Make 'Em Laugh
In a small hotel ballroom in Hershey, Pa., an excitable crowd of 150 shuffles impatiently, waiting for the action to begin. Finally, a voice thunders over the loudspeakers--"Are you ready to R-U-U-U-M-BLE?"--and the audience goes wild, whooping, barking, and chanting.
No, it's not the World Wrestling Federation. It's the annual sales planning meeting for IMS Health, a market research and technology company specializing in the pharmaceutical industry. And this session is being hosted by Scott Bloom, stand-up comic turned corporate game-show guru.
A 36-year-old former VH1 talk-show host who spent 15 years slogging away on the comedy-club circuit, Bloom now gets his material from his clients--information they want employees to learn. He then repackages it into a lively quiz-show format. Thanks to the craze sparked by ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Bloom's Los Angeles-based company, Knowledge Quest, is busier than ever. "It's a cathartic, let-your-hair-down event where it's O.K. to yell and act out," he says of his performances.
Bloom started hosting game shows for corporate clients in 1988 as a sideline to his stand-up career. Two years later, he founded Knowledge Quest, which now employs three part-timers and brought in nearly $200,000 in 1999. Bloom expects to exceed $350,000 this year. Based in his Studio City (Calif.) apartment, Bloom has as clients PepsiCo, PaineWebber, and AT&T, which pay about $7,000 for a one-hour show.
Behind the microphone for IMS, Bloom brings three teams onto a makeshift stage and begins firing off questions: "In New Product Digest [an IMS publication], how many primary-care physicians are surveyed?"; "For what prescription drug does actor Wayne Knight, Newman on TV's Seinfeld, appear in commercials?" (Answers: 160 and Relenza.)
Competition heats up over four rounds. Team-building is what makes Bloom so effective, says IMS executive Debbie Henderson. "We worried about how he would get the crowd into the game. But he pulled it off," she says.
Does he miss the club scene? Not a bit. At corporate gigs, he says, "the audience isn't going to shred you for bad material." Besides, with word-of-mouth from his corporate clients, Bloom's own Wheel of Fortune is spinning toward big money.
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