The following is our first installment in a series of articles by mobile scribe Jeff Stiles on ways DJs can better their marketing tactics. This month Stiles explores what mobile jocks on both coasts are doing to capitalize on the financially lucrative bar/bat mitzvah market.
When mobile jocks prepare to entertain at a bar mitzvah, they take with them their music library, their dual CD players, their light shows and their roadies, and dress in their tuxedos just as they would for any other gig.It’s what they do differently, however, that enables them to capitalize on the lucrative and rewarding bar/bat mitzvah scene
Webster’s dictionary defines “mitzvah” as 1) a commandment of the Jewish law, and 2) a meritorious or charitable act. A Jewish rabbi in San Diego adds that “bar” is an Aramaic word meaning “son” and “mitzvah” refers to a son accepting responsibility for the commandments of Jewish law and adulthood.
To be tops in the bar mitzvah market, DJs need professionalism, personality and perseverance. But according to DJs who specialize in this specialty market, the hardest part is getting that ever-elusive first gig.
Eric Sands of Sundance Productions in San Diego was mitzvahed himself when he was young. Of course, when Sands was honored at the Wailing Wall in Israel in the summer of 1977, it was about 115 degrees, he had to recite from the Torah for a full 45 minutes, and girls were not allowed near the actual ceremony. A full DJ party, obviously, would have not been kosher.
Sands started DJing in 1982, when as a college student he would lead dormitory parties “for 500 sweaty drunk students” every weekend. From there he graduated to the wedding scene and eventually started specializing in bar mitzvahs. Although he’s a single-unit operator, eight assistants work with him for each show. “My roadies are actually much different than conventional roadies because they help me set up and actually do the party with me. You really have to have at least one assistant, if not more, with you when you do these parties, as well as the dancers.” Sands has four dancers that he uses regularly.
Why is marketing so important in the mitzvah realm? Well, for the basic bar mitzvah, the revenue is almost twice that of a wedding reception or other private parties. And for the more elaborate bar mitzvah, mobile jocks can often get over three times their normal rates. “My rates are $975 for four hours, that includes myself and my assistant, basic lights, bubbles and prizes,” says Sands. “That does not include dancers or props. Our high end could be $2400 or more, and that would include a minimum of two dancers, props and sometimes big-screen video.”
DJs are different than other vendors in the bar mitzvah scene, according to Sands, because DJs are the only vendors in the industry that can get considerably more than they can in the wedding scene. “All other vendors-photographers, video, caterers, florists-pretty much get the same or less for doing a bar mitzvah than they would for the typical wedding,” he explains.
Once you’re established in the mitzvah industry, marketing is a cinch-it’s basically all word-of-mouth from there within tightly bound Jewish communities. The trick is breaking into that market.
“To know the Jewish community-where the temples are and to personally know the rabbis-is definitely important,” says Sands. “Word-of-mouth between all the parents is especially important, because that’s what’s going to keep things going once you’re in the business. The goal is that you’re able to quote several people from a temple where you’ve done a bar mitzvah, so when the next person calls who belongs to that temple you can say, ‘Oh yeah, I just did the Schwartz’s bar mitzvah!’ They like to keep it in the family.”
But to get into the business, you’ve got to start somewhere, and that’s often by advertising within that community. According to Sands, temple newspapers can be a good source of exposure for mitzvah jocks: “You’ve got to find the main temple publications within your community and then commit yourself to them for two or three years.”
Sands, having grown up in a Jewish family, says that although having a Jewish DJ might be what a lot of what parents want to see, it’s not altogether necessary. “It’s just important to know the terms,” he says. “For example, you don’t want the bar mitzvah parents to see that you’re announcing the blessing over the bread; what you’re doing is announcing the motzi over the harma. Terminology is important.”
Would a DJ want to go to the extreme of putting their logo on a yarmulke (beanie) and handing it out at a bar mitzvah? “I don’t think that’s appropriate,” laughs Sands, “but it would make you stand out!”
While most DJ companies specialize in either weddings or bar mitzvahs, New Jersey jock Randy Rae makes just as much of her living doing either one. In fact, her base price on both weddings and bar mitzvahs is the same. But her prices on mitzvahs can escalate quite high-depending on lighting, staging, the number of dancers provided, and if the client wants karaoke or magicians.
“I believe that I’m doing the same thing whether I’m doing a wedding or a bar mitzvah,” Rae says. “I’m bringing in gear and setting it up, I’m playing music, I’m working with photographers, videographers, caterers. Yes, bar mitzvahs are more work because you have more children and more things to do,” but for Rae it’s worth the extra work because of the additional revenue generated.
As far as marketing her business, Rae says she’s very involved with her clients. “I know that time is money,” she explains, “and when you spend more than a half hour with a client it can seem like you’re wasting time. But I tell my clients when they come to see me that they’ll be there with me for at least an hour. I tell them to bring a notebook and encourage them to bring the whole family. I think the kids really set the tone of the party-if they’re mature or immature, cool or nerdy, girls or boys, if they like to dance. And the relationships between the parents and kids are also a good determination of what kind of money you’re going to get.”
The first question Rae asks mitzvah clients at these consultations is what they’ve seen before and liked and what they’ve seen and disliked. “I think the first part of sales and marketing is listening, listening, listening,” she says. “I start writing everything down-I take a gizillion notes. That’s how you know where their head level is, and that’s how you know what package you’re gonna sell them. As soon as the first words out of their mouths is, ‘I love those giveaways!’ you know you need to set up a nice bulky giveaway package for them. As soon as they say, ‘I don’t like the music too loud’ then you know that they’re a little more conservative and they don’t like what we call here the Long Island Style, which is very pumped up and high energy, nonstop aerobic-styled dancing.”
Rae’s first recommendation for mitzvah advertising is to be in Jewish publications. “You want to be where the clientele is,” she says. “Most people don’t shop for mitzvah DJs out of the phone book, except the very low-end clients. And you won’t get much from advertising on the walls in kosher delis and places like that.”
Rae also suggests advertising in Hebrew schools. “I actually do 6-week sessions in these schools for the kids who are graduating, and we teach them the actual dances so that if they’ve never been to a bar mitzvah they won’t feel uncomfortable.”
Although Rae says that having a Jewish heritage is not essential for a mitzvah jock, it does help. “It helps because people know that I understand about Jewish religion and about kosher and non-kosher. You listen to me talk, and you know I’m Jewish. I can do certain things in selling a job, like using terms and knowing the prayers.
“I think if you educate yourself, you’re okay. I’ve done Russian weddings, Polish weddings, Italian weddings, Spanish weddings, and introductions in those languages. You should see me lead the Electric Slide in Russian! It’s all about entertainment, and I educate myself about these things.”
Bobby Morganstein Productions
“All my marketing revolves around how to get bar mitzvahs,” says Bobby Morganstein of Philadelphia-based BMP Productions. “Less than 1% of what we do is weddings, and the only way we’ll take a reception is if someone was at a bar/bat mitzvah we did and want that style for their wedding reception.
There’s just a lot more competition in that market and we can’t demand the prices we’re getting for bar mitzvahs.”
While BMP does demand quite a large price for mitzvahs, Morganstein says that he concentrates on sending out large packages for more money. “With my larger packages, it may start out at $3000 with two dancers, going up to about $7000 for some of the fuller packages. My average personally for a Saturday night is around $5000, although some of my guys work for less than that. It really depends on what the customer is looking for when it comes to staff.”
Morganstein has a marketing angle for everything his company does. “For a Friday night school dance that we may do,” he says as an example, “the max we can get is about $300-$500. But for me, that’s a marketing angle to get more business. I tend not to book any parties that don’t give me a marketing angle to get more bar and bat mitzvahs.”
Morganstein says his best advice is for mitzvah DJs is to get that first job . . . and to get the first job, you have to do some networking. “You really have to get involved a little bit with the Jewish community,” he says. “That might mean going to a synagogue and doing a free party for Hanakkah, or telling them that you’re going to do a one-hour free party so the kids get to hear your name.”
Crunching prices or cutting production costs won’t do the job, he says. “People really want to be happy with who’s running their party. And once you get that first job you need to really spend a lot of money on that job to do it right. You have to hire dancers, you have to get a good DJ so you can stay on the floor with a wireless microphone, you have to go the extra mile, because doing a great job is the only way you’re going to build a bar mitzvah clientele.”
For advertising, Morganstein recommends a variety of avenues. “Number one, advertise in any Jewish periodicals in your market such as a synagogue newsletter to let people know that you’re out there. It’s pretty inexpensive to advertise in the classifieds. Some of the Jewish newspapers have bar and bat mitzvah issues, and we sometimes put an ad in those just to let our customers know we’re here.”
Other areas of marketing he advises would include party showcases. “At the showcases you get to either perform or set up a booth to show your video to people who are walking around. For a new company looking to break in and show their stuff, it’s a great forum.”
Morganstein says the greatest marketing tool his company utilizes is a summer camp tour among all the main summer youth camps in the Philadelphia market. The company usually will charge a very low amount-just enough to cover prizes-and then run a mini-bar mitzvah.
Morganstein is quick to admit that he used to think a DJ had to be Jewish to do bar mitzvahs, until he found non-Jewish DJs with great personalities.
“In the old days I thought everyone wanted a Jewish male to run their parties, but now in my company I have a female MC who’s the most requested MC in my company; Byron is a Jamaican guy who used to be a dancer and is a a fun, funky person; another of my DJs is from Trinidad, and I also have another female MC.
“Oh yeah,” he adds, laughing, “then I have a couple Jewish guys! “That’s the bottom line-if you’ve got the personality that’s all you need. Once you get a job, just take care of your customer and always put them first. As the old saying goes, good news travels slowly but bad news travels about twenty times faster
Filed Under: Performing
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