Speaker Bureaus and your conference
Write-up by Clive Simpkins
Numerous men and women ask those of us who are skilled speakers regardless of whether they really should source us through bureaus or come direct. Years ago I would have stated, 'use the bureau', because they would have a great quantity of men and women on their books and usually be able to identify the appropriate person for the job.
Nonetheless, what's crystal clear is that in SA a lot of speaker bureaus are not what they are overseas. Here, they're in some instances offshoots or a subversive breakaway from their original employer-agency - which already speaks of their individual (lack of) ethics. A couple of the other people merely do not have the word ethics or morality in their lexicon.
I have initial hand experience of 1 - notorious for hiking up speakers fees out of sight to the client, but paying the speaker only the pre-agreed fee, trying to make further dollars out of my books. A client of mine is big enough for the left hand at times not to know what the appropriate hand is performing. So someone landed up booking me by means of this certain shyster. The client had pre-discussed a copy of 1 of my books for each and every delegate, as part of their conference package. I'd told them they could have it at a truly preferential cost. We packed and delivered those books to the client. They did not involve the speaker bureau at all. Imagine my embarrassment when the client called me directly (on receiving the 'composite' invoice from the agent) to say, 'I see you didn't charge us the pre-agreed price soon after all.' On investigation, this greedy, unethical sod had hiked the cost of each and every book by, wait for it, R 70! When I known as and bearded him about it, he had the temerity to say, 'Why wouldn't I do that? It is my product.' I had to remind him that it was in truth, my item. I fired him on the spot. Many other top speakers have accomplished likewise, considering that.
Other bureaus in South Africa will phone a speaker and book speculative dates in the speaker's diary whilst they actually put forward several speakers to the client concerned. They're not, at heart, interested in obtaining the 'right' individual for the client. They're in their organization for the funds and little else. If you are the speaker, on the receiving end of their 'intermediary' role, it's a really distinct story. If the insurance industry brokers behaved the way numerous speaker bureaus did - they would go out of enterprise, pronto.
My consistent expertise is that you have to drag relevant details out of bureau men and women. I've been given an acronym for a organization name by one who prides herself on ultra-efficiency, only to discover she didn't know what the suitable organization name was. Shocking. Picture going into a pre-conference briefing session and having the client's name wrong!
The day a speaker bureau truly has the courtesy to call and say, 'The client isn't going with you or the conference and you can free of charge up the date, will be the exception rather than the rule.
Speaker bureaus will (without having discussion or permission) often put speaker names on their web sites to attract calls, when they have no mandate to represent those speakers. Googling one's name sometime produces fascinating outcomes. When a client does call for the speaker they do not actually represent, we know that some have told the client the person's not offered on that specific date (a lie!) and then promptly sold them on another speaker, who actually is on their books. Most bureaus make certain the client's payment is in the piggy bank prior to the speaker even steps on stage. But it is a quite different story with some when it comes to extracting the dollars from them.
My overall conclusion is that the speaker bureau business in South Africa is long overdue for a very good shake-up. If you the client are booking via 1, I suggest you demand a breakdown of how the fee you're being charged is made up. i.e. Speaker fee, travel (if applicable) and bureau commission. Maybe insist on getting able to verify the actual speaker fee directly with the speaker. The latter are told Never to discuss fees with clients, for excellent reason. The speaker would frequently be horrified by the absurd commission being tacked on top of their speaking fee by unethical bureaus.
Do you want a bureau to source a specific speaker? Brief answer: No. The Net and search engines are rendering them and their dubious practices increasingly irrelevant. And that can only be to the advantage of you, the client, at your next conference or function. These are not just my isolated experiences. I frequently network with a good number of leading speakers who have all had identical experiences. It's time for change.
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