Per Person, or Flat Rate? A Guide to Corporate Event Entertainment Pricing event game show pricing

It was one of the first challenges I had when I decided to hang out my shingle and start TrivWorks, my corporate trivia entertainment and team building events business, was: how should my pricing structure work?

Of course, back in those early days I wasn’t all that preoccupied with my fee model, or even making money at all, to be perfectly honest with you. Rather, that first year in existence my goal was to purely establish myself. After such base tasks a coming up with a business name, establishing an entity, opening up a small business bank account and launching a Website, my focus was to build credibility.

Specifically, I was looking to:

  • Grow a list of reputable, recognizable clients
  • Obtain some positive testimonials
  • Land some excellent media coverage
  • Build a list of professional references I could use
  • Develop some word-of-mouth

It was only after I started to succeed at the above that I really began to snowball and get things cooking. But it took a long time and continuous effort. I basically had to take ANY gig I could find, turn ANY prospective lead into a client who could provide me with one or more of the above. I don’t want to use the word “debase,” but I definitely had to sell myself short at the beginning – VERY short.

Even though it was already eight or nine years ago, I vividly remember the following:

  • Producing and hosting a corporate trivia party for a Fortune 500 company, for the princely fee of $400
  • Hosting a gig for 50 or so hedge fund guys at Morimoto, a $$$$ steakhouse in Lower Manhattan. These fellows EACH took down $70 steaks, and the prize for the winning team was $5K to split. I think I took home a few steaks’ worth in pay.
  • The 100-person law firm event in an upscale Manhattan hotel where they told me they could only pay me $500 – then passed out $1,000 IPads to all ten members of the winning team
  • My first company holiday party, where I think I cleared $750

I remember not being at all upset or bothered by this at the time. For one thing, a gig is a gig; to me, any client I could add to my Website, any testimonial I could get, anyone I could get to say “Yes, he did a great job hosting a company trivia party” was pure gold. And it was also what I considered “bonus money” for my bar trivia hosting, which I was also doing at the time. Whereas I was making about $150-200 per bar trivia gig (usually working out to $350-$450 per week, as I was doing two-three gigs per week back then), here I was making essentially an additional one or two weeks’ pay for each corporate gig I landed. For a guy living in New York City being paid next to nothing at his full-time job, this kind of side hustle money helped – believe me.

I also distinctly remember my then-girlfriend (now wife) saying to me, “My God, David – imagine if you could ever make a THOUSAND dollars a gig? How crazy would that be!” And you know what? At the time I thought the exact same thing. In fact, it was about a year after I started my business when I finally DID land my first thousand-dollar gig – as in, somebody paid me $1K to produce and host their employee trivia party.

From my perspective back then, a little guy just starting out, trying to build a business and pay the bills, it WAS a lot of money. I wasn’t complaining, believe me – I was pulling in more than I’d ever made before in my life, even if it was barely a drop in the bucket compared to what my peers in NYC were making: investment bankers, lawyers, doctors, IT folks. But for me at the time, it was huge – I felt like I was on top of the world!

I didn’t realize just how far short I was selling myself – not by a long shot.

You see, the reason why I was able to land so many gigs right out of the starting gate wasn’t because I was so good at what I do (not to minimize my skills, though – I definitely am that good, and delivered a heck of a great times to a LOT of people), but because I was so…cheap.

Yes, that’s right. Cheap.

On the one hand, here I was, the highest-paid trivia host in New York City; unbeknownst to me, I was also the best corporate event entertainment deal on the market. I mean, I DID know what other companies charged for their services – I’d freelanced at a high-end scavenger hunt company for two years, after all – but this was 2009, immediately in the aftermath of the world financial crisis. I know companies needed to tighten their belts and cut WAY back on the opulent spending they’d done in the past, and needed something more economical, like TrivWorks. I thought I was filling that need by somehow recreating a TV game show experience firsthand, albeit in an interactive team trivia format.

And I was. The only issue, however, was I was also coming in WAY lower than even these cash-strapped companies were looking to spend.

It took me a while, but I eventually got my rates right. Years later, I’m now competitively priced with other company team building and interactive entertainment offerings out there. I’m no longer the cheapest option, heck no – but I realized that you truly do get what you pay for, and as a vendor, I have to charge what I’m worth. My time is valuable, and like any other premium brand I need to ensure I am properly compensated in order to deliver a high-quality level of service.

So how do I go about setting my price? First, there’s no fixed industry standard here, no right or wrong way to do it. You go to a wedding venue or banquet hall, they’re going to charge you on a per person basis; you go to a bowling alley, they may charge you by lane; and if you bring in a comedian, magician or band, they pay just give you a flat rate. It’s really up in the air and, honestly, a source of a lot of confusion among prospective clients.

There’s several different factors which go into pricing. Especially with interactive event entertaining, the number of participants DOES matter, with an impact of the preparation of materials, staffing, type of AV utilized and more. Speaking of staffing, how many people do I need to send to this event? Location is another factor: how far do we have to travel to get to said gig? Will there be airplanes and overnight stays involved? Is it a three-hour Uber ride to the venue from the nearest train?

Also, who will the emcee be? Will it be one of my “Special Talent” or celebrity emcees, who have their own appearance fee I have to compensate? What about add-ons, like having a DJ? All of these things have direct costs associated with them, and must therefore be factored in when determining the overall price for an event.

By and large, I prefer to stick with a flat fee. Depending upon which services I’m providing, as well as the other factors mentioned above (number of participants, location, emcee, etc.) I can develop several tiered packages for clients to select from. For one thing it’s easier, both for you the client, as well as for me. If you know you have X dollars within your budget, I can put together a package which accommodates to that, rather than have to play around with, “okay, how much does that work out per person?” From my standpoint, it also helps me to ensure I get what I need to make the event viable, since my direct and indirect costs can be hefty (click here for a useful case study on company party budgets).

I used to be very big on a per-person rate. It seemed to be easier for clients to digest, especially when they’re already thinking in terms of budget allocation per head, venue cost per head, food and beverage per head, etc. But I realized after a while that it could also be a real pain to implement, and was actually harder to sell given what I’m offering isn’t a “per person” experience like food & beverage, but a collective group bonding experience. It can also lead to confusion, frustration, and unnecessarily awkward moments/hurt feelings.

Here’s another recent case study which I can share with you, to help illustrate just why I have leaned away from a per-person fee structure in favor of flat rates.

Recently, I was asked to submit an event proposal for a club membership entertainment activity. There were going to be up to 100 expected attendees, they wanted full customization and I had an emcee living not far away. Taking all of this into account, I developed a service package and attached a flat fee. The client called me back, and said it may in fact be as few as 50 people, and asked for me to revise my quote accordingly. While I’m always happy to be accommodating, I need to make sure if the number DOES go higher, then I’m still getting my proper rate.

I offered what I thought was a fair compromise: a significantly reduced base fee, with a per person fee for each additional person over 50. The client accepted.

Fast forward to after the gig. I Email the client, asking how the event went and requesting the final number of attendees so that I could submit my invoice. Her response?

“I don’t know.”


She had an RSVP list, and there were lots of people participating, but she hadn’t actually counted the number of people who were playing trivia. Neither had my emcee or event staff, whom I hadn’t asked to count attendees. Call it a miscommunication between the client and me, but now we had a problem on our hands; she had assumed my staff would count the attendees, I had assumed she would. In the end, who knows how many people were ACTUALLY there?

All I know is this wouldn’t have been an issue had we had just gone with the flat rate to begin with. I still had to pay my emcee and production staff the same amount as if there were 100 people, they still had to drive the same distance, stay onsite the same amount of time, and run a show which lasted as long as if there were only 50 people there. In the end the event was a huge success, the audience had a blast – but there is no doubt some discomfort now between the client and me. I’m wondering: did I get what was rightfully owed to me? Too little, or perhaps too much? The client’s likely thinking the same thing, only whether they paid more/less than they should have. I’m not going to lie, things there are a little bit weird now…

What could I have done to remedy this, besides sticking with a flat fee? In this particular case, where there was a definite minimum attendance but an uncertain number of possible additional attendees, there’s really no other fair way to do it other than how I did. The one change I’d make for the future, however, is to be exceedingly clear upfront just who is responsible for keeping track of the number of attendees. If it’s the client, they shoot me an Email immediately after the event’s concluded; if it’s my staff, they tell me, and I then shoot over my invoice right away. No ambiguity, no confusion, and no awkwardness.

In conclusion, I will do per-person structure on a case-by-case basis. But unless you specifically ask for it, I will most likely present my service options to your in the form of tiered, flat package rates. I think this is the easiest and cleanest way for me to share my pricing all-around, and ultimately the clearest way for me to communicate what my services cost.

Follow this link for another article on corporate event entertainment game show pricing.

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