Speaker agencies can come in for stick from all kinds of directions.
Before I get into the below short story, I would like to highlight the points it makes (if only to stop you thinking this as a speaker agency-bashing article):
- There are numerous touch points between the speaker, the agency and the event organiser where good engagement can add serious value to all concerned. In fact, I would argue, it can set your speaker agency apart from the others
- Speakers can feel vulnerable and they need to be fully briefed before engaging with the event planner
- Likewise, the event planner has doubts and these need to be dispelled.
A true story
I will be brief. Just the facts. But you can see where things broke down. You can see that you would never put speakers in such a compromising position.
I was appointed as an event MC for a prestigious business conference. Naturally, conference calls were set up to brief all the speakers. One such briefing was arranged with a specific ‘celebrity’ and the organisers (via the speaker agency.)
No-one from the speaker agency sat in on the conference call.
More importantly, the celebrity had not been briefed on the basic outline of the day, never mind the context or audience. It was clear that the date had been agreed and that was about it.
While the celebrity was an excellent choice, they seemed generally confused. Asking questions like, “So, do you want me to do the usual stuff, the story of how I got to where I am now?” and saying things like, “I haven’t seen the papers you refer to, so I will get my PA to talk to my manager, to get the agent to ask you to resubmit them via the agent to my manager, so my PA can print them off for me” making the event team very nervous.
It was left to us, the clients, to do the speaker agency’s job: explain the purpose of the conference, the audience, the context, the speakers before and after, and how we hoped that the speaker could add serious value to this high profile event. This was a repeat of a discussion that had already taken place with the absent speaker agency.
Everyone felt hugely embarrassed and compromised by the situation. Lots of pregnant pauses and awkward silences as no-one wanted to bad-mouth the agent or question what they were doing for their fee.
But what were they doing for their fee?
And who, if anyone at all, did they see as their client? Who did they think was paying their wages?
The event organiser will never use the agency again. The celebrity speaker may never use the agency again as the particular person has their own brand values to maintain.
And the moral of the story.
Speaker agencies need to be seen to earn their fee if they wish to maintain the trust and respect of their speakers and event organiser clients.
And who was the agency? Sorry, I am not going to share that one!
Agencies can add serious value to both their speakers and the event planners by simple but effective communication. The basics. Failure to do so can damage everyone’s sense of confidence in the process.