|Frustrating and a Half|
(Michael Heath agreed to take some time to talk with Inside Magic about his
long and interesting career(s). His name maybe unfamiliar to some readers of
this journal; but to his clients, he is known as "the fixer."
Mr. Heath has worked with some of the great magicians of our time in
consultation, show development, and of course, brand and product
We apologize in advance for some of the comments he makes about magicians and
tradeshow clients. We have deleted any references to his web site or his email
address. We do not want to be seen as passing judgment on him or his work, but
we thought it was right to publish the interview but not give him any
Thank you, Mr. Heath for taking the time to talk to us.
Please, call me "Mike." And it's my pleasure, Tim.
Please, call me "Mr. Quinlan."
– – –
I'm just joking, Mike.
How did you get started as a consultant in magic? Were you a
I think it's probably helpful to back-up and define what I do. I
help magicians arrange their shows, or develop new shows, to link up with
manufacturers hoping to sell their product through the use of magic. I also work
directly with some manufacturers to assemble magic tricks or kits to be used as
premiums for their customers or prospective clients.
Do you only work with magic and magicians, then?
No, I handle a couple of different performing arts and look to find
mutually beneficial relationships with manufacturers or service companies. I
work with singers, jugglers, caricature artists, gymnasts, and rap artists. The
clients want to get their product out from the background at tradeshows or
fairs, and so I look for dynamic artists that can do just that.
No. I think one of the things clients look for is to . . . they want
the visitor to their booth to walk away with something permanent. That could be
a memorable effect linked tightly to the product or service; or it could be a
premium given. I don't think balloon sculptures meet either
I guess. It's never really come up, though.
So how did you get into this business? Is there a lot of
My first wife's father hired me at Proctor and Gamble in Cincinnati
when I got out of school. I think he thought putting me in the trade show
section would give me a well-paying job and keep me away from his daughter.
So what happened?
As I went out to tradeshows, I noticed some of the exhibitors
weren't able to reach the crowds because their products or services were so,
well, boring. It is tough to sex-up a bottle-capper. So my first work was with
Crown Cork and Seal helping them to develop a presentation to show what their
machine did and how it exceeded the competition.
So you left P&G?
Not right away, I was sort of moonlighting with Crown and helping
them at the same shows P&G would work. As part of my P&G work, I was
supposed to "sweep the floor" — meaning, I was supposed to walk around the
convention center and look at the competition. During that time, I'd usually man
the Crown booth and do my shtick.
Did P&G find out?
Not until after my divorce. It's a long story but my moonlighting
turned into a full-time job with Crown after P&G and I moved out of
So what happened after that?
I knew if I was doing a good job for Crown, other companies might
want to use me.
Were there other magicians working tradeshows at the
Oh, yes. This wasn't new at all. I just was able to put parties
So, like a broker?
Right, or a pimp. Laughs.
Not really though, right?
Like I said, my divorce from my first wife and leaving P&G is a
Oh. So who were your first clients?
Well, I actually would work two or three at a time on either side of
the equation. So I'd find some companies with new product or service
announcements, and magicians looking to work in tradeshows, and I'd put them
together. I received a talent-fee from the companies and an agent's cut from the
Do you still do it that way? It sounds pretty
No, I don't do it that way anymore. It does sound lucrative but you
have to remember if you take money from either party, you're sort of responsible
to the party to make sure things run as they should. I had to manage the talent
and manage the company. Sometimes they were at completely different opinions on
what should be done, or how well it came off.
So it wasn't worth the anxiety and stress?
So how is it structured now?
I represent one or the other. Either a company looking for someone
or a magician looking to get a gig.
Yes, much less. The money's still good.
How much can you make doing this? Like, how much did you make last
That's kind of personal. I don't really like to talk about my
income. I'm not hurting; I can say that.
More than $100,000? $200,000?
I'd rather not say.
I'm comfortable and I still support three ex-wives.
Yeah, it's kind of four-way split.
Do you have any kids?
I'd rather not talk about my personal life, if we can.
It's all working out really well.
Who were some of your big clients?
Well, I don't really like to discuss particulars of my clients on
either side of the transaction. It only gives competitors a chance to underbid
Oh. Okay. Would we know some of the magicians? Or some of the
Well, if you didn't, I wouldn't be earning my keep.
I guess that makes sense. So what would you feel comfortable telling
Oh, anything. I just don't like to identify clients.
Okay. Um. I'm trying to think of what to ask.
You could ask how I find out what needs prospective clients have so
I can pitch to them.
Okay. How do you do that?
I'd rather not discuss . . . (Laughs) Just kidding. I usually pick a
particular industry, like right now home construction is big and they're having
a ton of conventions and regional tradeshows. I look at the companies that are,
say, number two or three in the particular field. They're the ones that are
hungry and need to stand out.
And then you find a magician who fits their profile and pitch it as a
Oh, I wish it was that simple. No. I usually have to get to the
person who actually makes the decision to hire tradeshow vendors. Sometimes, at
the bigger shows, they are the ones who "sweep the floor" like I used to do with
P&G; sometimes it's somebody back in the home office. You have to find that
person and convince them you're the solution to their problem.
When do you select a magician for their campaign?
Ironically, not until the last minute. Sometimes, on the day of the
Isn't that a bit risky?
No, not really. There are tons of magicians out there who want to do
tradeshow work. I have a preferred list of guys or gals I like. We're often all
at the same shows so I usually know by the morning of the preview — that's the
day before the show opens to all the attendees — who didn't get a job for that
particular show. I can usually pick that magician up pretty cheap.
Are you serious?
Yes. Are you surprised?
What if your preferred list is taken? What would you do
Well, it's never happened. Fortunately, I am not very picky. I have
a ready rolodex of youngsters hoping to get their name known in the tradeshow
world. I can get them to pay for the flight to the show and even their own hotel
Doesn't the client usually pay for that?
No, not the way my contract works. I tell them I will provide a
magician for X-amount of money. The magician shows up, I pay the magician, all
So you must run through magicians pretty quickly?
I do. A lot of them get hired by other agents or companies after
they become known to the crowd. But that's okay, there are always five more to
fill their place.
And the clients are happy with that?
I don't think they really care. Usually, the success of the
tradeshow is determined by the orders they bring in or hot-leads. All the
magician has to do is get them to stand around long enough so that they stop
their walking and that gives the sales guys a chance to pounce. I haven't really
had complaints that so-and-so magician wasn't as good as the magician for the
other company. They're not comparing how well the magicians perform or what
sleights they do.
Wow. I never would have guessed.
Don't get me wrong. There are magicians out there who work the
tradeshows and get repeat customers because they are good, they are personable,
charismatic, and bring people to the booth. I don't handle those types, mostly.
I deal with the ones that will work cheaply and if I lose them for the next
show, it's not a major loss. I had nothing invested in them.
Oh. Wow. Okay. So what about your work bringing magic tricks to the
clients to give away as premiums. How do you do that?
I just put together a little kit of cute tricks the conventioneers
can bring home to their kids, put the name of one of the biggest companies in
the show on the box, make up about 50 of the boxes, and leave them sitting
around the convention center. I make sure the company who I put on the box sees
how successful it is by checking in with them on the next to last day of the
show and asking if they need me to refill the order.
But they didn't order them originally?
Right, but the guy or spokes model working the booth usually doesn't
know that. And the sales guys have been getting hit-up all show about getting
more of the kits for other attendees. It works out pretty quickly. Usually it's
a paper-less transaction.
They pay you in cash?
Right or trade-out from their booths.
What do you mean?
Well, the head rep usually has "walking around money" to spend to
keep sales leads coming in. I make sure I talk to him and say I can get a whole
bunch of the kits to the booth for the last day for a certain amount. I tell
them I'm doing this on my own to help them out so if he pays in cash, we all
benefit. I'll give a lower price and he'll make it easier for me.
What about the trade-outs?
Most of the guys trade their samples with other exhibitors when the
show starts to close-up. It's kind of a common practice. I just suggest I'll
take one of their samples — if I really want it — in exchange for the
Isn't that, sort of, illegal? What about taxes?
I report my income honestly at the end of the year.
But the vendors don't have a record of payment, right?
Well, most don't.
So, there's no way to cross-reference what you're claiming as sales
I never thought of that. I guess you're right. It hasn't been a
problem because I am very honest when it comes to taxes.
This is kind of the seedy world I never knew about.
Well, it's reality. It's really exciting. You're always in different
towns, meet new people, learn about different industries, and make great
Any other secrets our readers might not know?
Well, if they don't know, I don't think this is the place to educate
them. They can learn the same way I did.
By working your way up?
Yeah. I put a lot of hours on the road, and a tremendous amount of
my time and self-respect was spent on developing the leads I needed to get my
foot in the door. I've got the three alimony checks each month to prove
I'm sure that was tough on the marriage.
Not for me.
What advice would you give young magicians hoping to get into
tradeshow work? Should they follow the example set by some of the big-time
tradeshow magicians and hone their craft, approach a company, work with them to
develop a message, and perform their best show? Or should they just wait for
your call, drive to the convention or fly if they can afford it, do whatever
comes to mind, and try to hook-up with some other client for the next
You're making it sound so mercenary. I'm giving them a shot at what
they dream about. We all suffer for our craft.
But you're making money off their suffering in this
Do you ever feel guilty about putting out an unprepared magician for
a client or duping a sales rep into buying magic kits?
You're missing the point. I can tell by your tone. You're missing
the point. The point is, everyone is happy and no one feels cheated. I provide a
But you make magic look bad.
You have unprepared magicians putting out a show or routine that
doesn't really fit with a client.
You under-estimate magicians. Especially, the young ones. They
almost always come up with tricks to fit the show and chances are, they've done
the trick so much, it looks perfect. I'm letting them bring whatever they want
to do and sort of audition.
I know, it's genius.
No, I mean . . .
It's a win-win-win.
Well, we should let you get back to the tradeshow floor. Thank you
for talking with us.
My pleasure. If you'd like to do a show, let me know. I'll put you
on the list.
Oh. Okay, thanks.
No problem. Which way is the men's room?
I'm not sure, I just set up here in the lobby.
No problem, I'll find it.