Twelve years ago at the height of the tech boom, Mikhail Gorbachev famously joined “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf, Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap, Kevin Trudeau, Rene Rivkin and Brad Cooper in Australian stadiums for the “world masters of business” speaker series. Each rapturous event, dubbed rock concerts for accountants, saw the stars and promoters walk away with millions in cash and stellar reputations.
But the fun didn’t last. Rivkin soon had the word “disgraced” attached to his name, Cooper was jailed for tax fraud, Dunlap was charged by US regulators with arranging a “massive financial fraud” and infomercial king Trudeau was banned from US TV.
Bill Clinton and Cherie Blair saddled up for similar tours in subsequent years, reaping hundreds of thousands for promoters and themselves. But storm clouds were gathering — an ostentatious 2008 Donald Trump tour, that planned to net the arch Republican $7 million, was cancelled after the organiser went bankrupt.
As the GFC swirled, the common refrain was “never again”. Now it seems the global elite are again champing at the bit to dispense their pearls from local podiums. And the accountants are lapping it up.
This July, Tony Blair — who probably should be trying to bring peace to Libya — and promoter Max “30%” Markson will walk away with the lion’s share of an estimated $3.3 million for five mass-attendance speaking events in Australia and New Zealand.
Other major tours by Bob Geldof, naturalist David Attenborough and management guru Stephen Covey are also planned, with each inspiring orator billing between $50,000 and $100,000 for their time. For a one-hour speech, that’s about $1500 a minute.
The former British PM will deliver the Visy-sponsored treatises on “leadership, negotiation and innovation” in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Auckland. Tickets cost around $1000 with premium attendees encouraged to shell out a further $500 for front-row seats and a very private meet-and-greet session.
Markson, who brought out Cherie six years ago, has eschewed any distastefulness, shamelessly trumpeting that this time round the junket is “for profit” (in Cherie’s case, the emphasis was placed on minuscule charity donations following a media storm).
Away from the international glitz and glamour instilled by former dignitaries and world leaders, the domestic speaker scene is also booming.
Veteran agent Barry Markoff, of ICMI Speakers and Entertainers, who brought out Schwarzkopf et al and still dominates the local industry alongside Saxton Business Speakers and Ovations!, told Crikey demand was strong:
“It’s going well, especially in the burgeoning areas of corporate speaking and personal training for CEOs…every company is doing it and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Winston Broadbent, managing director at Saxtons, agreed that the current market was “extremely good … we monitor all our activity and we’ve been returning to pre-GFC conditions. The market’s strong for quality people.”
However, Broadbent said it was important to draw a distinction between the big wig seminars and the everyday corporate advice circuit, which orbits at a somewhat lower altitude.
The undisputed reigning champion of besuited advice, respected KPMG demographer Bernard Salt, dispenses a massive 120 gigs a year for at least $10,000 a pop (plus expenses) to adoring audiences. Salt, who was on the way to a media appearance when Crikey called, also employs a personal research team to provide him with continually updated and unique data for each address.
“I really enjoy what I do and work really hard for every event to make sure we’re up to date … I wouldn’t be successful if there wasn’t a market for it”.
Another leading light in the gee-up game is IBIS World futurist Phil Ruthven, for whom a week rarely goes by without some kind of podium appearance. Ruthven’s fees are believed to be on par with Salt’s. And for other regulars such as psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, sales specialist John Lees and motivational speakers Ian Stevens and Barry Urquhart, the returns are smaller but the frequency remains the same.
So for those thinking of joining the party, what’s the going rate for a one-hour address (or even 45 minutes plus questions)? According to Markoff, the burgeoning Australian circuit can be roughly divided into five brackets:
TIER 1: Donald Trump and Richard Branson are in a league of their own, pulling in an estimated $1 million and $500,000 a speech respectively for exporting their mantras Down Under.
TIER 2: One rung below are the Clintons, Blairs, Schwarzeneggers and Giulianis of the world, who can expect between $100,000-$150,000, while mid-range international talent such as Michael Parkinson and Bob Geldof might net $50,000 to $100,000.
TIER 3: Local luminaries such as Peter Costello, Peter Cosgrove and Jeff Kennett snare about $20,000-25,000 a speech, while former prime ministers John Howard and Paul Keating attract a $10,000-15,000 Kirribilli loading on top of that.
TIER 4: The local footy club can be expect to shell out between $5000 and $10,000 for sportsman night speakers such as Max Walker, Kevin Sheedy, Leigh Matthews and Mick Malthouse. The laconic Paul Roos, popular with Sydney’s high-flying finance sector, apparently charges up to $12,000. For $10,000-$15,000 expect reasonably prominent commercial TV talent such as Gretel Killeen, Peter Helliar, Dave Hughes and Magda Szubanski.
Below the premium tiers lie a bevy of has-beens, nearly-beens and stalwarts of the Australian entertainment and sports industries.
Phillip Adams and Jackie O get between $5000 and $10,000 as does Tottie Goldsmith (subject to review following her recent escapades) and ex-Henderson Kids starletMarieke Hardy. At the bottom of the barrel — between $3500 and $5000 — lies Sydney talk radio ranter Ben Fordham, TV fringe-dweller Sofie Formica and suburban jokester Dave O’Neil.
Even journalists can command between $1000 and $10,000 a speech with Business Spectator columnist Robert Gottliebsen understood to be pulling down $50,000-$100,000 a year and Fairfax scribe Michael Pascoe reaping a similar amount. Alan Kohler invoices for $7500 and Crikey founder Stephen Mayne says he earns a modest $20,000 a year for 30 speeches, with an extra 30% shunted to ICMI in agency fees.
Recent Crikey recruit Paul Barry says his fee is between $4000 and $5000 and comic Catherine Deveny, who is booked solid until November and is urging panels to hire more women through her website nochicksnoexcuses, invoices for $5000 but will slash that if it’s a struggling community group. Established commercial TV journos such as David Koch and George Negus demand at least twice that.
Mayne sounded a note of caution in an industry that sees some journalists accepting paid speaking gigs while simultaneously writing on the industries they lecture:
“From a journalistic integrity point of view, the whole area of paid speaking gigs is poorly regulated, poorly disclosed and ripe for abuse. For instance, it would be inappropriate for a particular AFL club to directly pay an influential sports journalist who covers them, but this sort of thing happens regularly.”
“Similarly, business commentators need to tread very carefully through this area. You’d never know if the likes of Bolt and McCrann are being hired by big polluters to speak whilst simultaneously prosecuting a campaign against putting a price on carbon.”
Mayne’s message may have already percolated with business journalism legend Stephen Bartholomeusz refusing any fee for his half-a-dozen gabfests each year, in stark contrast to commercial radio shock jocks like Neil Mitchell and Alan Jones.
Meanwhile, ICMI’s Markoff has some further advice for those at the bottom: go it alone and risk getting roped in to shoddy work at embarrassing non-events like children’s birthday parties. “It’s horses for courses if you don’t get independent advice,” he said.
But there remain some prominent below-the-radar success stories. Veteran comedian Elliot Goblet, whose website markets him as “the safe corporate entertainer”, continues to do 21sts and weddings in addition to business functions. While maintaining a somewhat lower profile from the his mid-’90s Hey Hey it’s Saturday heyday, the deadpan specialist keeps a $5000-$10,000 foothold, partly due to prominent ads positioned above the male urinals at the nation’s domestic airports.
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