For Agents and Bureaus Only: 10 Vital Issues for Bureaus

by Jim Cathcart

How To Sell A Higher Fee

Here’s the situation. The client has $6,000 and the speaker who is right for them is at $15,000 plus first class travel. What do you do, try to switch them to a less-than-perfect selection?
If you know that a particular speaker is right for this group, then sell the client on making that choice. It is often not the dollar amount as much as where it comes from that concerns them the most. How they pay for it is often up for discussion. Here are some creative options.

  • Look for other ways to pay the fee.
    1. Perhaps a vendor to the client would be willing to sponsor all or part of the fee. Maybe a second sponsor will pick up the travel expenses. Offer to help the client promote the speaker for sponsorship. Send an extra press kit or video, or set up a teleconference with the speaker. Arrange for the speaker to meet with the sponsor onsite. Have the speaker do a special briefing just for the sponsor’s team.
    2. Get the money from the training department’s budget or a marketing budget instead of from the convention budget. Expand the client’s thinking on how to pay it.
    3. Allow the client to pay part of the fee from this year’s budget and the balance of it from next year’s budget. Take your deposit now but delay the additional payment as long as practical.
    4. Let the client pay installments on the excess amount of fee above their budgeted amount. In the above example, accept the $6,000 now and stretch out the rest. (Clear this with the speaker first.)
    5. If the speaker really wants this booking, see if he or she will pay their own travel in return for some special consideration from your bureau or the client.
  • Expand the booking contract.
    1. Book multiple engagements for this speaker with this client and offer a quantity discount that your speaker agrees to. (Discount becomes effective only on the final engagement.)
    2. Book even more of their speakers for this year’s conventions through your bureau and offer part of the extra commissions earned by the bureau as a discount to the client. (Better clear this one with your boss first.)
    3. Save the client the extra preparation and travel/lodging expense of multiple speakers by increasing the number of presentations for this speaker. Instead of hiring three speakers, have this one speaker do a keynote, a breakout and a special private session for top performers or executives. The extra services will cost less than a full fee and the travel cost doesn’t increase at all. Help the client to see that the travel money & time they would’ve spent orienting and handling others can be applied to this speaker without any extra outlays.
    4. Expand the scope of this speech. Offer to let the client video record and broadcast the speech for a small extra fee. Let them sell the recordings to their attendees or the people who couldn’t attend. Do a webinar live-cast or video broadcast to reach more people with this one speech. Help them coach a facilitator at each remote location.
  • Generate more profit sources.
    1. Sell the client a book or recording for each attendee. The speaker will often allow part of the product profits to be used to reduce the fee outlay. This also makes the whole event even more special for the attendees. Make sure there is an autograph session after the speech.
    2. Offer to have the speaker do a special pre or post speech event for a separate registration fee. This produces extra revenues at no cost to the client. The speaker may be willing to do a little extra work for only a little extra fee. And the travel is already paid!
    3. Schedule a special pre or post convention telephone or Internet conference with the speaker. Let the attendees and those who can’t attend talk directly with the speaker and get their questions addressed. Send an e-book or audio or handout to those who log on. Give them the chance to purchase some of the speaker’s materials at a special discounted price.
    4. Have the speaker do an extra consulting event or webinar for the client at a flexible later date that fits their schedule. Think of the various forms of impact the speaker can have, don’t just focus on the performance at the convention.
    5. Let the speaker do something onsite to promote his or her pet cause or new project. Some speakers have a charitable foundation that they will accept smaller fees to provide funding to. Others may have a new book to promote or company to prospect for. Get input from the speaker as to things that they’d like to do. Leverage your publicity.
    6. And the old standby, let them sell products. If the client will make a special display of the speaker’s materials and allow for a short “commercial” from the platform, the speaker may reduce their fee or offer the client a percentage of the sales. This offsets the fee paid by the client, though it involves a bit of uncertainty. Nobody knows how much product will sell onsite. If there are concerns about the uncertainty, then set a no-less-than or not-to-exceed amount. Also be sure your speaker doesn’t turn the speech into a commercial.

When you know you have the right speaker for the client, don’t let their budget stand in the way. After all, it is a budget, not their entire bank account. Remember, every dollar of extra fee your speaker earns is more commission for your bureau. Win-win-win. Client-Bureau-Speaker.
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A Fee Negotiation Formula.

When the client requests a reduced fee for multiple dates or product purchases in addition to the speech:
Confirm the discount is to be applied on the last part of the transaction.
For example: If the client offers to book a $10,000 speaker three times in return for a reduction of the fee to $8,000 per engagement, (and the speaker agrees), say yes. Then tell the client that the full discount will apply on the third or final engagement.
Here’s the math:
3 speeches @ $8,000= $24,000.
Here’s the invoicing strategy:
Speech #1 $10,000, Speech #2 $10,000, Speech #3 $4,000 = Total $24,000 . The client gets the price he wants and you and the speaker are assured that the discount is earned before given. In this way, a cancellation of Speech #3 doesn’t take advantage of your original justification for offering a quantity discount.
If the discount fee is due to quantity purchases of products, bill for the speech at regular fee and show the entire discount on the product pricing.
Note: If everything is paid in advance, none of the above matters.
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What if someone wants a freebie or reduced fee?

Though rare, there are occasions where a free speech or reduced fee are desirable to both the bureau and the speaker. The trouble is; when clients pay little or nothing for a speaker, they place little or no value on what they have received. The speaker is often treated as an unimportant player in the overall meeting. Conversely, when they pay a large fee, they treat the speaker as if he or she were royalty.
When reducing the fee – increase the commitment. Assure that a contract is signed specifying details and confirming audio visuals, accommodations, travel, cancellation agreement, etc.
At Cathcart Institute we require that two documents be signed specifying details and confirming that the client is aware that this is a professional engagement, not just a favor from a buddy.
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What If The Client Wants An Extra Speech Without Additional Fees?

A speech is not just words. If it were, an article or a phone call would do the job and we could all stay at home. A speech is a targeted performance. It is the delivery of not only information but also of impact on the listeners. Good information delivered poorly is wasted. Each performance takes special preparation, enormous creative energy and added effort from the speaker.
Most speakers have a speech fee, half day fee, and full day fee. The speech fee typically includes all the costs of research, preparation, travel time, etc. A second speech to the same client audience requires less preparation, no extra travel time and minimal added research. Half day fees reflect that. They are often dramatically less than two speech fees. Full day fees are similar, set with the initial hour carrying the main weight. Ask any person — if you work several hours for your employer how many of those hours do you expect to be paid for? They’ll say “All of them!” and rightly so.
So, tell your clients that an extra speech requires an extra fee. However, ask them if they have a suggestion of some other form of compensation to pay for the additional speech. Travel upgrades, product purchases, video services, and printing services are all useful forms of compensation. Then figure out an appropriate way for the bureau to receive additional compensation equivalent to their portion of the speaker’s compensation. Be flexible, all of these are on top of an already booked speech.
If it’s a charitable event or a fund-raiser consider having them pay the speaker’s full fee in the form of a “Gold Sponsorship”. This usually includes advertising in the program, on the banners and website, a reserved table, and other ‘goodies’. Maybe your bureau can be advertised too. A $15,000 fee = a $15,000 sponsorship package.
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Why Should Clients Pay First Class Airfare For A Speaker When Their Own Company Executives Fly Coach?

“We can’t pay our speakers first class when our president flies coach.” Ever heard that one? But the concern is valid. How do you justify first class travel? And when are there exceptions?
In my case, first or business class travel is used because of the time and grief it saves. I get to board early and get back to my work without interruption. If the flight is delayed or canceled I get prime consideration for alternate travel. And there is never any hassle over changing the schedule at the last minute to accommodate another booking.
For the client this means: the speaker arrives rested instead of frazzled. Delays and oversold situations don’t mess up the arrival as often. The speaker can use the time to review the client’s materials again instead of wasting time waiting for the meal to be cleared or dealing with cramped seating and intrusive passengers. Besides, as often as not, the travel schedule is prorated between clients in different cities  and the airfare charged to each one ends up being less than economy coach would have been.
It is usually the CONCEPT of first class travel that annoys the client as much as the reality of it. Those who don’t fly constantly are often of the belief that first class is about luxury and free drinks. That is FAR from the reality. Domestic first class is not luxury. Besides most speakers wouldn’t drink on the way to an engagement anyway.
International first class is another subject. That IS luxury! And it is priced accordingly. I often agree to fly Business Class on international flights, as long as I don’t have to sleep on board. Again, the pre-boarding and private airport lounge are great aids to the business traveler.
But what if it is just the money that bothers the client? I agree, airfares, even for coach, can be outrageous. It is not uncommon to see fares over $2,000 and even $5,000 sometimes. (To which I say, the error is on the airlines for their pricing policies.) What do you do as a bureau in these cases? Well first, determine whether the travel is being paid from the same account as the fees. If so, then treat the fee and travel as one. Agree on a not-to-exceed amount with the client and then deduct the actual final travel expense from the commissionable portion of the contract with the speaker. If not from the same account, then confirm the fee and treat the travel separately. I have sometimes agreed to use frequent flyer upgrades and charged the client for them at a rate below standard first class. (They do have a real value.) We have also agreed to provide books or CDs for the audience or videos for the training library in exchange for the extra travel cost. In these cases we use retail value against retail value for the negotiation. On occasion I have offered to hold a special private chat at the meeting with some of the company leaders for no extra fee. This often leads to more business with the client.
So why don’t I just cave in and fly coach? Because I travel every day of my career. If I only flew occasionally it wouldn’t be such a concern, but this is my commute! It takes most people an hour or less to get to work. I usually have to travel for five hours or more one way. After a while one’s tolerance for the travel stress is worn thin. The plane is my office as much as the business suite is for my staff. I don’t choose to work in a cramped and unpleasant environment any more than is necessary. Let the client compare the decor and furnishings of their president’s office with mine on the plane and you will begin to see the contrast.
In the end, there is no easy answer. The task is managing the client’s point of view toward the travel. Help them see it as a part of the overall package, not a special luxury they are providing. Show them how what really counts is to compare the total cost of acquiring the speaker to the impact on the thinking and behavior of the attendees. Clients will often balk at a $8,000 fee plus first class and then turn right around and book someone for $20,000 fee plus coach for a total much higher than the other.
Keep them focused on the real issue: What does it cost to get the speaker…period? Not what does the travel cost or the fee cost, but what is the total amount of money they will need to pay to get the speaker.
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Why Is It So Important For Audience Members To Get A Book?

In my 40 years of full-time speaking, I’ve accumulated hundreds of hats, T-shirts, vinyl folders, carry bags, pens, and luggage tags. Like most speakers, I give these to friends, coworkers and relatives as often as not.
Meeting planners spend thousands of dollars at each meeting on these specialty items in hopes of:

  1. pleasing the recipients
  2. driving home their message or theme (“team work”, “quality”, etc.)
  3. building loyalty and gratitude

Trouble is … it rarely works.
Out of over 3,000 conventions I’ve attended, I’ve received a book or download from the author on less than 20 occasions. (That’s less than 1% of the time.) Yet in each case I have read and kept the book or listened to the recording. In other words, I continued to learn from the author/speaker on my own time, long after the meeting was over. So which message reached me better and influenced my performance more: the giveaway items or the learning materials?
If our clients are paying thousands dollars to bring in a speaker, let’s make sure the message hits home. Encourage all clients to acquire a book or download for every attendee, every time!
The benefits of books, instead of hats or T-shirts, etc. are many:

  1. Audiences love to get autographed books (and speakers love to sign them!).
  2. The meeting chair is a hero for getting them all a book.
  3. Books build celebrity value for your speakers and audiences listen better.
  4. The learning continues (for about the same price as the giveaways).
  5. Quantity discounts save the client money.
  6. The speech goes better from the start and the announcement of the free books builds enthusiasm in the audience.
  7. People keep the book for years and often share them with their family.
  8. Fewer notes need be taken.
  9. (This one is for you) The bureau earns a commission on the product profits.

The client can easily do a special sticker for the book, “Courtesy of XYZ Company”, which the author can sign in advance, or even print a special edition if they wish. One of my publishers will customize the book for 200 or more and still offer a discount on the quantity.
Tell all your clients about this. Let’s make it a standard part of every booking!
Just ask, “What are you giving attendees as a reminder of this meeting? How about an autographed book?”
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What Should Commissions Be On Product Sales?

First question is: Who sold it? If the speaker or their staff sold the product to the client then they deserve the commission. If the bureau sold the product, the commission goes to the bureau. But it is not quite that simple, is it?
Here are the variables as I see them.

  1. Bureau pre-sells product (before speech).
  2. Bureau encourages client to allow speaker to offer products for sale (at speech), then speaker makes the sales.
  3. Bureau does nothing to sell the product, yet speaker or staff of speaker sells product (before or after speech) or at speech (with client’s permission).
  4. Speaker or bureau sells the product as part of the fee, a package deal.
  5. Client calls bureau after speech and orders products.
  6. Bureau and client encourage speaker to reduce fee in hopes of product sales, yet no sales are made due to client’s lack of onsite cooperation.

How do commissions apply on each instance?
First, let’s agree that efforts that produce sales are worthy of being compensated

If you sell something a commission should be paid to you.
Second, let’s realize that only the net revenue is commissionable. If the product costs $5.00 to produce and it sells for $15.00, then only $10.00 is commissionable. The same is true for speaking fees, the travel expense is not commissionable because it merely reimburses a cost. The fee itself is what earns the commission.

  1. Bureau pre-sells product (before speech). When the bureau sells the product they should get a commission on the net revenue they generated. So if the fee was $10,000 and 25% commission was earned, the same formula would apply to net product revenue. On a product sale of $1,300, if production costs were $300, the net of $1,000 is commissionable,. At 25%, that generates $250.
  2. Bureau encourages client to allow speaker to offer products for sale (at speech), then speaker makes the sales. When the bureau creates a situation that makes it easier for the speaker to sell products, a finder’s fee is appropriate. This could be a smaller commission like 5% or 10% of profit depending on the situation.
  3. *Bureau does nothing at all to sell the product, yet speaker or staff of speaker sells product (before or after speech) or at speech (with clients permission). If the bureau does nothing related to product sales, no commission has been earned. But it is customary to pay them a small commission anyway.
  4. Speaker or bureau sells the product as part of the fee, a package deal. In this case the cost of the products (and, of course, any shipping costs) is deducted from the total before calculating commissions, just as it should be when travel is included.
  5. Client calls bureau after speech and orders products. When the bureau consummates the sale, the bureau gets a commission.
  6. Bureau and client encourage speaker to reduce fee in hopes of product sales, yet no sales are made due to client’s lack of onsite cooperation. This one is sticky. In all fairness there should be an extra fee paid when the client drops the ball … but, in reality, usually the speaker eats the loss. P.S. If the fee was reduced and product sales encouraged, then any product revenue should go only to the speaker.

These are my opinions. What are yours?
Talk about these issues and watch commissions rise.
* Item 3 above is a bit controversial. Check with your bureau principal to determine their policy on this.
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How To Use A Speaker’s Website Without Losing Your Client

When you refer your client to a speaker’s website there is sometimes a possibility that they will deal directly with the speaker and forget who referred them. True or false? Sadly, this is often true.
On the other hand, if you are dealing with an established professional speaker then the risk is minimal. After all, the speaker realizes that their future with your bureau is on the line. Responsible speakers always determine how the client came to them and refer the contract back to the originating bureau.
But part time speakers, some celebrities and many nonprofessionals often don’t understand this rule.
Note: if you and your speaker are using then much of this is handled within that system.
Here are some strategies for working on the web and keeping the clients you attract.

  1. Be clear as to who you are working with; a true professional, a celebrity, a subject expert who occasionally speaks, or even an uninformed staffer of one of the above.
  2. Don’t treat everyone the same. That is about as fair as issuing the same size of clothing to all comers regardless of height or weight.
  3. Visit the speaker’s website and social media sites yourself before referring others there. See how good of a sales tool it is. If it doesn’t impress you, it won’t impress the client, so don’t use it at all.
  4. If the site impresses you, instruct your client as to how to explore it (keep it short and simple) and send them an email with two hotlinks, one to the speaker site and one back to you.
  5. Copy the speaker on the email that refers your client to the site. Show your client that you are copying the speaker. That let’s everyone know that you originated the lead. If you wish to conceal the client’s email address for the time being, just send a copy to the speaker without it.
  6. Encourage all your speakers to create a Bureau-Friendly Site (such as mine on, one with no contacting information other than “contact the speakers bureau who referred you to me.” Then link those sites to your own for easy browsing of speaker sites by the client. Our Bureau-Friendly One Sheet is another example of what can be done.
  7. When you are dealing with a speaker like me (Jim Cathcart) share as much information about the client and event as you can. We will NOT abuse the information. Often I can help you confirm the sale by sharing a bit of inside information about their industry. I will not try to sell you or the client on a booking for which I am not well suited.
  8. Give your speakers feedback on their site. Tell them what is clear and what is not. Share ideas for easier site navigation or special features. Keep the communication open. After all, the speaker is creating sales tools for you to secure business with.
  9. Double check the speaker’s site for fee changes, title changes and contacting information updates, every time you visit the site. Then update your own database listings. This is the only way to stay up to date, considering how many speakers you deal with each year. eSpeakers does this automatically.
  10. When visiting MY regular website ( for your own information, go to the “speakers bureau” section and access all its features. There you will find: client lists, fee schedules, selling points, tax id #, business hours, staff names, travel details, commissions on products, fax numbers, and even sample selling phrases relevant to me. No other speaker I know of has so much material for bureaus. It is my entire Agent’s Handbook in electronic form. And it is up to date!

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What Should A Meeting Planner Expect From A Professional Speaker, Before, During And After A Speech?

I decided to tell my clients what they can expect from me, on all levels. The informational sheet, “Here is What I Will Do When I Speak for You” is the result. Clients (who read it) love it! I encourage you to communicate this list to your clients and suggest that they hold all their speakers to these standards.
My only request is that you keep my name and copyright visible on it. Just say “Here is a description from speaker/author Jim Cathcart as to what you can expect from a professional speaker. Use it to evaluate and guide all speakers you hire.”
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How do you stay up-to-date on your speakers when there are so many of them and quite a few are constantly changing what they do?

The easy answer is “you don’t.” But a better answer would be “you build it into your daily work system.” Let me elaborate.
In NSA there are now over 3,000 members, 60% of whom are professional speakers. Outside of NSA there are thousands of others who regularly speak for pay. It would be unreasonable to expect that even the best agent could stay up to date on most of them. So what usually happens is: the agent simply uses the one-sheet bio in their file or their listing page on the bureau’s website as the total of their research on each speaker. Errors are guaranteed by this approach.
On other occasions the agent builds a database or contact record for each of their favorite speakers and uses that information as their reference. This is a more reliable approach, yet still incomplete and often out of date. A bureau page is created for the speaker and seldom updated.
I suppose you could limit the number of speakers you represent so that you knew each of them thoroughly. I’d call this the “boutique” approach to bureau-ing. This gives you accuracy and increases the chances of confirming a sale but you’d miss out on all the others who you might have also booked.
I believe that both the speaker and the agent bear some responsibility for keeping the bureau up-to-date. We can’t expect you to fully read all our mail and refresh our files constantly. You get far too much mail for that. And you would be distracted from your booking activities if all your speakers were calling or dropping by several times a year with updates.
So we speakers need to update our material constantly: on our websites first, thereby allowing all who access it to get the latest titles, topics, fees, etc. We also need to send you clearly identified copies of those changes immediately for your files. Then the next time we speak with you we should confirm that you got the information and put it into your records. But we shouldn’t expect you to be aware of those changes unless we’ve chatted lately. That’s how I see it, how about you?
As the agent, you need to do more than just skim the record on the speakers you regularly represent. Here’s a suggestion: First, read your computer listing on the speaker. Go back a bit to review the record. Second, skim the file and see if a new fee, video, book or topic has been added lately. Third, verify the expiration dates or copyright dates on fees, topics, etc. If no contradictions appear with this two minute review, then go ahead as usual.
If you find conflicting fees or topics, check out the speaker’s website. All of this can be done in less than ten minutes. Naturally you can always call the speaker, but I’m trying to show you the shortest route with the least time and expense.
In summary: The speaker is obliged to keep up-to-date information easily accessible to any who seek it. The bureau is obliged to check beyond the first thing in their file when presenting information on a speaker. And both speaker and agent are obliged to be reasonable adults about this whole issue so that confusion is temporary and conflicts are non existent. Thank you for reading this document. It is a pleasure working with you.


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