Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) proposed legislation that would officially recognize "magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure." The bill, which is currently awaiting review in the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- because, of course, any governmental reform requires some level of magic these days -- promotes magic as a "rare and valuable art form" and attempts assure that it is "preserved, understood, and promulgated."
The resolution also promotes the economic impacts of magic, stating, "Whereas David Copperfield, with 21 Emmy Awards, 11 Guinness World Records, and over four billion dollars in ticket sales, has impacted every aspect of the global entertainment industry."
In reality, this bill, if passed, will likely have limited impact beyond providing satirical fodder for politicians from the other side of the aisle. As an industry, however, magic can provide a number of valuable lessons to entrepreneurs in any business.
One professional illusionist who has made an art of combining magic with business is David Ranalli. A Chicago-based illusionist, Ranalli has been performing magic since the age of 13, expanding his performance art into a blossoming business by hosting corporate performances for several Fortune 500 clients.
Ranalli actually credits much of his business acumen to the interactions he has had with his many successful clients which include influential executives, athletes and celebrities. In fact, much of Ranalli's success derives from his ability to consistently attract great clients through his strong brand, a strategy he believes every entertainer and entrepreneur alike needs.
How has Ranalli been able to establish a great brand and attract great clients? Here are few of his tips.
1. Understand yourself first, then your audience.
All performers, like all entrepreneurs, need to understand fully and clearly their passions and that which motivates them. In addition, it is crucial to recognize and embrace your strengths and weaknesses. It is only through this self-reflection and self-awareness that performers can identify the business and the clients with which they want to work.
"I could have specialized in children's parties," says Ranalli, "but it would have felt like wearing a different skin. I was comfortable with myself and understood that my passion for business was performing for adult audiences in sophisticated venues. Once I accepted this, it was only natural to specialize in corporate events and conferences."
2. Hone your message, then your art.
Entertainers and businesses alike often try to attract a wide range of clients with a generic message, broadly branding themselves and their marketing campaigns accordingly. Because of this, advertisements become watered-down and ineffective, which can cheapen a brand and confuse clients.
"For a while, I was trying too hard to present myself and my personal brand to a wide variety of audiences," says Ranalli. "Same with my appearance, marketing materials, and so on. I was trying to be everything to everybody."
Ranalli found that when he started focusing his marketing message on corporate clients, he could be much more specific and targeted with his marketing campaigns. This not only helped him attract the type of clients he wanted, but it also helped him connect more authentically and empathize with their needs.
3. Dress the part and be the act.
Ranalli feels strongly that performers and entrepreneurs need to "own their brand," which is why these days he always wears a business suit. "I'm now living my brand as an upscale entertainer," stated Ranalli. "To be most effective, performers need to play the part and become their brand. In my case, I wanted my personality and life to align with my brand, so I hang out in similar social clubs as my clients, and my values and work ethic tend to be in-line with theirs. All of this helps me to fit in and better connect with them."
Businesses are no different. Because consumers can and will find your business in a multitude of places -- television, social media, outdoor advertisements and in person -- it is crucial that brands maintain consistency in their message. This consistency is not just recognized in consumer advertising campaigns, but rather embraced throughout the organization, from the marketing campaigns to the employee culture to the company stationery.
4. Never sacrifice your brand for an act.
It is easy for a struggling entertainer to sacrifice their vision in order to get a job. Like startup entrepreneurs, they too need to eat and pay bills. Ranalli believes that focus and persistence is the key to success, however, and sacrificing your brand for a short-term gain can ultimately cause more harm than good.
“Even when I am available,” states Ranalli, “I will choose not to do a performance if it does not align with my goals. To do so would be a disservice to my customers and my brand. And, imagine if I were to conduct a show for a children's birthday party, and the parent was an event planner for American Express. I would have cheapened my brand and more than likely compromised any chance to perform at their next conference or reception.”
It turns out the secrets to successfully building a career as a performer are not that unalike from any type of business. First understanding your own passions and strengths, applying them and building a strong and consistent brand and ultimately attracting the best clients is formula for success any entrepreneur.
Sadly, however, illusionists will always have the upper hand over other entrepreneurs, simply because they are way more entertaining at cocktail parties.