POSTED DECEMBER 1 2008
By Alice-Azania Jarvis
John Prescott may be raking in the cash on the after-dinner speaking circuit, but elsewhere the credit crunch is taking its toll on the lucrative sideline.
Further to my story last week that the former deputy prime minister had received a pay increase thanks to his BBC documentary Prescott: The Class System And Me, I hear that other regulars at the agency Prezza uses are about to see their salaries move in quite the opposite direction.
Jeremy Lee, the chief executive of JLA, which books speakers, tells me he is keen to cut his clients hefty fees to bring them into line with the state of the economy. "We are keen that everybody wakes up – and that we are seen to be doing so," he says. JLA's celebs currently command up to £25,000 for one appearance, making the practice popular with leading figures in showbusiness, sport and politics. The agency's list of clients includes such political luminaries as Alastair Campbell and William Hague, and the actor Kevin Spacey.
But the days of megabucks earnings are drawing to a close, says Mr Lee. He claims the company will be conducting a pay review at the end of the month with an eye to making their famous clients available at more competitive rates.
"Our budget is tightening and almost every speaker will be more flexible," he adds.
POSTED DECEMBER 1 2008
Leading after-dinner speakers, including John Prescott, Alastair Campbell and William Hague, face having their fees slashed to reflect the economic downturn.
John Prescott may face lower fees for after-dinner speeches due to the credit crisis.
Mr Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Campbell, who was Tony Blair's chief spin doctor, and Mr Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, are all among the high-paid roster of big name speakers boasted by the JLA agency.
Jeremy Lee, the chief executive of the agency, which also represents the actor Kevin Spacey, has signalled that the days when star speakers could command £25,000 for one appearance are over.
He told The Independent: "We are keen that everybody wakes up - and that we are seen to be doing so ... our budget is tightening and almost every speaker will be more flexible."
Mr Lee said that his agency would be conducting a pay review at the end of the month.
The news comes days after it emerged that Mr Prescott had been promoted to "A-grade" by the agency following praise for his BBC2 documentary Prescott: The Class System And Me.
The elevation from the agency's second tier put Mr Prescott alongside Mr Campbell and Mr Hague in the £25,000 price bracket. Mr Lee said: "We have absolutely had an increase in demand [for John]. People loved it."
Michael Portillo, the former Tory cabinet minister and Ken Livingstone, the former London Mayor, remain in the agency's "B-grade", in which the maximum fee is £5,000.
POSTED NOVEMBER 27 2008
By Alice-Azania Jarvis
John Prescott's brief stint on television appears to have paid off.
The former deputy prime minister won praise for his BBC2 documentary Prescott: The Class System And Me – although his wife Pauline seemed the real star, reportedly attracting offers of future small-screen work.
Now, however, I hear that Prezza has seen his own stock rise, with demand for his presence on the lucrative after-dinner speaking circuit higher than ever.
So in vogue is Prescott that he has been bumped up to "A-grade" status by his London-based agency, JLA. According to its website, the Labour veteran can earn up to £25,000 for a single booking – especially pleasing given the widespread mirth caused by his demotion to "B-grade" last spring.
Jeremy Lee, the boss of the agency, acknowledges the boost in interest since the show. "We have absolutely had an increase in demand [for John]. People loved it," he says.
Now established as one of JLA's top earners, Mr Prescott is in glitzy company: Alastair Campbell and his old Commons foe, William Hague, are among its fellow A-listers, while Ken Livingstone and Michael Portillo remain in the more modest B-band, where fees start at £5,000.
"It is determined by the market, by how in demand people are," adds Lee. "John has been very popular."
POSTED NOVEMBER 27 2008
Since appearing in the BBC2 documentaryPrescott: The Class System And Me, the stock of the former deputy prime minister has well and truly risen. According to the booking agency JLA, who represent Prescott, he has moved up the public speaking ranks to "A-grade" status and can now command fees of up to £25,000 for engagements.
Jeremy Lee, the head of JLA, acknowledges the boost in interest since the show. He says: "It is determined by the market, by how in demand people are. John has been very popular."
The news will no doubt delight "Two Jags". While he is unlikely to match his former boss Tony Blair's earning power – he is said to earn £200,000 for his pow-wows about world affairs and in his first year out of office reportedly made £12m – he can console himself with the fact that the former Tory minister Michael Portillo, also represented by JLA, is a "B-grade speaker" who only earns £5,000 per engagement.
Prescott should be thanking his wife Pauline for his new-found popularity: most critics saw her as the true star turn of what was otherwise a rather dreary documentary. Says a Westminster source: "People are probably only booking him in the hope that she will come along too."
POSTED NOVEMBER 16 2008
Continuing on the theme of those who are defying the credit crunch, the BBC’s raven-haired business editor, Robert Peston, has firmly arrived as a celebrity speaker. According to the firm JLA – which purports on its website to be the UK’s biggest specialist agency for keynote speakers – Peston can demand up to £10,000 a night on the after-dinner circuit.
Don’t be so shocked. His real-life voice, compared with his special Beeb voice, is actually quite normal and his hair is awfully shiny.
POSTED OCTOBER 26 2008
By Oliver Marre
Forget the new James Bond film: very soon, you will be able to hire a real-life spy for the night. Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was director of MI5 until April 2007, is about to follow the likes of Tony Blair on to the lucrative after-dinner speaking circuit. According to friends, she has just signed a contract with the London speaking agency JLA, which represents John Humphrys and William Hague. Rates for its most expensive entertainers start at £25,000, though Manningham-Buller is thought to be on the market for closer to £10,000 per engagement.
Her decision is likely to prove controversial, since she has a history of making a splash with her rare public pronouncements. While still in office, she gave a speech saying: 'I rarely speak in public. I prefer to avoid the limelight and get on with my job', before going on to say there were 30 secret terrorist plots to kill people in the UK known of at the time. On retirement, having taken up a seat in the House of Lords, she strongly criticised the government's plans for the 42-day detention period for suspected terrorists.
Most intriguing are the security implications of her new career. When Stella Rimington, her predecessor, published an autobiography, there were attempts to have it banned, then the text was scoured by government officials to make sure no secrets were given away. Public speaking is harder to regulate, although JLA's boss Jeremy Lee insists she will not be in danger of contravening the Official Secrets Act. 'She will talk about leadership,' he tells me. 'Her experience of running an organisation amidst a great deal of stress translates into all sorts of industries. She won't be discussing how close MI5 is to [TV drama] Spooks.'
POSTED OCTOBER 2 2008
By Rhymer Rigby
When it comes to motivational speakers, Allianz Insurance always looks out for a good story, says Stephen Flynn, corporate events manager: “The ones that work the best are those that are unusual enough to grab the imagination but generic enough that you can relate to them.” Mr Flynn says notable hits have been business coach and author Geoff Burch and rugby player Brian Moore – the latter’s tales of grit and determination even had some of the audience “in tears by the end”.
The use of speakers to fire staff up, especially at corporate events, is common. But anyone who has sat through a motivational speech that failed to motivate may agree that finding a speaker with the best combination of attributes so that they genuinely move staff and provide lasting value appears difficult to pull off.
Attributes that experienced organisers look for vary from fame to relevance, to the person’s ability to tell a good tale.
Mike Mair, head of training in product and supply chain at Cambridge-based Napp Pharmaceuticals, says the company has used speakers ranging from business author Paul McGee to the Olympic gold medal rower James Cracknell to motivate staff. “As long as the story is relevant and they are good enough, a variety of people can work. We have had seven external speakers in and not everyone is going to love all of them. That is why you need a range.”
The UK’s Federation of Small Businesses has invited speakers such as General Sir Mike Jackson and Jamie Murray Wells, founder of Glasses Direct. “We find the best are people with real experience of an industry or sector,” says Stephen Alambritis, head of public affairs. It has also heard a former pilot from the Red Arrows, the RAF aerobatics display team, “who was very good on teamwork and trust”, sports people, and people who have been through trauma, such as Beirut hostage John McCarthy. Good motivators, Mr Alambritis says, can come from any walk of life, although he generally finds that those from a sales background or politicians work less well.
Jeremy Lee, founder of Jeremy Lee Associates, a London-based speakers’ bureau, says: “A lot of motivational speakers give a bit of show and produce a good response. The next day you forget a bit and there is not much of a lasting return. But many others produce a more lasting effect.” While some of this is down to the presentation, the key to a message sinking in lies in follow-up by the company.
Perhaps surprisingly, Mr Lee says the effectiveness of a speaker has little to do with their fame. “There are reasons to pay the considerable premium for a celebrity – but these are mainly to put bums on seats and create a ‘wow factor’. Many of the most motivational speakers we use are not household names at all.”
Ben Williams, a business psychologist, agrees it is important to know what a company wants to get out of the speaker. “I was asked to do a speech for an oil company that said it thought it would be good to get a psychologist rather than a hypnotist,” he says. When someone tells you that you realise you may be there to provide a fig leaf of business value to what is essentially boozy staff entertainment, he says. As the speaker, you know that on this occasion a serious motivation session is probably not required.
Not knowing an audience can be a problem in other ways too, he adds. “I once saw an Everest mountaineer crash and burn very badly in front of a police audience. Many of them were mountaineers and he exposed himself as lazy and sloppy in thinking his audience would not know what he was talking about.”
Martyn Sloman, adviser on learning, training and development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK, is dubious about the genuine transfer of knowledge in many cases, in that very few people who work in offices are going to be climbing 8,000m mountains or competing for Olympic gold medals. “I’m not that impressed by those who knowingly put their lives at risk. It is difficult to see how that sort of thing relates to dealing with chippy subordinates all day and then going home an hour late and missing the school play,” he says.
Mr Mair has a solution to the question of can-you-really-relate-to-this? “For our next speaker we are using someone who is climbing a mountain [in the Himalayas]. But he is not external, he is a member of staff. If it is someone you work next to, then it does become real and relevant – you are not going to sit there thinking ‘How does this relate to me?’,” he says.
POSTED SEPTEMBER 26 2008
by Natalie Lambracos
You know the pressure’s on when you’ve been asked to take part in the prestigious JLA Real Variety Performance. Known throughout the entertainment industry as being the best in the business, what did this year’s bash at London’s Cadogan Hall have in store?
Impatiently clock-watching as the performance was late to start, my premature negativity soon dissipated when Rob Brydon bounced out on stage bellowing out the lyrics to Tom Jones’ Delilah.
Introducing, Far From Kansas as his backing singers, Brydon ushered the choir off stage and informed us that we would see more of them as the evening digressed.
First up was comedian, musician and writer James Sherwood. Described as the next Bill Bailey, Sherwood soon revealed his perfectionism for the correct use of the English language. Sat by a grand piano and performing renditions of famous pop songs, Sherwood’s compulsive obsession with grammatically correct sentences would cause him to stop mid-song and change the lyrics to what they should be.
Truly making me laugh aloud, this first act had won me over and even if the rest weren’t as good, I was still in for a good night.
Next out was Stephen K Amos who claimed to have upped the black population of Chelsea by 1,000 per cent. Winner of Time Out’s award for Best Stand-Up, Amos proved his worth. Ridiculing his family background, Amos painted a stereotypical black family living in England and comically poked fun at the challenges they faced.
Rainer Hersch and his Orchestra provided comedy with a difference giving the comedy circuit a musical twist. Under Hersch’s instruction, the orchestra played well-known classical masterpieces and encouraged the audience to guess which television advertisement they were from.
Hersch’s slapstick conducting provided amusing entertainment and the orchestra really came into their own when playing the Microsoft Windows waltz - an amalgamation of the opening, you’ve got mail and shut down sounds that a computer generates.
Continuing the musical theme, Far From Kansas are musical theatre’s answer to comedy. Dressed in black T-shirts and kilts with sparkly red shoes, they sung alternative musical style songs with jazz hands and generic, exaggerated movements.
Following on, Reginald D Hunter was next to hit the stage. Introduced by Brydon as the epitome of cool, Hunter certainly lived up to this description. The London-based American, drew comparisons between Britain and the States. Over here, according to Hunter there are so many different types of insult, there’s irony, sarcasm, tongue in cheek, it takes him three weeks to realise that he’s been insulted.
However, in my opinion Randy Thompson AKA Beardyman was equally as cool. Starting off by counselling the audience and telling us not to be afraid of ourselves, you truly felt that you were ‘on the couch.’
But, after a couple of minutes, revealing that he is not afraid of himself or what he can do, Thompson broke into DJ mode and became a human beatbox. Creating such an authentic club environment, you honestly couldn’t believe that the sound you were listening to was coming from another human being - it was mind blowing.
As Thompson exited the stage, the question on everyone’s lips was how will anyone top that? And that was exactly what the next act, Mancunian Jason Manford said himself as he stepped out on stage.
“Just pretend I was on before him,” Manford jibed to which the audience burst into laughter. “And I’ve got you back,” Manford added.
His anecdotal-style comedy revolved around Manchester, road rage and his lying, narcoleptic father. Proving to be a success, he had us in stitches and clearly succeeded in winning back his audience.
But the prize for the most unusual act has to go to Ennio Marchetto. Essentially a mime artist, Marchetto appeared on stage in a cartoonish cardboard cutout of a famous celebrity. Set to the soundtrack of one of their most famous songs, he would caricature a stereotypical vice. So, for example, as Amy Winehouse, he would stumble across the stage, downing paper cutout bottles of wine while miming the words to Rehab.
It was incredibly humorous and, as he re-appeared as another celebrity, you kept hoping that he had more up his non-existent sleeve.
Clearly doing what it set out to do, this show was a success with each comic providing versatility and variety. Each time a different act came out, I thought it was better than the previous, but, to be honest, I would be pressed to pick a favourite.
POSTED SEPTEMBER 22 2008
Mend your speech a little", as King Lear said to his daughter Cordelia, "lest it may mar your fortune". Lear's advice fell on deaf ears and yet today his words have never been more resonant. For the modern media personality, the after-dinner circuit has become a crucial arena for building one's brand, and making a fortune in the process.
Though cameras are rarely present, notebooks and recorders often frowned upon and audiences are bespoke, after-dinner speaking offers media personalities one of their most lucrative platforms. Almost all of the A-list of such oratory is made up of media figures; Sir David Attenborough, Angus Deayton, Alastair Campbell, Piers Morgan, Richard Hammond, to name a few. Almost all of them are men.
One man more than any other in Britain is responsible for this flourishing industry. With his open-neck pink shirt and rotund features, there is very little of Lear in Jeremy Lee, the charming brain behind Jeremy Lee Associates, the largest speaker agency in the country.
A graduate of York University, where he studied English, Lee's early acting ambitions were soon inhibited by forces beyond his control. "I was just too short to be an actor," he says. "I soon realised that my height [he's 5ft 7in] would be too big an obstacle. Plus I can't really dance".
So he got a job booking "talent" – the generic word Lee repeatedly uses – for the agency MECCA. In 1990 he decided to blaze his own path, setting up JLA and acquiring an ever-growing army of speech makers. This year, JLA's 18th, "was the year we finally came of age".
JLA now boasts of booking over 1,600 engagements each year, with an army of speakers numbering several hundred. Increasingly, Lee says, those doing the booking aren't just corporate entities; the public sector too is coming to value a good speech more than ever.
"Crudely put, there are two reasons why people want to see a speaker, and obviously they're closely related. The first is that it can put bums on seats, which most people who send out invites are keen to do. The second is – and I'm afraid it's a very objectionable phrase – the so-called "wow factor". There are some speakers out there whose very presence is motivational, and who lift people just by virtue of their presence".
On his website, Lee has graded his speakers from E to AA, with a price to match. To achieve AA status you basically need to have walked on the moon, like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Most after-dinner speakers will back themselves to make a good speech, which can be a source of satisfaction in itself. And with pay packets ranging from £1,000 for an hour (Band E) to £25,000 plus per hour (Band AA), the financial rewards are huge.
But there's more to it than that. In recent years, politicians in particular have been heavily admonished for accepting huge sums for their after-dinner speeches. The publicity has not been all good. And in times of belt-tightening across the country, readers may find the discovery that a familiar face was paid thousands for not much work galling.
Why, then, should a media personality wish to court such danger? Largely, Lee explains, because of money. But it's also partly because, so long as they manage it safely, the publicity needn't be all bad, and the audiences are usually decent company. The public may tend to be intolerant of politicians lining their pockets; but an established journalist or television presenter doing so is usually seen as fair cop.
"High-profile individuals attract attention when they start speaking on the circuit", Lee says. "But almost by definition, they are speaking behind closed doors. Apart from that burst of publicity, which is often written up as a "shocker" – so-and-so got paid x amount for speaking to blah, blah, blah – the circuit doesn't actually get that much profile unless the speaker is already hugely in the public eye."
Lee says that the motivation is rarely the kudos of speaking or the opportunity to network with an audience. "Yes, of course you'll make contacts, just as you would if you went for dinner with friends of friends, but that's not always explicitly what speakers are after. It's often the slightly coarser fact of getting paid well".
There are those in the media who decide that, because of the negative headlines generated by speech making, and the dangers of guilt by association with the wrong crowd, they want nothing to do with the "circuit". Lionel Barber, the Editor of the Financial Times whom Lee describes as "a deeply impressive individual", refuses on principle to do after-dinner speaking.
Lee claims that the system of banding speakers according to their price tag is his own invention. But though he has a role in influencing which band a speaker enters, he says he remains subservient to the market.
"I explicitly reject the idea that I am some sort of arbiter of social worth. Quite the contrary, in fact: this marketplace works according to the laws of supply and demand, just like any other. Where I do come in, if at all, is in recommending that speakers who are new to the circuit enter at a lower band than they think they'll end up, because moving upwards is a lot more commercially sensible than moving downwards, which looks awful".
Nevertheless, distortions exist. Award ceremony hosts from Bruce Forsyth to Stephen Fry can command huge sums, depending on the size of the ceremony. And somebody like Peter Fincham, the Director of ITV who was chosen to give this year's MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, ranks only as a "C" according to JLA.
Though methods vary, the secret of a good speech can often be boiled down to a simple dictum. "Try to tell your audience something they don't know about someone or something they do know," Lee says. "Know your audience, and make sure to get your pitch right from the beginning."
More famous speakers get an easier ride. "Someone like the comedian Dominic Holland, who is excellent, might have an awkward opening minute where he's got to immediately win over a crowd that may be unfamiliar with him. Someone like Gorbachev [the former Soviet President] usually gets a bit longer".
Over the past few months, Lee has been obsessively working on a new website for JLA, which will have expanded biographies and forums on which audience members leave moderated comments about speakers they have recently seen. Bookings for next year are up between three and five per cent so far, despite widespread economic gloom. "Ultimately, though much of the coverage of the circuit focuses on the money involved, it's getting more and more popular with both audiences and speakers," Lee says. "I think that's because, at some level, everyone can enjoy a good speech well delivered. Most of our speakers leave their audiences feeling either better about themselves or enlightened. That's a fantastic thing to be involved in, frankly".
POSTED MARCH 6 2008
By John Walsh
Who knew that there was such a strict hierarchy of after-dinner speakers out there in Celeb Land?
Astronauts, sportsmen, professional satirists and TV comedians make up the premier league of post-prandial monologuists, as do Top Gear presenters and a handful of actresses. At the topmost level of the roster of talent at the JLA speakers' agency, there are just three names: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men on the Moon, and (a little bathetically) P J O'Rourke, the irreverent right-wing American commentator. These are the Double-A-team: each can command more than £25,000 per appearance, regaling your dinner guests with their lunar memories or Republican views.
Immediately below comes the A-team of Ian Hislop, Angus Deayton, Richard Hammond, Matthew Pinsent and the like, alongside the more elegant figures of Diana Rigg and Joanna Lumley. (It's bizarre to discover Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee with the mad, staring eyes in this company – but would you argue with him?) All of them can trouser between £10,000 and £25,000 for doing a turn over the coffee and brandy.
But, as with Northern Rock shares, your stock can go up or down on the corporate entertainment circuit – as John Prescott learnt the hard way. Snapped up last autumn by JLA, the pugnacious ex-deputy PM was offered to the business world as an A-grade £10,000-plus speaker. That's right, John Prescott, the man who cannot articulate his own name and address with any confidence, and who mangles every pronouncement into a kind of Esperanto gurgle. He's just been demoted to B-grade status, and could pick up as little as £5,000 a night for his gilded rhetoric.
He is, however, in good company, with other washed-up MPs (Kenneth Clarke, David Blunkett,) Esther Rantzen, and the charismatic P Y Gerbeau, last seen in 1999 trying to persuade us to love the Millennium Dome. Spare a thought, however, for one Bob Curtiss, a "Comedian and Character Actor," who inhabits a special E-grade all by himself. You could snap him up for "under £1,000", if you hurry.