We hear this question a lot from our clients: “Who is the best speaking bureau?”
Our answer? A very unexciting – “There isn’t one.”
What we mean by that is while there are clearly some well-known speaking bureaus that have been around for decades and represent some of the biggest celebrities in the biz—bureaus like Washington Speakers Bureau who our client Bernie Swain co-founded, or the Harry Walker Agency, American Program Bureau— it doesn’t mean they’re better for YOU.
The speaking industry, in general, is one driven very heavily by celebrity, so many of the “big name” bureaus focus deeply on securing exclusive relationships with the biggest celebrities they can — ones they know can command high speaking fees and therefore make them the most money, since they only make money off a commission from every speech booked. And, even though some celebrity speakers have exclusive contracts with bureaus, it doesn’t mean that another bureau can’t book them for their client — bureaus work together all the time on co-brokering deals so they both get a piece of the pie.
So, if bureaus are primarily focused on celebrity speakers, where does this leave you if you haven’t quite reached celebrity status?
Explore relationships with smaller agencies and see about getting listed with several agencies on a non-exclusive basis. Several bureaus will list speakers on their sites and keep them in their database as an option to pitch when their clients are in need of something specific that you may be able to fill. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to have a clear understanding of who you’re most like in the speaking space — what other higher-level speakers speak about the same or similar topics you do? If you make this known, it’s a great way for a bureau to easily recommend you as an “alternate” speaker if/when those higher-level speakers that may have been their client’s first-choice aren’t available or are over-budget for their event.
Additionally, if you can secure an exclusive relationship with a smaller bureau with a more limited roster of speakers, this can also serve you really well because, with fewer speakers on their rosters, they focus more heavily on actively pitching those they do represent. We’ve had great success with some of our clients in exclusive relationships with bureaus like Brightsight Group and Gail Davis & Associates for this very reason.
In our opinion, it’s really about best fit — finding a bureau that will be excited about actively pitching you, and has relationships with the right type of clients that would be interested in your message.
We advise our clients, and you, to have an open and honest conversation with any bureau about desires and expectations from the get-go. Be clear about how many speeches you desire each month or over the course of a year. Let them tell you if they feel that is realistic given the industry and your topic, and if not, what is realistic, so you’re both clear on what’s possible.
And last, but certainly not least…
Have the following items complete and easy to share before you approach a bureau:
- A speaking reel video ideally showing you in front of a few different live audiences (vs. you speaking directly to the camera or on a news show)
- A list of 3-4 speaking topics with short descriptions for each, including the ideal audience for each
- A list of speakers who are comparable to you — the ways in which you are similar, and also how you differ.
- Your fees – including your requirements for travel, accommodations, and incidentals