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​Secret Agent – Here’s how to take the stress out of booking a headline act

Blog post   •   Apr 25, 2019 14:15 GMT

Photo: Alex Wong

One of the most critical elements for an event is choosing the right keynote speaker or headline talent. Whether it’s an entertainer, industry expert or author, selecting the right talent is a ‘make or break’ process. Here are five things to consider to ensure success.

1. Use an accredited and trusted advisor - Hire an agency with demonstrated experience in the events space - like CWT M&E Event Strategy & Design - to do your talent buying for you.

Working with a contact that artist agents know and trust gives you buying power, an opportunity to negotiate and an easier contracting process. A reputable agency can guide you in selecting the artist and they’ll know which artists are more successful at working corporate events.

2. Consider budget, topic, and genre – Tick the boxes of these talent scouting essentials and you’ll hit the nail on the head. Have a budget in mind or at least a range. Artist fees vary considerably and can be anywhere from $10,000.00 to upwards of $200,000.00 or more. It’s imperative that your agency or talent buyer knows your parameters to recommend the right talent for your needs.

Prepare speaking topics and/ or a musical genre. Communicate your group demographic or psychographic, and your topic, goals, and objectives with your agency or talent buyer so they can identify the perfect talent for your event.

Are you looking for a motivational speaker? Are you interested in certain subject matter, or industry-specific topics like energy and renewables; a futurist/forecaster, or specialist in building high-performance teams? Would a rock band, country band or singer-songwriter be best for your audience? It’s crucial to contribute to the creative direction.

We learned that having a motivational speaker at the end of a conference boosts audience engagement. It’s common for them to open a conference, but consider one to close the event. Ending with a motivational talk leads to higher audience satisfaction after a long day at a conference.

3. Pay attention to your contracts and rider – Until your contract is signed and you have paid your deposit, don’t consider your talent booked. Riders are negotiable, but only to a point. There are two types of riders; the production rider and the technical rider. They sometimes come as one document embedded into the overall artist contract, but often they come as separate documents. The production rider will cover the artist’s ground, air, catering, hotel, and personal needs. The technical rider will cover all of their technical requirements. Both riders and the elements within them can be negotiated.

A reputable agency will discuss what is important and negotiate on your behalf. Items that incur additional expenses include travel – often first-class air for your talent and potentially their manager - per diems, meals, ground transfers, hotel suites and technical requirements. Your agency or talent buyer will negotiate these expenses and details on your behalf, but it is always best to anticipate them and budget up front.

4. Include meet-and-greets - If executive meet-and-greets, photo signings or anything outside of the performance scope is required, they need to be written into the contract with details, timelines and numbers of people clearly defined in advance. Once an offer is accepted and contract signed it is very difficult to get things added or approved after the fact.

5. Insure your artist – It’s common for headliners to request $5 million dollar insurance policies and to be listed as additionally insured. This is non-negotiable. Make sure you speak with your insurance agent or legal team to get the artist listed as additionally insured and give yourself at least two weeks turnaround time. 

The main thing to bear in mind when booking an artist is the trust, reputation, and knowledge an experienced buyer brings. Many agencies can look up an artist agent’s number online and contact them, or say that they can contact the speaker or artist on your behalf. But if they are unknown to the agent or artist, they may not be taken seriously.

Agents are highly protective of their celebrity speakers and headliners for obvious reasons, and putting their artist in the hands of someone they know and trust makes contracting a much easier and much more successful process.

Blog author: Sarah Sheehan, Director Event Strategy and Design, CWT Meetings & Events

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