Gathered in a restaurant is 30 enthusiastic entertainers, fidgeting with balloons. Around the room you here squeaking, twisting, jokes, and personal lessons on how to transform a pinch twist into a split bubble. If you are an outsider looking in, it is a remarkable sight. Characters of all types are gathering in one spot sharing secrets and ideas. If you are a child, it is like being in a candy store, everything is free and you will walk out with arms full of goodies.
This camaraderie in the balloon industry is called a Balloon Jam. Balloon Jams have been happening for several decades and in early 2000 where happening all over the country. The excitement of hosting and participating in jams was viral. I have hosted over a dozen of these events by myself and found it daunting to organize, market, and find a location.
Several years ago, I attended the Michigan Twisters Balloon Jam. I was delightfully suprised to see how they ran their balloon jam. Previously, every jam I attended seemed like a potluck get-together. There was very little organization and the focus is how many people you could get to attend. I fell in to this trap too and later learned that it was not how many people, but what education value you can bring to a group. Unlike other jams I attended, the Michigan group acted more like a club, had a 50/50 raffle, sponsored people to go to conventions, they had some type of organization.
Here it is 2013 and I am still reading about free balloon jams located at restaurants. Advertised as spend money at the restaurant and come share ideas with other entertainers. It appears the balloon jam is not evolving. Clowns have a guild, Magician’s have clubs, Jugglers – have their gatherings, but I am still waiting for the balloon jams to mature.
A mature balloon jam is structured, dues, goals, mission statements, and a reason for being, instead of a gathering. Simple math dictates a $5 cover charge with 30 attendees is $150 over 12 months is $1,800 a year. Close the door on free sponsors who attend and give discounts and make them pay a $100 fee to attend. Your group may be purchasing thousands of dollar of merchandise from this company, if the balloon supplier is not making money of your group – they would not attend. Proceeds from these jams can bring in outside educators and industry leaders to better educate the group or rent a community facility.
Models like Chambers of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis club, VFW, are all great organizations to model for a balloon jam environment. My feeling is balloon jams need to move from infancy to adulthood. Once mature the communication among clubs, chapters or groups can together to change a nd advance the industry. However, until people realize a balloon jam is more than a numbers game, I feel it is never going to mature into an industry-changing tool.