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Former Agents’ Association president Jenny Dunster passes

Jenny Dunster, the veteran booking agent who twice served as president of the UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association, has passed away following a battle with cancer. She was 71.

Born in Sheffield in December 1949, Dunster began her career as a dancer. After moving to London, she worked in theatre, television, film and corporate events, appearing at a number of the West End’s most prestigious venues, including the world-famous Talk of the Town (later the Hippodrome).

After retiring from dancing, she moved to entertainment agency work, first with Jill Shirley at Razzamatazz, where she represented Bucks Fizz when they won the Eurovision Song Contest. This was followed by a period working alongside Bunny Lewis at LJD Presentations, and then at Leisure Services Agency with Kenneth Earle, after which she launched her own agency, Whatever Artists Management, in partnership with husband Ray Millar.

Whatever Artists’ corporate clients included Virgin Atlantic and Coca-Cola, an event for the latter of which resulted in Dunster receiving the best entertainment award at the Special Event show 2011 in the US.

Her passion for dance and the arts continued throughout her life, and she was the booking agent for corporate events for several Strictly Come Dancing professionals, including Anton du Beke and Erin Boag.

Dunster joined the council of the Entertainment Agents’ Association 31 years ago, attaining the status of executive vice-president five years later, and in 2003 she became the body’s first female president (2003–05). A second presidential term at the association, then known simply as the Agents’ Association, followed in 2013–15.

“She was a powerhouse of integrity, intelligence and fun”

In a statement, the association describes Dunster as a “guiding light encouraging other women to join council. She was a staunch believer in the Entertainment Agents’ Association, rarely missing a monthly meeting, even after her cancer diagnosis. She was forthright and straight talking and was keen to ensure that the association stayed relevant through the many changes in the entertainment industry, ensuring integrity and enhancing its reputation.”

In addition to her work with the Agents’ Association, she also served on the Variety and Light Entertainment Council (VLEC) for over 20 years, alongside Equity and the Musicians’ Union. Christine Payne, former general secretary of Equity, comments: “She was a powerhouse of integrity, intelligence and fun.”

Jeremy Lee, of speaker agency JLA, sums up Dunster: “A great showbiz personality with a smile full of mischief.”

“Jenny was a great agent, considerate to artists and hirers alike,” says Bob James, president of the Entertainment Agents’ Association. “She had a great talent in finding unknown artists and bringing the best out of them by the time she brought them to the attention of the public.

“Artistic, considerate, caring and generous to a fault – one of the old school, with new ideas.”


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UK industry calls for reversal of Ireland visa restrictions

UK industry associations including the Concert Promoters Association, Association of Independent Festivals and Entertainment Agents’ Association, along with Coda Agency, Music Venue Trust and umbrella group UK Music, have written to the Home Office to urge a rethink of new guidance that requires American artists to apply for British visas if arriving via the Irish republic.

The letter, delivered today by Alex Sobel MP to immigration minister Caroline Nokes, calls on Nokes to reverse changes to recent certificate of sponsorship (CoS) arrangements for visiting entertainers from the US, Canada and South America.

In August 2017, according to the signatories, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) altered guidance so that visiting entertainers from the US and Canada would require UK visas if arriving via the Republic of Ireland.

These changes, they allege, were not properly advertised, and no consultation was held with industry stakeholders, with the result that “it was virtually unknown across the industry very recently.”

“The entertainment industry is uniquely impacted by these changes,” reads the letter, “because there are thousands of entertainment personnel who, for instance, perform or work at a show in Dublin the day before coming to the UK. They work on very tight schedules and sometimes very tight budgets. It’s possible many hundreds of acts will be forced to cancel the Irish leg of their tour because it complicates their UK tour, or vice versa.”

Sobel (pictured), Labour MP for Leeds North West, urges the government to revert to the CoS system to “prevent further damage to the UK’s position as a leading cultural centre in Europe”.

“It’s possible many hundreds of acts will be forced to cancel the Irish leg of their tour because it complicates their UK tour, or vice versa”

He comments: “The Home Office needs to apply some common sense to this issue and reinstate the old system for visiting entertainers. This is bureaucratic box-ticking of the worst sort.

“The danger is performers arriving from the US and Canada are likely to organise shorter European tours – or not at all – due to the additional costs and bureaucracy.

“At a time when we’re told the UK ought to be more outward looking and business focussed, the Home Office has chosen to impose a silly short-sighted policy on one of Britain’s most productive industries.”

UK Music’s director of public affairs and deputy CEO, Tom Kiehl, adds: “The UK music industry is worth £4.4 billion to the economy and accounts for three of the four most popular arenas in the world, attracting global talent like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift and Eminem.

“UK Visas and Immigration are now jeopardising this success by issuing advice that contradicts long established practice in the entertainment sector. The government must look again to ensure the UK can maintain its position as a world leading destination for international tours.”

Writing for IQ, Coda Agency’s Clementine Bunel recently highlighted the difficulties faced by acts from another part of the world, Africa, entering the UK, as a result of changes that mean many cannot apply for visas in their own country.


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Agents warn of increase in email scams

The UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association has issued a checklist for promoters following a sharp increase in the number of bogus emails purporting to come from leading booking agents.

Recent scams have seen fraudsters posing as the representatives of major artists, including Adele (Lucy Dickins at ITB), System of a Down, Justin Timberlake (John Giddings/Live Nation), Beyoncé, Mark Knopfler (WME’s Brent Smith and Andrew Zweck at Sensible Events) and Eminem, emailing concert promoters and asking for deposits in exchange for (often non-existent) live dates.

“We’re seeing a worrying increase in this style of email scam,” says Neil Tomlinson, who joined the association (formerly the Agents’ Association) as president last April. “Before agreeing any show and sending deposits, promoters must be 100% sure that they are dealing with the real booking agent for that artist.”

If unsure of an agent’s identity, the association is urging promoters to adopt the following steps:

1. Check the email address is correct – in particular the email domain – and if in any doubt call the agency to confirm it. Do not use the telephone number on the email
2. Check the artist’s website for any conflicting touring plans
3. Make sure you have full contact details of the agent with which you are working and speak to them on the phone at least once
4. Before sending a deposit, call the agency to confirm the booking and check their account details
5. Check with promoters in other markets to verify the artist is touring in that region at that time
6. If an offer is accepted and seems too good to be true, it probably is

“If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is”

“Please be very careful if you get mails that don’t quite look right,” says Emma Banks at CAA, who represents System of a Down.

“Follow the common-sense steps that the Agents’ Association have suggested and don’t send any money until you have double checked that the ‘agent’ is indeed who they say they are.”

She adds: “Please get on the phone to the agents you are doing business with – everything on email makes these scams so much easier for people to instigate.”

Members agencies of the Entertainment Agents’ Association include 13 Artists, Asgard, ATC Live, CAA, Coda, ITB, Primary Talent International, UTA, WME and X-ray Touring.


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New name, president for UK Agents’ Association

Neil Tomlinson, director of Sheffield-based The Act Store, has been promoted to president of the UK’s Entertainment Agents’ Association.

The appointment comes amid a rebranding for the trade association, founded in 1927 and most recently known as the Agents’ Association, with the word ‘Entertainment’ returning to its name to reflect its representation of “reputable agents from all walks of the entertainment industry”.

Tomlinson (pictured) who was formerly executive vice-president, comments: “This is an exciting time to take on the role of president as we focus on moving the Entertainment Agents’ Association forward to play a more visible role in lobbing government, identifying new entertainment trends and anticipating any potential barriers to trade for the benefit of our members.

“This is an exciting time to take on the role of president as we focus on moving the Entertainment Agents’ Association forward”

“We will be progressing our marketing and social-media strategy and announcing exciting new plans shortly. Our members agree to adhere to a strict code of conduct and we look forward to welcoming new and established agents as members. Benefits include access to legally approved artist contracts, legal advice and networking opportunities including the annual gala ball that was reintroduced this year.”

Also new for the association an affiliate programme, overseen by outgoing president Alan Cutler, which enables suppliers and service providers, such as photographers and sound and lighting companies, to join.

Anyone interested in joining the Entertainment Agents’ Association should email [email protected].


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10 questions to ask before hiring a ticket agent

It’s easy to find a ticket agency that says they’ll sell your tickets, but it’s not always easy to find one that lives up to this promise. Partnering with a ticket agent that values your business and offers speed of response, flexibility, data insight and a true partnership approach is key to a long, happy and commercially beneficial relationship.

1. Are they asking the right questions?
When choosing a ticket agent, it’s one thing knowing what you’ve been promised but has the agency really asked enough to know what they’re signing up for?

Who is the target audience and its relevance to their data? What are the anticipated sales and the likely sales cycle? What’s your marketing plan and when do you need the agency’s activity to kick in? These are just some of the questions a ticket agent should be asking you. Otherwise, how can they truly know what they need to do and when in order to deliver?

2. Will they share the pain for driving sales?
Not everyone will. Some agents might get you set up and plugged into their standard marketing packages super-quick, but you don’t want that to be the end of it.

The best agents will understand what you need to sell, and by when, and act in a consultative way when you need to stay on track. Also, standard marketing packages are great when you go on sale, but what about when your event is nearing? You need to be confident there will be additional marketing channels and activity that you can activate when you need to – or the chance to switch tack and try new things if campaigns aren’t working or the world changes and a new approach is needed.

Ultimately, will they put their money where their mouth is and put in place a commercial model that rewards success and penalises under-performance?

3. What happens when your ticketing website goes live?
In today’s world, there’s no such thing as a finished website, app or mobile experience. Again, it’s great getting set up and on sale quickly but once your ticketing website goes live, that’s just the beginning. Once customers start transacting and the data starts building, this is where there’s a golden opportunity. This is when you can use what you’ve learnt to increase sales and drive revenue through new development.

A smart development team and consultative agent should be analysing your website data regularly, looking at trends and conversion paths, AB testing changes, and then regularly releasing updates to your website to improve conversion.

4. Are they boasting about big data numbers or planning targeted marketing?
Yes, email marketing can be a numbers game but relevance wins every time. A sales-focused marketing team will never send irrelevant emails to their data. Irrelevant events and content mean that people switch off, which really means they unsubscribe. It also works both ways: no event promoter wants their customers bombarded by irrelevant information just because they signed up to hear from that agent.

Targeting and re-sending campaigns to the right demographic or geographical region with intelligence from previous purchases or click behaviour is the way to go.

5. What’s their ethical stance in the world of ticketing?
No one wants to see their tickets appear on secondary sites for inflated prices, lining the pockets of touts. In this industry, it’s hard to stop – especially when there’s a hot ticket.

It’s worth finding out whether the agent you’re talking to has any particular stance on the secondary market. Chances are if they are against it in principle, they’ll be more proactive in terms of helping customers who get duped, cancelling their tickets which pop up on secondary websites and blocking bots which buy tickets in big numbers.

To do your job properly, you need 24/7 access to up-to-date data. Ensure the agent you’re considering hiring has a rich reporting suite

6. How will they treat your customers?
When a customer buys a ticket, it’s often the first interactive point of engagement with your event. If that experience is positive, they’ll be left feeling excited about the event and looking forward to hearing from you.

Sometimes things can go wrong and customers may have questions about their tickets and orders. When that happens, you need to feel confident that the agent’s customer service team is going to keep your customers happy and represent the brand of your event in the right way.

7. Is your event going to suffer from small fish syndrome?
Find out who the ticket agent’s other clients are and what else they’ve got going on at the time of your on-sale. How do you think your ticket sales rank in comparison? At the start of your contract, make sure you agree expectations and ways of working. This isn’t just about technical aspects and marketing.

If it suits you, schedule a weekly check-in with your account manager. Ultimately choose an agent who shares the same values as your business.

8. Is their commercial deal fair?
Pricing will often drive the conversation when all other factors are equal. However, consider what the cheapest price reflects or misses out – if someone is more expensive, are they factoring in additional services, and more importantly, do you need them?

Equally, ensure that everything your customers expect is going to be covered by this deal. If there are problems, can someone resolve them? The last thing you want is to be inundated with ticketing queries when you’ve employed the services of an agent. Ultimately, for most promoters, ticket sales are one of the biggest revenue streams and the custodian of your online brand experience. So, knowing the cost of everything – but not the value – could be your downfall.

9. Is their data clear and reporting useful?
To do your job properly, you need 24/7 access to up-to-date data. Ticket sales are one thing but data powerful insights, like where and when – and by who – those sales have been made, are something else. Ensure the agent that you’re considering hiring has a rich reporting suite that you can access, and ideally is bespoke to the types of metrics you’d like to see.

10. Are they thinking about the future of the industry?
Ticketing should be their bag, but the world of ticketing is changing. Largely driven by technology and consumer buying behaviour, ticketing will look very different in 10 years. It’s worthwhile working with an agent that’s going to share these insights with you.

As your event changes and develops, you’re going to need a partner who will keep you at the forefront of ticketing technology, ensuring that you don’t miss out on a new way to drive sales, engage customers or enrich the in-event customer experience while you’re busy focusing on delivering your events.


Tarah Gear is director of marketing at The Ticket Factory, a UK-wide ticketing agent and the box office for the Genting Arena, Barclaycard Arena and National Exhibition Centre (NEC).