Many of our blog and Twitter followers have asked us to weigh in on the recent publicity surrounding Carly Fiorina’s availability to participate in commercial speaking engagements while seeking the 2016 Republican nomination for President. For those of you not familiar with the controversy, it was reported by Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and other major social media sites that Leading Authorities International was soliciting paid speaking engagements for Ms. Fiorina last month. The solicitation itself is in an email from LAI Program Consultant Lisa McFadden to a redacted client that reads, in part:

I wanted to send you a quick, private note about Carly Fiorina. Though she maintains an active campaign calendar, she has limited availability for speaking engagements….
We don’t advertise Carly on the Leading Authorities website, but if you have an interest in booking her for an upcoming meeting or event, please let me know and I’d be happy to share her availability and fees.

Fiorina’s campaign quickly responded that the candidate is not booking any paid speeches while she runs for president. “I didn’t authorize anything they sent out,” Fiorina deputy campaign manager Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement. “We aren’t accepting any requests during the campaign.”

Worldwide Speakers Group, the bureau who publicly lists Ms. Fiorina as an exclusive client reached out to the speaker bureau industry with the following statement:

As you are aware, last week a very untimely and unauthorized email was sent out by another speakers bureau suggesting that Mrs. Fiorina is available for speeches. Please be aware that Carly is NOT considering speaking engagements at this time. If ever her stance should change, we will be the first to notify you. Also, the organization that sent this email does NOT have a relationship with her.

The Speaker Experts have no real interest or insight into what transpired behind the scenes in this situation other than it always catches our attention when the speaker bureau industry becomes a national story. What is of interest to us as professional lecture agents is the concept of compensating a declared presidential candidate to speak at an association or corporate event. This is generally something we advise our mainstream clients against doing. Whatever juice there is in the publicity squeeze of landing a presidential candidate, it can be quickly mitigated by the following pitfalls:

    • The strong degree of cancellation risk created by the candidate’s fluid campaign schedule. A commercial speaking engagement can easily be pushed aside by a breaking news story, fundraiser, debate or other pressing campaign event.
    • No matter what side of the political spectrum your membership or employees fall, you risk offending a significant portion of the cohort by not only giving the candidate a platform but compensating the speaker to do so.
    • While the axiom of “there is no such thing as bad publicity” may hold some truth, your organization does risk potentially unfavorable media exposure if the appearance does land on the radar of national press.

Should Carly Fiorina not be successful in her presidential bid, she, like many of the other candidates, will certainly be in high demand on the commercial speaking circuit; however, the time to consider “booking” one of these political titans is after they have left the race.

Side Note: It is always important to keep your guard up during the political season to make sure your contracted speakers do not use the platform for any type of unwanted campaign speech or political endorsement. This point was driven home recently to The Speaker Experts when a national media figure we scheduled to speak for an influential trade association gave a 30 minute stump speech for a candidate instead of the contracted content. Set your content boundaries with a conference call prior to the event, reinforce these boundaries with a meeting on-site the day of the presentation and develop an exit strategy if for some reason the speaker does not respect these boundaries while on stage.

Gary McManis & Jay Conklin

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