Monetary Incentives for Bureau Agents?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

John, a reader of the Succeed Speaking newsletter, asked the following question this week:

Is it appropriate to offer a speakers bureau a larger commission than is customary or an additional monetary incentive to secure a booking in this economy where there are so many qualified speakers ready and available to work?

My response:

Hi John,

I suggested something like this early in my speakers bureau career and it caused quite an uproar among speakers, so I’m a little scared to tackle this topic again! 🙂 All I know is this: (1) It’s been going on as long as I’ve been in the business, and (2) We’re all trying to put food on our table, and it takes money to do that, so if a speaker offers a little extra money — via extra commission or a flat bonus — I’m going to pay attention. And that’s really what it’s all about: attention.

Ultimately, a financial incentive isn’t going to have a huge impact on whether I book or don’t book a speaker… and that’s largely because the final decision is the client’s. What a monetary incentive does is cause me to take a closer look at a speaker. From there, it comes down to the qualifications of that speaker and his or her ability to meet my clients’ needs. If I’m looking at a few speakers who are equally appropriate for a client event, then certainly I would put the speaker offering a monetary incentive in the proposal. If the speaker isn’t qualified, then the incentive doesn’t matter, because I’m not going to risk my reputation for any amount of money!

All that said, I suggest considering an alternative to a booking bonus or extra commission: have a contest! I’ve seen a few speakers do this very successfully in recent years. For example: You could have a “scavenger hunt” through your web site and/or marketing materials… then have a quiz based on the exercise… either have one quiz with a few questions, or give one assignment each week for four weeks and ask a question each week… everyone who answers all the questions correctly is entered into a drawing… then you can either have one winner, or a grand prize winner and a runner-up or two. The prize(s) could be cash, or it could be a little trip, or it could be the latest gadget — iPad, anyone?!

Your goal is for bureau agents to know who you are, know your capabilities, and have you in mind as they make client proposals. I think a contest might be a more engaging campaign than pure monetary incentives.

Hope that helps! Thanks for reading!

— Shawn E.

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