Delivering entertainment on cruise liners can be tricky, and balancing the desire to stay competitive within the natural constraints imposed by the resources at hand can be daunting. Daniel Thibault, CEO of Proship Entertainment, discusses how his company has mastered the art of bringing top-end talent to clients and the challenges of dazzling guests on some of the world’s most luxurious ships.

Can you tell us a bit about Proship Entertainment?

Daniel Thibault: Proship Entertainment was started at sea in 1987 while I was working on board the SS Amerikanis as a musical director. Our orchestra was amazing, and the show producers were so impressed by the quality of the individuals that I quickly earned the responsibility of hiring all orchestra musicians on Chandris Fantasy Cruises, which is now Celebrity Cruises. I remember borrowing the purser’s typewriter to start the company from cabin CW8, and spending all of my money in phone booths calling musicians I knew well.

By the end of my six-month contract, I had the business going and started building an enterprise. Almost 30 years later, our first client is still a client, and we are the uncontested world leader in the field of performance staffing for the cruise ship industry.

We service every major cruise line in North America and provide exclusive service to Carnival Australia. In Europe, we are an exclusive supplier for Cunard Line and a major supplier to P&O UK. Today, we have more than 25 full-time employees in our Montreal office and actively recruit performers worldwide. Having effectively cornered a large part of the North American cruise market, we are gearing up to help the fast-growing European market.

What are the key services you provide for cruises?

Most importantly, we provide peace of mind. The three key services we offer to our clients are performance staffing, contracting services and software.

Performance staffing can range from a one-off request for an emergency replacement to a long-term plan for a fleet-wide rotation of the entire entertainment department. Most new clients initially reach out to fix an immediate problem and then choose Proship Entertainment to build a permanent solution.

Contracting services, also known as the hiring partner, consist of processing any crew member joining a seagoing vessel. Our contracting team are experts at the complexities of human resource processing in the cruise industry, and will arrange for STCW 95, medicals, background checks, seaman’s books, visas, contracts, plane tickets and 24/7 emergency travel monitoring for crew members of any department. We make sure that the crew we process get to the ship well prepared and on time.

Finally, our Headhunter software is available as a stand-alone hosted service, to support clients wanting to centrally control and manage the entire crewing process for their fleet.

How do you find such a wide range of talent?

Each of our clients is unique and has very precise needs that differ greatly from line to line. It ranges from a full ballroom-dance big band orchestra on Cunard, to party bands performing Mötley Crüe songs on Carnival Australia. Beyond our time-proven processes, 70,000-candidate-strong database and Headhunter software, our success resides in the incredibly effective recruiting team we have assembled, singularly focused on providing our clients with an unmatched staffing experience.

We build long-term relationships with our clients because we understand their needs, deliver on schedule, and support and adapt to their changing strategies. We work closely with each client to develop a very detailed and precise job profile for each position. We then begin actively recruiting by seeking out the best individuals and groups, as opposed to passively waiting for the right talent to send in an application.

The challenge is not finding one great act, because anybody can do that; the challenge is finding the top talent on a continuous basis. This is hard because the best talent doesn’t look for work. Actively seeking out these people is what allows us to systematically deliver exceptional quality for our clients year after year.

How do you generally work with cruise companies to select entertainment?

Flexibility is key for us, because every client has a different corporate culture we need to adapt to. For example, some companies, like Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas, prefer to let us choose who we send because they trust that what we will deliver will be exactly on profile. Other companies, like Royal Caribbean, Princess and Holland America, enjoy taking part in the casting process and choose from the options we provide. We tailor our processes to the specific needs and requirements of each cruise line.

With our exclusive clients, we have a contractual obligation to keep positions filled at all times. If someone needs to leave a ship unexpectedly, we have to be ready to replace them at a moment’s notice. What enables us to provide superior service is what we refer to as ‘advance booking’, where we create rotation schedules as far in advance as itineraries are planned. This provides our clients with great stability and frees up our short-term agenda to fill any emergency.

How does the Headhunter software work?

Proship Entertainment began developing Headhunter in 2004 and first released the software in 2006. We wanted to make our recruiting process more effective so looked for options available on the market that would allow us to organise and present our increasing number of entertainers’ promo packs. This was before YouTube, and there wasn’t anything suitable at the time – so we built it. The guiding principle behind the development is ease of use for our clients. It can be accessed online using any modern web browser and requires no installation.

Our development team has created a unique system to support the entire HR workflow, including scouting, auditioning, booking, contracting and rebooking. We recently entered into a partnership with a major university to develop smart fitness-ranking algorithms, providing Proship Entertainment and our clients with an even faster response time.

Is there a relationship between the type of cruise and its destination, and the entertainment you provide? Do you take this into account when approaching potential clients?

We take a comprehensive approach to recruiting, where every detail of a client’s request is of prime importance. From the geographical location of a specific ship to the culture of the destination, the nationality of passengers and the languages spoken on board, we tailor our recruitment to individual clients to achieve the best results.

We certainly take destinations into account when approaching potential clients, and that is partly why we have been so successful with our current ones. Among other strategies, geographical rotations planning for bands and orchestras can provide some operators with massive savings in air transportation.

What has been the most complicated or extravagant request a cruise liner has made?

A decade ago, Celebrity Cruises had entered a partnership with Cirque du Soleil for a joint venture called the Bar at the Edge of the Earth, which was inaugurated in April 2005. After two years of effort, neither Cirque du Soleil nor Celebrity had succeeded in recruiting the physical actors required for the four vessels they were slated for – the combination of Cirque’s and maritime criteria had proven to be too difficult.

We were contacted by Celebrity in a panic and, even though we had never recruited physical actors before, we accepted the challenge and set to the task. Using our time-proven methods of active recruiting, in a little over a month, we had the entire team assembled, approved by Cirque du Soleil and ready to embark.