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Friday, 01 February 2008


Jacques de Villiers

Hi Clive,

Since I sit in both camps (speaker and agent) (now there's a top for debate regarding my ethics ;-) I'm well aware of bad behaviour from both agents and from speakers. That's why the sooner we get the Ethics Charter going between the speakers and agents the better. I'm just not sure how much teeth it will have at the end of the day.

You've already read my full article on

I feel strongly that both speakers and agents need to raise their game.

Gavin Sharples

To list all the times "AGENTS" have been un-ethical would take a blog the size of the Great Wall of China. I have had it all. The same "shyster" that you refer too did the same to me a number of times and at a meeting, just today, in fact, with 5 of the top speakers, his name was again used as the antithesis of ethics. I have had my name meta-tagged and my photo and profile placed on a site by an agent who I not only refuse to work with but who, at the same time waxed lyrical about how un-ethical it is to meta-tag a speaker or use his brand, on an international agents newsletter. Get it? The article tells agents how un-ethical it is to do this and if you Google her official site I am listed as one of her speakers.
I have just lost 5 gigs(R100 000) because a Durban agent misrepresented me to a client. From selling me to corporates without ever having seen me (for 2 years), to another not charging her client VAT of about R40 000 that I had already paid to the Receiver. She refused to pay.
I've even been called un-ethical by an agent and the 3rd party was told he would never book me because his clients aren't my "style". On confronting him he did a Michael Jackson moon walk and could not explain how it was that I was on the way to one of his clients' gigs after he, himself booked me.
I am gonna write a book on this industry of ours. It will be called "What goes on tour stays.....". It will be a tell-all about what actually goes on in this business. I expect all ethical speakers to contribute stories and experiences. There will be a whole chapter on agents.
Yes, there will also be one on the "2 a.m. tip-toeing between rooms".
To be fair there are a few ethical agents around and for them I really do feel for having this pervasive un-ethical perception of agents in the industry.
Well done Clive, love your work.


Hi Clive
This is indeed a burning issue and this debate is a good one to highlight some of the issues.

One issue is indeed Greed - "wanting something that you don't deserve and have not worked for."

Another is the belief that you own the other person for Life and that no matter what happens between speaker and client for the rest of your life still belongs to the original introducer - No ways can this be acceptable.

Then there are the speakers who also just want their cake and eat it and don't want to pay their agents for the lead/deal and want to pocket it all even though they personally would not have got the Original Call and subsequent business from that client had it not been for the original intro from the Bureau in the first place.

Clearly there are two sides to every story but without written agreements spelling out terms and ongoing actions and work done between agents and speakers and Clients and regular status reports on activities from agents to speakers on the work they are doing this will continue to be an issue.

By the same token Bureas cannot just list the speaker on their site, give them a slot on a Showcase every 2 to 3 years and do nothing else and expect that to be enough effort for the Commission.

One very prominent agent told me "why waste effort on the small fry when it's the big boys that bring in the bucks?" - The question is then why list the small fry at all - its like a spray and pray approach to mass marketing hoping that the speaker will be asked for and then there will be a bit of comm in it for the bureau. Not fair to the ones who need the bureaus' active involvement and efforts more that the big hitters do - Its a case of 'Make me famous' and we both win in the long term - but to just do the work for the big boys is also "raping the system" me thinks.

I Look forward to seeing the Charter being worked on by the NSASA - but at the same time question its ultimate worth as the contract is between the Bureau and the Speaker and no charter is going to change that.

Justin Cohen

Clive, you are a highly respected veteran of the speaking industry. You have done more than most to develop young talent and further the interests of the industry but I must respectfully disagree with your view on agencies/bureaux’s

I am amazed at how different my experience in working with agencies has been from yours. For the most part I have found them transparent and ethical. I almost always am informed when I don’t get a provisionally booked conference so that I can release the date from my diary. I’ve never encountered an agent charging me out for anything more than we agree on, perhaps this happened in the old days but I think it is now very rare. In fact most agents send me the same invoice they send to the client. Most of them pay within days of the conference.

If anything I think more often you will find some speakers going direct to a company after they have been booked through an agent. The agent does all the marketing and selling and the speaker cuts the agent out of future commissions. You will also find some speakers discounting their rate when a client approaches directly. I think we need to be very careful in brandishing all people from the same profession as cheats. You will find ethical and unethical people in every profession. Doing most of my speaking work through all the major agents in South Africa I believe that everyone of them is for the most part honest and ethical. Are there occasions when we disagree, when their or my behaviour could be interpreted as unethical? Sure. Last time I checked the messiah hadn’t returned.

I believe the agents provide an essential function in our industry. As you your self have acknowledged they enable a client to get a wide range of potential speakers. Good agents, of which there are many in South Africa, will clarify a client’s need and fit the right speaker to the conference.

As you know we are in a process of formalising the speaker-agent relationship so that we can better regulate how things are done in the industry. We have been canvassing speakers for their expectations of agents and agents for their expectations of speakers. We are really making progress and I hope that you will provide some positive direction on how to build a better speaking profession.

Justin Cohen

Hello Clive,

Some nice synchronicity today. I just completed a big job for BMW which I got through an agent, we both got feedback, this was the feedback to the agent:

Hi X, (I’ve taken out her name because I haven’t asked her permission to share this. I got cced from the client.)

Thanks for the personal service you offered on this job. We really appreciate your level of professionalism.

Kind regards


This got me thinking, I don’t think a month goes by when a client doesn’t compliment me on the agent that they’ve booked me through.

Once again you will always find negative stories and clearly you will always find positive ones.

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