POSTED MAY 16 2013
Traditionally booked to sex up the corporate conference, motivational or celebrity speakers can garner extravagant fees in the Gulf, but does the investment pay off? Kathi Everden looks at the pros and cons of the big name stage show
For the client, where to research and how to source that show stopper is a process that can start with Google and a trawl of the latest motivational blockbuster reads, but should be augmented by expertise – either a call to one or two of the international speaker bureaux or even by consultation among work colleagues.
JLA’s Jeremy Lee puts the case for a speaker bureau that can act as an independent evaluator as well as having its own portfolio of tried and tested talent.
Founder of the UK’s leading speaker bureau, he’s been in the business for 23 years and is forthright about the need for objectivity: “The only three words that matter in choosing talent are audience, audience and audience. The least important factor is the personal taste of the organiser, sponsor or person signing the cheque,” he said, adding a caveat about the value of celebrity.
“Unless you catch a celebrity at the moment they hit the headlines, there’s absolutely no correlation between their profile and audience satisfaction at the end of the presentation. By all means hire a big name if your object is to attract an audience, imbue an event with authority or if you want people to boast to their friends ‘you’ll never guess who I’ve just seen’ – but not because you think it offers some kind of quality assurance. It doesn’t.”
The $50,000 dollar question…
For the best results, Jeremy Lee considers £10,000 ($16,000) a ‘reasonable’ budget where you don’t need the speaker’s name to sell tickets.
The priority is to get the right person for the job. “Book someone who speaks from experience, rather than an author or academic pontificating on any given subject,” says Lee.
He has one other intriguing suggestion – to halve the length of the average business conference. “There’s no need for it to be twice the length of a Wagner opera!”
By Kathi Everden
POSTED JANUARY 17 2013
Michael McIntyre: £40,000. Ricky Gervais: £25,000. Jason Manford: £25,000. Jo Brand: £10,000-£25,000. Barry Cryer – who after that lot looks an absolute steal – is £2,000-£5,000.
This, according to Funny Business (BBC Two), is what it costs to hire the above to tell some jokes at a corporate event. The documentary was about comedians’ relationship with money: how much they earn, how they earn it, and how they feel about how they earn it. And when it comes to corporate events – hosting, say, an awards do for the burglar alarm industry, or the national association of actuaries’ Christmas party – some of them itch with self-loathing.
Rhod Gilbert, a Welsh comedian, said he had such miserable memories of corporate events that he no longer does them (he once did a set for the Professional Footballers’ Association. His efforts were met with total silence). Other comedians said they by and large found themselves going down well, but none the less seemed vaguely ashamed.
The same went for adverts: easier money but seen by many more people, which is the last thing comedians want. Glad as they are of the cash, many comedians talk about doing adverts the way other famous people talk about having their sexual misdemeanours exposed by the tabloids. They know they shouldn’t have done it, but they couldn’t help themselves, and they’re only human, and, and…
But is it so wrong? The venerated US comedian Bill Hicks sneered that if you do an advert “you’re off the artistic roll call”. Why a comedian should worry about “the artistic roll call” is hard to say.
Until about 30 years ago, it was thought fine just to tell jokes and be well-paid for it. Then came “alternative comedy”: liberal, leftish, notionally anti-establishment. Now no self-respecting comedian could be merely a jester. He had to be an artist. And an artist must hate himself for making money, or, if he doesn’t make money, hate peers who do.
Especially if that money is made from adverts, because adverts are made on behalf of firms with products to sell, and selling products is evil. The idea that selling products is good, because it keeps people in jobs and their children fed, rarely gets a look-in.
Maybe we’re having this debate 10 years too late, though. We’re now in the era of Jimmy Carr, a former marketing man for Shell who’s been upbraided by the Prime Minister for not paying enough tax. I don’t know whether Carr would make it on to the Hicks Artistic Roll Call, but I have a funny feeling he doesn’t care.
POSTED JANUARY 17 2013
You can have 20 minutes of Ricky Gervais's time for about £25,000, but Michael Mansfield is going to cost you a bit more – up to £40,000, according to Funny Business, Richard Marson's intriguing series about the economics of the comedy boom.
These figures, as Ricky Gervais would probably be quick to point out, should not be taken as a simple measure of comic genius. They represent what corporate clients – very keen on mainstream telly celebrity, less keen on edgy affront – are willing to pay to sugar-coat their sales conference or annual general meeting. And not every comedian thinks it's a good idea to ply for hire in this market: "It's a kind of high-end prostitution without the sex," said Jo Brand, one of those who is actually prepared to whore out her talent for the corporate client.
That's a prejudicial way of putting it, of course, and much of the tension in Funny Business, between comics who do and comics who don't, arose from the ambiguous status of the stand-up comedian, who occupies a position somewhere on a spectrum running from end-of-pier entertainer to priestly social commentator. Some practitioners think that comedy is show business and have no problem going where the big fees are. Others think that it has a duty to show up business, so that to do a corporate gig is selling your soul. To further complicate matters, several contributors suggested that the abasement involved in this particular line of work was actually good for their comedy and their soul, though it presumably helps that it's the kind of therapy in which they pay you rather than the other way round.
It's big business anyway, fed by talent-bookers like Jeremy Lee, a big hitter in the field, and Geoff Whiting, who started from a Bath phone-box and does a bit of stand-up himself. Rather poignantly, his account of his career trajectory mostly consisted of recalling the household names who got their very first booking through him and then sailed past to celebrity. Appearing for the refuseniks were comics like Rhod Gilbert (who became visibly distressed as he recalled a traumatic set he'd done for a Professional Footballers' Association junket) and Mark Thomas, neither of whom could be accused of scorning the work only because they were never likely to be offered it in the first place. It was fascinating, though it rather lost focus towards the end as the documentary meandered into the realm of corporate-video production and then concluded in complete enigma. "Wherever you look now money's spoiled it," grumbled John Cleese. After which we got a shot of Monaco harbour. An arch comment? An illustration? A hint of what's to come? I'm still not sure.
POSTED JANUARY 17 2013
In Funny Business (BBC2), the first of a series, Eddie Mair narrated an investigation into the ways in which standup comedians can make big money, none of which is by telling jokes in comedy clubs.
Appearing in adverts is one way, but many comics find selling stuff on TV to be inconsistent with either their morals or their sense of humour. Not that many, actually. Less objectionable is the corporate gig. You're just doing your act, albeit in front of a room full of company managers for an obscene amount of money. Ricky Gervais gets £25,000 for a 20-minute corporate set. Michael McIntyre gets £40,000. It's not surprising that up-and-coming comedians on corporate booker Jeremy Lee's roster fall over themselves to appear in his annual Real Variety Show, essentially a huge audition for an audience of events company managers. Again, it's just a gig, you end your set with the punchline: "I'm available for bookings, and I also host!"
A lot of comedians won't touch corporate gigs either, but not necessarily for the reason you might think. "I doubt there's one comedian in the world," said Arthur Smith, "who hasn't died on his or her arse at a corporate gig."
Jo Brand finds them bracing – "If you do corporates, you get the message that not everyone loves you," she says – but Rhod Gilbert still gets heart palpitations just driving by the venues of old corporate failures. It may be filthy lucre, but it doesn't sound like easy money.