, spend time, network, talk, not rush from meeting to meeting to meeting to food. Give them of those moments, those will be your most successful events out there.
Tell us more about the Hot List.
So there’s a little story. It was 2001,I was attending a conference and a gentleman got on stage, great speaker. He took out a vase, and he put the vase on the table and he clicked the little switch on it and he took out a remote control and started pressing it and the vase started changing colors. All of us in the audience went what’s that? And he goes, this is led technology. What’s led technology? We never heard such a thing. So at the end of this little conference, I walk up to him and I said, David, you’ve got to tell me I need this. I gotta bring it to New York. Where do I get this vase? He goes, call me. He wouldn’t give me the information. He wouldn’t not share where he got the vase from. Why can’t we share the wealth? Why can’t I say this is a good idea. Use it. Maybe we could share this information. So in 2002 I started something called Michael Cerbelli’s 101 hot event and entertainment ideas in 90 minutes. And I sent 101 ideas in 90 minutes and the audience went bananas. It’s 2002 I got bombarded by my industry almost beat up. How can you share this information? How dare you, you’re giving away all our trade secrets. I said, what am I giving away? I’m sharing the information. We just did the 18th annual and now it’s called the hot list in San Diego this past January. And I’ve done four speaking engagements since January 10 an, we had over 3000 people in the room wanting to get this list that I have front of me and all it is, is the 36 ideas I spoke about and their contact information. And we do this big show. The room is packed. It’s just fun entertainment, band playing on stage. And then the next hour and a half is me rambling and bringing act sound and bringing product out. But it’s sharing information, and I don’t care anymore and none of us should care anymore that we’re telling these people out there who the act is.
There’s not a dollar to me for doing this. There’s no kickback for getting booked. All we tell them, we can do two live shows a year. You got to come out in January and you’ve got to come out in June. January is the special event show and June is MPI, world education congress. I hear from people, I got a phone call three, four years later because they keep the list in their office.
Tell us a couple of tips for aspiring planners.
Start attending conferences. I was going to class. I believe that you should be networking. I believe that you should becoming part of organizations, know about all aspects. Am I the best technical director there is? Absolutely not. Do I understand most of it? Okay. I understand it. Get out there and network. Go to classes. Don’t just go to an event, a conference partying. Start learning. Attend a conference where maybe it’s not your forte. And when you go to these things, don’t think that someone’s going to just call you and say, Oh, I want to start working with you. I’m working with people that I want to work with and they’re working with people that they want to work with. We’re not working together every single day.