Posts Tagged ‘co-broker’

Last month, speaker bureau industry leader Washington Speakers Bureau announced a change in their co-broker pricing structure that should be noted by those who schedule paid professional speakers. A letter from Vice President of Bureau Relations Sheldon Bream stated the following:

I wanted to let you know that WSB is changing our pricing structure for more than half of our exclusive speakers. Those speakers will now be priced at a gross fee (split commission) while some will remain at a “net to WSB” fee.

This modified policy represents a philosophical pivot from their announcement reported in our January 2015 posting, “Washington Speakers Bureau Co-Brokering Policy Change: What It Means to You” that indicated the firm would no longer be willing to “split commissions” on any of their speakers.

Real Estate CBSThe Speaker Experts offer no judgment as to why they made this strategic policy shift. Our only concern is the impact this policy has on those corporate and association executives who “book” paid professional speakers. In our judgement, the policy change has little impact on the underpinnings of the co-broker model and the pros and cons of being involved in a co-broker situation.  Bottom line: if you opt to schedule a WSB exclusive speaker via a competing speaker bureau, your organization may or may not pay a higher speaking fee.

The actual price of the speaker is just one issue to consider when deciding if it is your organization’s best interest to be involved in a co-broker scenario. In our posting, “The Four Myths of the Speaker Bureau Co-Broker,” we outlined how the co-broker process works and what it means to an organization scheduling a speaker. Followers of this blog know that The Speaker Experts are quick to point out “co-brokering” a speaker is rarely in your best interest, but there can be occasions where it might make sense for the organization. The key here is to know when you are getting involved in a co-broker situation. This is a decision that should be made by you, and not by a speaker bureau on your behalf.

The Speaker Experts have a vast industry knowledge of the speaker bureau industry and the exclusive rosters of all the major speaker bureaus. We are always happy to share this information with the readers of this blog.

Gary McManis & Jay Conklin

Last week, we discussed the 2016 IASB Annual Convention in Cancun and the impact this meeting has on the professional speaking industry. The Speaker Experts did not attend the conference, but understand in talking to those that did (along with reading follow-up social media posts) that one of the most important sessions of the meeting was a “Burning Issues” discussion, hosted by industry titans Tony D’Amelio of the D’Amelio Network and Rich Gibbons of the prestigious West Coast speaker bureau SpeakInc.

We apologize in advance to our readers outside of the speaker bureau industry, as the post will get into the tall grass of the speaker bureau business, but we promise that the conclusion will have relevance to all who schedule professional and celebrity speakers.

The “Burning Issues” Session covered the topic of “co-brokering” between bureaus and things that “annoy, aggravate and anger.” A quick peek at our controversial post “The Four Myths of the Speaker Bureau Co-Broker” will give readers some insight into the practice of co-brokering and its implications for those who “book” speakers. Tony and Rich presented five scenarios to spur conversation, create dialogue, and enable the attendees to walk out better equipped to handle such situations when they arise in the future.

Co-brokered speaker bureau contracts can be complex transactions often presenting a unique and challenging set of circumstances. There is often no “black and white” answer, and a group of lecture agents could spend hours discussing each of the scenarios offered by Tony and Rich. With that said, we feel that no matter how complex the situation, the ultimate answer can be found by relying on our three rules for positive co-broker outcomes.


Let’s apply these rules to the scenarios suggested by Rich and Tony.


♦ You’re working direct with a client. They have a “hold” on one of your exclusive speakers. Out of the blue, another bureau comes to you with a firm offer for the same event. It’s for the full fee.What’s the right way to handle?

Solution:  While in most cases we believe it is not in the client’s best interest to take this course of action (please refer to our The Four Myths of the Speaker Bureau Co-Broker post), the client has decided otherwise and, since this is America, the right way to handle this is to respect the client wishes and “co-broker” the speaker (please refer to Rule #1).


♦ A client changes the timetable after the contract is signed. The time change means the itinerary the speaker had counted on does not work and impairs the speaker’s ability to get to their next event. The event date is just days away. What’s the right way to handle?  

Solution:  A contractual communication error was made by someone in this scenario. It may have been made by the customer, co-brokering bureau, or bureau representing the speaker, but an error was made. If the co-brokering bureau has a strong relationship with the customer and the “selling” bureau, there are any number of solutions that can solve the problem. If a solution can’t be found, then sadly this is one of those scenarios that falls under the 5% in Rule #3. Money is going to have to exchange hands in the form of a private jet charter, a cancellation fee, or other fiduciary solution.


♦ A speaker (or manager/agent) discovers that the booking bureau is not only taking a commission, but is also marking up the fee by $1,000. Is this an ethical violation? If so, what do you do about it?

Solution:  You bet this is an ethical violation. If the contract had already been signed, we would have little choice but to complete the transaction, but Rule #2 would apply here. This bureau/person can’t be trusted and therefore we would not work with them in the future.


Next week, we will cover the remaining two scenarios and, more importantly, move the discussion back to the role an industry panel can play in creating educational content, excitement, discussion, and revenue at your Association Annual Meeting.

Gary McManis & Jay Conklin

Along with champagne, noisemakers and New Year’s resolutions, 2015 brought dramatic news to the speaking industry – Harry Rhoads Jr. and Christine Farrell of the Washington Speakers Bureau (“The Five Most Influential People in the Speaking Industry”) announced their firm will no longer offer split commissions to speaker bureaus who purchase WSB’s exclusive speakers for their customers.

What this means to the meeting industry is direct and simple – if you choose to book an exclusive WSB speaker via any other source, your organization will probably be paying a higher fee. In “The Four Myths of the Speaker Bureau Co-Broker” we discuss what co-brokering is, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.

This change in WSB policy represents a true paradigm shift in the speaker bureau world. Over a quarter century ago, it was WSB that championed the concept of competing speaker bureaus partnering to offer speakers to their customers. This concept, today known as “co-brokering”, was based on the principle that bureaus would split commissions so that in the end, the customer could elect to work with any bureau of their choosing at no fiduciary penalty. Today, WSB has gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction by telling the industry that their speakers are still available through other bureaus, but that those bureaus must mark up the fee by “10% or greater” if they would like to realize a commission.

The Speaker Experts offer no opinion or judgement as to the positives or negatives of WSB’s new policy. We are merely pointing out to our followers that this new policy could have a great impact on your organization should you opt to book a WSB speaker via a competing speaker bureau. Who knew in 1964 when Bob Dylan sang “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, he was referring to speaker bureau co-brokering in 2015!

Finally, The Speaker Experts note the passing of an industry lion in Mario Cuomo. Governor Cuomo was represented by the Harry Walker Agency for years and was a powerhouse speaker in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. His passionate, cause-driven and dynamic presentations almost always resulted in standing ovations, even from organizations on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Gary McManis & Jay Conklin

The term “co-broker” is often used in the real estate industry, but did you know it also comes into play in the speaking industry as well? “Co-brokering” in the speaker bureau world refers to one speaker bureau going to a second speaker bureau in order to buy, or “co-broker,” a speaker for a customer. Most of the time this occurs when the speaker in question has an “exclusive” relationship with the speaker bureau. The Speaker Experts have been involved in 100s of co-brokered events on both the “selling” and “buying” side of the equation. Based on our experiences in this area, we present “The Four Myths of the Speaker Bureau Co-Broker”:

  1.  It does not cost you more to work with a bureau that co-brokers an exclusive speaker from another bureau. 
        A common misconception here is that all speaker bureaus split commissions in a co-broker situation so that the price will be the same regardless of speaker exclusivity. While this is indeed true in many cases, it is not always the case. Some co-brokering bureaus do not split commissions and require that the “buying” bureau add their commission to the standard speaking rate. This practice is frowned upon by the IASB but it does take place on a regular basis.
  2. The level of service provided is improved in a co-broker scenario.
        Remember the “Telephone” communication exercise? A group of people sit in a circle, one person thinks of a sentence and then whispers that sentence to the  person sitting next to them, etc. The funny part is that something like “The Red Fish Sails at Dawn” comes back at the end as “ The Dead Fish Snails at Prawn.” This perfectly illustrates the communication outcome you often have in co-broker situations.  No matter how good, professional and well-intended the participants, communication does not improve with additional variables. Chart One shows you the standard flow of communication when working directly with a bureau. Chart Two is an example of a co-broker communication chart. We do not want to get too deep into the co-broker weeds, but most speaker bureaus have a specific position to handle the bureau relations (the internal speaker representative, as shown in the chart), further complicating the communication chain.

        Tough to imagine a situation where Chart Two improves the service process. This process bogs down even more when a West Coast bureau is co-brokering a speaker with an East Coast bureau for an East Coast based client. A time change working against the process is never a help.
  3. Any speaker bureau can secure any speaker. 
        A speaker bureau that represents a speaker on an exclusive basis does not have to co-broker all of their speakers. As a general rule, larger bureaus like Harry Walker and Washington Speakers Bureau will not co-broker their top tier speakers for two reasons. First, the demand for speakers like President Clinton, President Bush, Secretary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and others is higher than the supply. Why split commission with the competition when they can make a full commission? Second, and probably most important, is the communication issue outlined above. There are a lot of moving parts when scheduling speakers of this stature. The expectations from both the speaker and client sides are equally high.  Communication and execution needs to be perfect; there is no room for error.
  4. Co-Brokering never makes sense. 
        There are times when co-brokering might make sense for you as a buyer of speaker:
        If you are scheduling multiple speakers for an event and do not want to be working with multiple agencies.
        If you are working with an agent that you have worked with for years, who understands you, your process and your desired outcome.

Co-brokering can work, but when it happens, you should understand it is taking place.  Asking the following questions to your speaker bureau when scheduling a speaker will help you understand and decide how best to move forward:

      • Are you co-brokering this speaker with another party? ( If the answer is no, we are done and thank you for reading this blog…if the answer is “yes,” read on)
      • Are you splitting commission or “adding on”? There may be times when value is there to pay a higher fee….the agent maybe attending the event, giving you books, etc.
      • Have you ever worked with this bureau before?  Speaker bureau contracts, processes, and cultures differ. Your bureau should have experience working with the other bureau.
      • Have you ever worked with this speaker before?

Co-brokering speakers is not rocket science but there are many layers and nuances to the practice that can make a transaction of this nature challenging.  The Speaker Experts are always available to answer questions ranging from finding the direct source of a speaker, to how the co-brokering process works.