Joe Diamond discusses why he started a weekly show in his studio, how he builds relationships with the press and got his own radio show, and his clever use of publicity stunts to get media coverage. He also talks about the benefits of being in a small venue.
Joe may look like a normal guy, but he has turned his fascination for the strange and mysterious into a full time career! In 2010, Joe became a World Record Holder for Solving the World’s Largest Maze while blindfolded! Since then, he has found hidden objects in graveyards, and even driven a car blindfolded! He has become a local celebrity in his area due to these incredible stunts on TV, News, and Radio. He hosts a radio show where he talks to everyone from authors, to magicians, to psychics, to sword swallowers! He’s the Co-Star of The Magic Cabaret in Chicago, named by Travel Channel as “One of America’s BEST Magic Shows!”. He also produces his weekly one man show, Close Encounters.
WILLIAM: Today, I’m excited to introduce you to our client, Joe Diamond, who may look like a normal guy, but he has turned his fascination for the strange and mysterious into a full-time career.
In 2010, Joe became a world record holder for solving the world’s largest maze while blindfolded. Since then, he has also found hidden objects in graveyards and even driven a car blindfolded. He has become a local celebrity in his area due to these incredible stunts on TV, news and radio.
He also hosts a radio show where he talks to everyone, from authors to magicians to psychics to sword swallowers. He’s the co-star of the Magic Cabaret in Chicago named by Travel Channel as one of America’s best magic shows and he produces his weekly one-man show called Close Encounters.
In this episode, Joe discusses why he started a weekly show in his studio, how he builds relationships with the press and got his own radio show, and his clever use of publicity stunts to get media coverage. Finally, he talks about the benefits of having a small venue. So, let’s get into it.
Hey Joe, thanks for coming on the show today.
JOE: Hey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
WILLIAM: Yeah, definitely. To start out, can you give us a little bit of a back story about yourself and your show?
JOE: Yes. My name is Joe Diamond. I am from a small town called Wonder Lake, Illinois. I like long walks on the beach. I’m a Sagittarius and ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the strange and unusual, and I’ve formatted that into my work as a magician, mystery performer, mind reader, psychic entertainer, whatever that heck you want to call this weird industry of ours.
I’ve been doing it professionally for about 10 years now. I do shows all over the Chicago land area, and I tour small theatres a couple of times each year doing a sort of weird blend of mentalism, mind reading, dream interpretation, psychic reading kind of interactive theatre.
WILLIAM: And you recently started a show called “Close Encounters,” can you tell us a little bit about that show and what prompted you to get started doing that?
JOE: I’ll tell you the press story for it and then the real nitty-gritty behind-the-scene story. The show is called Close Encounters because it is all close up and interactive entertainment. It sits 13 people in a studio inside of a haunted mansion in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
It is in the former home of Charles Dole, who everyone thinks he’s from the pineapple industry–he’s not. This one is from the wheat industry and then the ice industry. And then, years later, after he passed away, his house was converted into a summer home by one of the wives of the Ringling Brothers, who added on some extra studio spaces to the house.
After that, it was a country club, and a church, and a seminary and now, it is an arts park, where there are painters, musicians, photographers, on all three levels. I am on the second level, and I am the resident paranormal artist. My studio is called Paranormal Studio 215. You can find it on Facebook and it’s called that because it’s studio 215.
They have a theatre downstairs where I’ve done my Halloween shows and bigger events, but I rent one of the studio spaces there because I was looking for a place to sort of have like an office space/creative space where I can write my predictions on these giant pieces of paper and put everything in to my cases and have my shows ready to go, and where I can store some of my antiques.
I made it look real nice and had some meetings in there, so I also use it as office space. And then, just last year, I was getting ready to go on tour out of my area and I had a bunch of people on social media asking me if I was going to be doing a show before I went on the road. I thought about it and I was like, “Well, I can fit about 13 people in this room, so I’ll just do a small little 13 person show.”
I used the title Close Encounters before because I have another show called Paranormal. And so, I’ve used that name just for like smaller house party shows and everything because it is an iconic and catchy title. And if I go on the road in a month and a half, I’ll make the show for in a month, and I’ll make it for 13 people. I’m sure only a couple of people will want to come and see this. It sold out, literally, within 24 hours, all 13 tickets.
That was at 7 PM. So, I added a 9 PM show. That sold out by the end of the week. And then I added an 11 PM show and that sold out by the end of the next week.
So, I had this nice big chunk of change from just doing something in my studio. And basically, that chunk of change paid for my rent for the next two months in that space.
WILLIAM: So, that really helped initiate, “Hey, I got something going on here.”
JOE: Yes, Oh yes. It let me know that I can support this area of my business and make it self-sustaining as well. Because I know I need to book at least one show a month to just pay for that space and then another show to pay for the housing renting, car, insurance and all that kind of stuff.
So, the fact that that has now become self-sustaining has been really, really useful for me. And again, it still doubles as my office and also creative space. I rehearse in there and work on new pieces in there as well. Yeah, it’s been a very useful thing. Plus, during the day, there are kids taking music lessons across the hall from me. I could just hear free lovely violin music weekday afternoons form 2 to 5 PM.
WILLIAM: So, I think this really stands out as a way for people to get rehearsal space or an office.
JOE: Yes, yes. And being surrounded by other artists, not other magicians or mentalists or psychic entertainers or whatever your industry is, but being surrounded by these people. I’ve kind of found a neat little tribe, because when I get there, I run into one of the musicians on the ground floor and I get to talk with him briefly.
And I get to go up and talk with the woman who was in the studio three doors down from me and chat with her and she gets to tell her friends that I’m doing these shows in there and everything else as well. It’s actually been really nice word-of-mouth marketing as well for me, too.
WILLIAM: Now, do you guys do any Art Walks, like once a month art walks there?
JOE: Yes. I do it in a different town, but it’s in the town Woodstock, Illinois, which is the same town they filmed the movie “Groundhog Day.” If you’d go on my website, you can see a video of me driving a car blindfolded and that was for that town’s specific Art Walk.
And what’s great about that is even though it’s two completely different organizations, because it’s all local artists, you run into the same kind of people at these kinds of events.
And you know, artists tend to be very open-minded, spiritual people as well, so they’re very open to the idea of a creepy little show where 13 people each gets a weird little psychic reading, and that’s one of the hooks of the show, too, is that, normally, when you go to see a mentalist or a mind reader or psychic or whatever, is that they use a couple of people out of the 200-300 people. In this, I use everyone because there’s a segment of the show where everyone in the audience gets a quick yet insightful reading from me.
WILLIAM: Right. I that if you can find a studio space that’s in an Art Walk and there’s just traffic coming through once a month, I mean, that’s basically free advertising and you can do even a little preview show during that time period if you can find that space.
JOE: Yes. In the building, they do have monthly art shows in there. The only problem is they take place like back to back with one of my restaurant gigs. So, if I have a bigger show coming up and I’m in the area, I might call my restaurant gig and say, “Hey, just to let you know, next week, I’m going to be a half hour behind. Don’t worry. I’ll stay an extra half hour to offset it. It’s okay.” And I make sure it’s okay with them and they say yes.
They’re really great with me and they’re flexible with me as well because I know going there and just doing things for people, I’m letting them know I’m on the second floor. I’m there regularly and I have the show coming up. It’s a great way of doing a sort of boots on the ground marketing. It really helps out.
And the other thing too is this arts community or this arts park is very tied into local events, so I’ve booked, like the town’s centennial, or their 4th of July festival, or other things like that because I’m on top of their mind and because I’m an artist partner with them.
WILLIAM: That makes a lot of sense. Can we change focus just a little bit?
JOE: Of course.
WILLIAM: You’ve got a really good relationship with the media there. Can you talk a bit about how you got that relationship and also, how you have both benefited from that?
JOE: I could talk for hours about media and publicity and publicity stunts. I’ll give you the really shortened version. If anyone has any questions about any of this, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, JoeDiamondlive.com, I’m @JoeDiamondLive on all of the social media.
But, years ago, I solved the world’s largest corn maze blindfolded. It is in Spring Grove, Illinois, which is very close to where I live. It is 11.1 miles of trail that spans over 28.8 acres. The average time to get through it sighted takes anywhere from two and a half to three and a half hours and I got through it in two hours and 15 minutes. I’m actually a world record holder.
WILLIAM: And you’re blindfolded?
JOE: And I was blindfolded, yes. So, I got in the newspaper for doing that and as a result, whenever I did something else weird like stopping my pulse or driving a car blindfolded, I could just email this reporter and she would do a story on you. It also wasn’t like the next day or the next week, it was a month or a couple of months afterwards. She would cover me and that would give me press for selling tickets for whatever show I was doing.
From there, I started getting on local radio. I actually have my own radio show now as a result of all of this. I’m a regular on the morning show and I have my own Sunday night 8 PM show which you have been a guest on, William. I appreciate it.
WILLIAM: Yeah. That was a blast.
JOE: If I have a new show coming up, I can just email the lady or host because he’s not just a radio host, he’s not this big guy on the hill, he’s not a gatekeeper. He’s now my coworker and I can just say, “Hey, I have a show coming up this weekend. I’d like to sell some more tickets for it. Can you squeeze me in for like one segment this week? I’ll come in on the morning show and I got something brand new that I know will really freak you out.” And I’ll come in and do something with that.
WILLIAM: So, I think that’s almost as good as you can get, is actually having your own show on the radio.
JOE: Yes, Oh yes.
WILLIAM: You can’t beat that, right?
JOE: I’m going up against Game of Thrones. I don’t have anywhere near the listenership or the viewership they have, but because it’s local, a lot of people follow me online or listen to it online, and it keeps me connected to the people who listen to the morning show which has way more listeners than this, but it’s a lot more people who may go, “Oh, hey, let’s check that out” or “Hey, we’ve heard him on the show a bazillion times. Let’s go see him live.”
And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people who have heard me on the radio dozens of times and they’re now meeting me for the first time. So, it’s a nice little niche I’ve carved out in my area, which I’m very happy about.
WILLIAM: So, can you share a technique that you’ve used to get press?
JOE: Oh, yeah. I’ll tell you this because a lot of the show I’m doing now, Close Encounters, is readings with a pack of cards. I don’t use tarot cards because they’re considered spooky and evil by some people, and even playing cards are considered that by some really strict religious types. But, it’s a fun show. It’s interactive and I thought, “Oh, this would be a really cool idea,” so I mailed a really nice, like you can go online and get from companies like Theory 11. This really nice gold-foiled boxes of cards that fan beautifully and come with a wax seal and all this stuff for like $10 a deck.
I got 10 of those and I mailed them out to newspaper editors, entertainment writers, with a hard copy of the press release. I also emailed the press release to them as well and I heard nothing back. I heard absolutely zero, nada back.
I was looking through the paper and I recognized the name of the new theatre reviewer for the local paper was a woman who had bought tickets for my show and we were friends on Facebook. And she’d mentioned she’d done theatre and such before, but now she was assigned to be the theatre reviewer.
So, I read the article and it was a very well-written article and review of this theatre show going on in town, so I dropped her a Facebook message saying, “Hey, I read your article. I really loved it. Keep up the great work.” And she wrote back, “Thanks for reading. Hey, we should do a review on your show.” And I just went, “Okay.”
So, just from staying on top and basically being a fan of one of my fans, because she had already bought tickets to two of my previous shows, and then she insisted on paying for her own ticket for this third time coming back to review it as well.
WILLIAM: And then, at that time, did you realize she was a reporter?
JOE: No! I didn’t realize either of the other times she had come through. I’m not sure if she had the job yet at that point. She said she was new to it so it could be a year, it could be two years or it could be two months. I’m not 100% sure on that to be honest.
WILLIAM: That’s a great point. You just never know who you’re performing for.
JOE: Exactly. I had someone recently who had heard me on the radio come out to see me at one of my gigs and him and his wife loved what I was doing and afterwards, the wife was like, “Are you going to tell him who you are, finally?” And I looked at him like, “Okay. Am I about to learn who Jack the Ripper is? What’s going to happen here?” And it turns out he is actually the general manager of an indoor water park and resort in the Chicago end area and I’m currently–Knock on wood here. I won’t mention the name or anything–but, I’m currently in meetings with them about doing shows at their resort now as well, so fingers crossed, on that happening.
But, again, all that came from just listening to people, talking with people and being a fan of your fans. I mean, the biggest secrets to getting publicity is that– Paul Daniels made a great mention on one of the Essential Magic Conference online sessions. He said, “Oh, guys, I always complain, Oh, I’m not in the newspaper, I’m not on TV, I’m not on the radio.” Well, have you let them know? Have you even sent them a press release?
If you can write up a press release, that’s an interesting human interest story. Whether I’m a psychic or a memory expert or a psychologist or a magician or anything, solving the world’s largest corn maze blindfolded is an interesting news story and I think that’s one of the reasons why that was so popular.
There is a lot of things you can do. Even if you’re a dentist, who do really cool and amazing balloon animals, to calm kids down before you work on their teeth, that can be a beautiful human interest story and get a lot of great press. It takes a little bit of creativity. It takes a little bit thinking.
And the other dirty secret I’ll say about press and media is they will not tell you to stop contacting them unless you’re a complete psycho who is sending something lewd or something rude or anything like that, they’ll say stop.
They are not going to tell you, “Please stop sending us information about the event.” They will never run out of information. They are always looking for something new and you never know when they’re going to click on that email at just the right time or they were just thinking about something or something fell through and your email shows up and now it’s like, “Oh, good. Here’s something I can fill that gap with immediately.”
WILLIAM: So, you’re really trying to find a way to just stay constantly in their mind?
JOE: Yes, yes, yes. And again, if it doesn’t work, that’s a lesson you can learn. Don’t just keep resending the same press release again. Rewrite it. Change the headline. Read up online on how to write a press release. That is what I did.
I have no formal training in this. I learned online and from books and taught myself. In fact, there’s one– I’ll talk about this briefly, as well. There’s one press release I wrote for Halloween about how people will call me sometimes to get rid of the Ouija boards in their house. I have a lot of Ouija board memorabilia that I post on social media, my Instagram, and my everything.
And as a result, people would call me and say, “Hey, I’ve got an old Ouija board. I’m kind of freaked out by it. I don’t want to throw it away or burn it. I don’t want anything negative to happen. Can you come and take it away?”
I had done that a couple of times so I wrote a press release for Halloween talking about how I’ve done this and I’ve just gotten a call from someone saying they wanted me to come and take it away. I said, “Hold on. There might be some press involved.” They were interested in doing this and what happened was they called me, asked me two more questions and said, “Okay. Well, I’m going to add this into what you sent me and I’ll beef it up a little bit and it will be in this Monday.”
And they ran, basically, my press release word for word and I never had to take a reporter or a press person with on one of these little ghost busting hunts of taking Ouija boards out of people’s houses.
It was a publicity stunt that technically never happened. They just ran the press release I sent, but the info for my show was in there at the end and I sold a lot of tickets to my paranormal show on Halloween night.
WILLIAM: And to emphasize, you didn’t lie to them because this is something that you, in fact, do. They just didn’t go out with you to do it.
JOE: Yes, yes, absolutely and the other thing that was interesting about it as well is I thought I would get more calls from people wanting me to get rid of their Ouija boards, but it was the opposite. I had 10 people that week call me asking, “Hey, so what do you do with the boards when you get rid of them?” I’m like, “Well, I hold on to them or I pass them on to theatre companies or people will use them for props.” One person used it for a prop in an online horror movie on YouTube–a really short film. And, they wanted the board for themselves and they wanted one that had a story with it, so I ended up passing it on to other people as well.
And, again, you never know. I thought sending someone a beautiful deck of cards with this wonderful press release about fortune telling would get press. It didn’t. No one is to say it won’t work in the future. I may try it again.
WILLIAM: Who knows, they might be playing cards with someone and tell the story of how you sent it to them and once again, that might jog their mind. You never know.
JOE: Yup, exactly. My guess is, since I didn’t hear anything back, my guess is that they’re just sitting on piles of mail on someone’s desk somewhere. That’s my theory. I’m just not sure. But, again, try it. You never know. I think the biggest thing is people don’t make that step forward to put themselves out there in the field.
Jeffrey Gitomer said this about marketing but I think it works for media, he says one of the best ways to market yourself is to give yourself to the market and I think that’s the same way. Make yourself known in the media.
If you send the media, like my local paper, I’ve got in the paper several times, just from sending them photos from some of my shows because they’ll post like, “Hey, here’s what happened this last weekend.” And they’ll post, “Oh, Susie so and so, four years old, waiting in line to get on the carnival ride,” you know, “Mind reader Joe Diamond reading so and so’s mind at the Arts Park Art Fair.”
You never know. The more you send it to them and the more you build up that relationship, the better chances you’ll have for it. And again, even with the radio show, even with the people I work with, every once in a while, it’s “Oh, hey, we’re real sorry this week is booked solid. We can’t squeeze you in. We’ll let you know if anything falls through, but let us know for next time.”
It’s not going to be a hundred per cent and I think too many people get discouraged when they don’t have that initial overnight success. You’re going to have to do a bunch of these. You’re going to have to send a bunch of press releases before you see any forward motion. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get something from that very first one. I mean, no one’s to say it can’t happen, but you won’t know until you actually do the work.
WILLIAM: Right, definitely. What’s the most effective way, so far, that you found to fill seats?
JOE: Speaking specifically about the Close Encounters show, I find keeping it to 13 seats has really helped. I have a kind of a little bit of self-deprecating humor here. The big pull quote from the review that that woman wrote was, “There’s a reason his show sell out so quickly.” And when I read that I thought, “Well, yeah, there’s 13 seats,” but as a result, I have to do two or three shows a night, usually, for it. Again, that’s what I can fit in the studio.
I think, honestly, the one thing I’m learning about right now is consistency in your schedule. Even if it’s once a month, I mean, I started doing this once a month and it got popular enough that I could do it once a week, you know, consistency and the quality of your show.
Work on your show until it’s of a consistent quality. I think Steve Martin talked about this in “Born Standing Up” about anyone can be great. Anyone can have a really great night once. It takes a lot of work to be good consistently.
I think if you have a consistent show, if you have a consistent schedule and you have consistent marketing– Each month, I make a new Facebook event page for the first kickoff show of the month just to let people know that and that little reminder at the top of each month is going to be people even if they’ve clicked on it or if they can’t go or maybe it will show up in their news feeds saying, “Hey, this event is coming up,” the week before.
I’m posting it to my website and giving people cards saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m not just here at this Martini Lounge on Fridays, on Saturday nights, I do a fortune telling show in a studio in a haunted mansion. Only 13 people are allowed per show.”
And that’s also true because due to fire codes, I can only have 14 people in the room, and I’m the 14th person so that works out, too. But it sounds really spooky and mysterious and I’ve got some really great photos of the house that are on my Facebook, and Instagram, and online for the show.
When people take pictures from the show, I say, “Please tag them on social media,” and then when they post them, I send them a private message saying, “Hey, do you mind if I re-share this and use this on the website?” and I put that on.
Speaking of consistency, and this is something that WellAttended has really helped me with is people can consistently buy tickets whenever. They don’t have to call and get me on the phone or I ask to take their credit card down or anything. They can go online and buy the tickets whenever and I think that’s insanely important in this day and age.
So, I think there are a lot of people who are online and they want to buy tickets, but the box office is closed, or the phone number doesn’t work, or no one answered, or the fact that they could just do it online consistently, whatever, I think is very important.
And also, one final aspect of the consistency is, consistently find out where people are finding out about it. I always ask people: Have you ever seen me before? How did you find out about the show? And I think, I can’t remember if it was Barnum. Was it P.T. Barnum who said, “You’re always going to waste half of your advertising money; you just don’t know which half.” And I love that quote, but we’re living in a day and age where you never know in advance which half, but after the fact, you can now find out which half was working.
On the form, when people buy tickets on the site, I make it a required field that you have to type in where they found out about the show and I’d say, “Please be as specific as possible.” Now, yes, sometimes people just type in “a friend,” or “Facebook,” or “the newspaper.” Some people say “your review in the Northwest Herald,” or “My friend Terry Voss has seen the show before and she recommended it,” or “We saw it on the paper,” or “We saw it listed in the local listings.”
I can now see what’s been working and what hasn’t been. Okay, no one said they’ve seen the show on Twitter. I’m not going to promote the show as much on Twitter. I’ll still do it, but I’m not going to focus it there more. I’m going to move over to the Facebook groups and find all the local Facebook groups and post in there, and that’s been very consistent. I can see that that’s working and I know to do it more in that area.
Again, consistently focusing on it and improving your marketing and your show because that’s the final thing, too, if you have a good show nothing beats word-of-mouth. Nothing beats it. If you can have all the best marketing in the world, I won’t say what town I was in or where I was, but there was a show. I was in an illusion show in a city and there was a solo performer. That’s as much as I’ll say. I asked around town and people either hadn’t heard of it or people went, “Uhh,” and this is someone who has billboards and images of them with tigers and floating ladies. But, the show is not consistent from what I could gather from the people.
And again, billboards–big, huge, slick marketing–you can have all that in the world and if the show is not consistent, it’s not going to save something that’s there that isn’t polished yet.
WILLIAM: So, to wrap this up, what’s one thing you think event producers can do today to start increasing their ticket sales besides being consistent?
JOE: Well, they can book you and me for entertainment for their event and they can sell tickets to it through WellAttended.com. I do truly believe that.
I think this comes back to consistency and I mentioned this a lot in the last segment but I’m going to reiterate it here, is listen. Some of the best events I have been a part of, that I’ve worked for, that I’ve worked with, they listen.
There’s an event I do each year where every year afterwards, the guy who runs it asks all the entertainers on the bill, “How did this year go? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Did this feel better? Should we try it this way next year?” They’re constantly asking.
I heard a story from Stan Allen, the editor of Magic Magazine talk about going to see a Las Vegas headliner. It was one of two from the last ten years. I don’t remember which one it was, so I won’t just pick a name blindly. But, every time he would go to see the show when he would meet with the performer backstage, they’ll shake their hands and say, “Thank you so much for coming. What didn’t you like? What can be better in the show?”
And they were constantly looking for improving and then they would shut up and they would listen to people. The more you do that, you know I’ve done shows, people did not come back more than once to see the show.
This Close Encounters show, people are coming back. So, I start asking them like, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re coming back. What made you decide to come back?” or “Why did you come back this week versus next week?” all those kinds of things. The more info you can get, the more you can listen to people.
And don’t be afraid to fail. We’re talking about this and this has worked out really well for me, but there are countless shows in the past that either fell on their face or only did okay. Don’t be afraid of that. Just take as much as you can and learn from it.
And again, listen to the people you’re working with. Listen to the audiences at the event and put that away. Keep a journal and use it to make the next event that much better.
I’ll finish this off with a quote from Jay Sankey. He said it about stand-up comedy, but I think it’s important for this kind of events and selling tickets and putting on shows. He said, “Don’t worry about tonight. Think about how much better you will be in five years if you keep doing this.” That’s what you’ve got to think about.
Think of what you’ve done. Think of what you can do to make your events for the next five years even better than the one you did last night.
WILLIAM: That’s great advice. That’s great.
JOE: Thank you.
WILLIAM: Well, thanks so much for coming on our show and you’ve just given us so much valuable information. I think this was a really great episode.
JOE: Oh, thank you, thank you. Again, if I was unclear on anything, I’m very reachable–Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. JoeDiamondlive is my handle on everything. My email is Joe@JoeDiamondlive.com.
It’s really easy to get a hold of me if anyone has any questions or anything I said that wasn’t clear, please feel free to reach out and talk to me. I’m always looking to help people out with their events and their own journeys.
WILLIAM: Thanks a lot, Joe. I really appreciate you coming on our show.
JOE: Thank you so much, William. You take care.