Should you go Exclusive with a Speaker Bureau?

exclusivity getting booked speaker bureaus

I’ve been mentoring a speaker this week who has been asked to go exclusive with a Speaker Bureau and she wanted to discuss it.  It’s a big decision.  The world of professional speaking is filled with opportunities, but it also comes with its own set of decisions to make.  Going exclusive is a pivotal decision there are advantages but there are also draw backs.  I thought you might find it interesting too.

Let’s start by looking at the Pros and Cons of going exclusive.


Pros of going exclusive with a Speaker Bureau:


Expert Guidance

Think of Bureaus as your speaking career's GPS. They know the industry inside out and can guide you towards opportunities you might not even be aware of.


Negotiation Skills

Bureau agents are the haggling experts at the marketplace. They can negotiate higher fees and better terms for you.  They are also personally invested in getting the best deal as they are paid on commission which is a percentage of your fee, the higher the fee – the higher the commission.



You can focus on what you do best—speaking—while they handle the logistics, contracts, client interactions, visas, withholding taxes and most importantly getting the money in.  


Quality Over Quantity

Being exclusive usually means that a bureau is more invested in you. They'll get to know you more deeply and aim for gigs that align with your brand and expertise.



Being represented by a reputable bureau adds a layer of credibility and can attract higher-profile opportunities.  Although it does need to be the right bureau of course, not all bureaus are equal.




Limited Control

You're essentially putting all your eggs in one basket. If the relationship sours or the bureau doesn’t perform to your expectation, it can be a setback.


Commission Fees

Bureaus take a slice of all the pie, if you go exclusive the bureau will expect any incoming enquiries that come to you directly to be passed to them.  If you are already getting a lot of direct work that will have a significant impact on your income.


Potential for Less Work

If the bureau has a large roster of speakers, you might find yourself lost in the shuffle even if you are exclusive.  Many bureaus don’t like to co-broke, which is what happens when one bureau books an exclusive speaker through another.  They don’t like to as it means sharing commission and it also means revealing who their end client is.  This can lead to bureaus suggesting and booking alternative speakers to avoid having to co-broke with a competitor.


Contractual Obligations

You might be tied down by exclusivity clauses, limiting your freedom to explore opportunities independently or more work with past and new clients.


Brand Alignment

If the bureau doesn't fully understand your niche or brand, they might pitch you for gigs that aren't a good fit.


Ok, let’s imagine that you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and are seriously considering going exclusive.  Before you sign on the dotted line, here are a few questions you might want to ask:



1. What's the Commission Rate? Know how much of your earnings will go to the bureau.  Some bureaus will quote your current fee to end clients and take their percentage from that, others will add their percentage on top.  You need to understand how they work so that if you are quoting fees at any time that you are quoting the same rates. 


2. Exclusivity Terms. Can you still book gigs through your own network of past clients and connections?  And what happens in the case of follow-on work that is not speaking?


3. Duration of Contract. How long are you tied down for, what is the notice period? This goes both ways of course, we used to operate on a handshake but many bureaus are very much more formal and probably rightly so.


4. Who Else is on the Roster?  Knowing your 'colleagues' can give you an idea of the bureau's focus.  If you are the only practitioner among a raft of academics, the bureau may not be the right fit for you, they might not have the correct connections and opportunities for you.


5. Marketing Support.  Will they help build your brand? If the answer is yes, what does that look like?


6. How much business can you expect? How often can you expect to be booked?  What do they think they can bring you in the next twelve months?  Are they open to agreeing a target?


7. Type of Events.  What type of events, clients and speeches do they book?  If you are looking for international keynote speeches and they are focused on internal masterclasses you won’t achieve your objective. If you want to speak for large multi-nationals and the bureau works mainly with associations, you have a mismatch. Not all bureaus are alike, each has their own preferences.  Ask them about theirs.  Ensure these align with your own goals and expertise.


8. Geographical Scope. Are they local heroes or global conquerors?  Not all bureaus work internationally and even those who do are not necessarily strong in every single market across the world.  So going exclusive doesn't necessarily mean that you give the bureau exclusivity for the globe.


9. Cancellation Policies.  What happens if an event is cancelled? Bureaus have cancellation clauses in their agreements with clients.  Most professional bureaus collect monies upfront.  So, if a client cancels, they will have a cancellation fee available for you. Make sure you understand how that works.  In my day we considered a postponement a cancellation too, because the contract was the “date”. 


10. Conflict Resolution.  If things go pear-shaped, what's the process for resolving disputes?  In the 23 years I worked in and ran bureaus we never had a situation we weren't able to solve and hopefully you will have that experience too, but business has changed and it’s always best to know what the options are just in case.


11. References.  Can they provide testimonials from other speakers?  Better still can they give you a list of the speakers on their roster and you choose who you want to talk to.


12. What's Unique About Their Service?  Every bureau is different and although the majority of services offered by bureaus will be the same across the board this is a great question to ask.  Hopefully they will give you a great reason to sign on the dotted line.


This is a long list of questions and you may not feel the need to ask them all but do have a discussion about what working exclusively will be like.  When it works it’s a wonderful partnership, but when it doesn’t it’s usually because a detailed discussion wasn’t had at the start.


If you have any more questions on working with Speaker Bureaus you know where I am.


PS Need some help to be more bookable and charge higher fees?.

1. Download one of our free how to guides here.

2. Book a free consultation with me here.

3. Binge read previous missives here.

4. Join our free Speaking Business community here where you'll get inspiration, support, advice, and more.

5. Grab our online training programme to be more bookable and make more money here.

View Previous Newsletters