Speaker Beware

I was informed of a situation this week where a professional speaker was represented by a bureau which informed the speaker her normal fee couldn’t be met, but a client would accept a lower fee: $8,500. The speaker said, “Okay, deal.”

While talking to the client in advance of the speech, the speaker discovered that the bureau was actually charging the client $11,000 in addition to taking 25% out of the speaker’s $8,500.

When confronted, the bureau admitted it and claimed they deserved the money. This, of course, is fraud. The speaker was afraid to do anything about it, and was advised by other speakers (members of the National Speakers Association—NSA—no less) that “the bureau owned the client and could do whatever they wanted.”

This is the attitude of fear and low self-esteem. Speakers are the talent, bureaus are strictly  middlemen. Not long ago, a bureau in Texas went bankrupt, and had been using fees of speakers held in escrow (another absurd practice) to pay its bills, strictly unethical, and those speakers lost their money. I understand the principals of that debacle are trying to launch another bureau.

I once sold Toyota Financial directly as a result of one of their executive’s inquiries who had heard about me. The next thing I knew, a bureau called Five Star Speakers in Kansas was trying to get me to sign a contract giving them 30% of my fee! The irony was, while I was in their catalog, they never put me forward for the job. They told me they were simply trying to “make it easy” for me, and they deserved compensation for putting up other candidates. I told them to get out of my sight or I’d blow them up with the client.

It’s tough enough for people in this business without this kind of fraud, criminality, and unethical behavior. Why NSA tolerates this, I don’t know.

My friends, YOU are the talent, and the most successful speakers in the country either don’t use bureaus or tell bureaus what it will take to represent them. Act like a success, not a supplicant to middlemen.

There are some fine speakers’ bureaus. You can tell who they are because they don’t charge you for representation in their catalog or video critiques, they deal with you honestly, they forward your money without escrow, and they charge reasonable fees. In other words, they treat you as respected talent, not an ATM.

© Alan Weiss 2015

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