For the third time in the past couple of months I’ve been in the running for a job as a keynote speaker at a conference only to lose out to a name celebrity keynote speaker. When I heard who they booked I realized there was no way I could compete with that type of name. As someone who has worked in the entertainment industry in many different jobs, such as development, distribution and casting, I’ve been on the other side of the celebrity hiring myself, so I didn’t take it personally.

In the film and TV business, celebrities sell shows and raise money for films. Having a “name” attached to your project will get you in the door and get people to listen to you.

If you were to look over the casting sheet that lists the characters a production company is looking to fill, most of the really good, meaty roles are all the staring roles. And those plum jobs go to names. The rest are supporting roles, quite often filled by character actors. Then down to roles like “girl #1 – includes nudity”. In other words, the booby prize. Pun intended.

So when a meeting planner said “I’m sorry, but the keynote position was given to a celebrity speaker, but would you consider doing a breakout session?”, I didn’t think it was such a bad idea until she said that the celebrity fee took the whole budget and they didn’t have any money left over to pay breakout speakers. That’s when I took it personally. I was being offered the booby prize, and I wouldn’t even be getting paid union scale for it.

The reason I started Speaker Sponsor in the first place was because I realized there were SO many free jobs for breakout speakers, and usually only one job for a keynote speaker per conference. And it looks like more and more of those positions are going to paid celebrity keynote speakers, with all the other speakers left to eat the crumbs.

There isn’t much I can say about it because I had to do the same thing myself when I was casting or looking for talent to get distribution for a film. And just because someone was a name talent that didn’t necessarily mean they were a better actor, just like a name celebrity speaker might not be the best speaker. But having a name is more than that. It’s all part of the marketing and sales of a project. So don’t take it personally.

How do you feel when a celebrity keynote speaker gets the whole speaker budget and breakout speakers have to speak for free?





2 Responses to “Can You Compete With a Celebrity Keynote Speaker?”

  1. Michael Solomon says:

    The one way to compete with a known celebrity is simple. I have done it and have won. You have to realize this, a known celebrity for the most part is someone who has a story that everyone knows. The event planner has to be made aware of the fact that people who attend their talk will learn nothing new. As a bestselling author, I have convinced meeting planners that the purpose of their meeting is for their attendees to learn something not be in a room with a celebrity. The difference is they have the same old story. I give them something Fresh, Bold, Daring and Entertaining. They will come away with a learning experience not a photo with a celebrity who will suck up their whole budget.

  2. Johnny Campbell The Transition Man says:

    Hello Julie

    Great question, I have had this happen to me many times and at first, I got mad then I decided to leverage it to my advantage. When this situation happens & I still want the gig. I ask the planner since there is no budget can I take a Free photo with the celebrity speaker. Most celebrity speaker take photos with VIP attendees for a price. That photo of them and I together helps raise my status. In addition, we were on the same speaking program, anyway.

    Also, since celebrity speaker is a draw and lots of people will be attending conference to hear their keynote. I use their fame to fill my room. “How” I use various marketing tactics to market to the attendees before the event, during the event and after the event- playing on their fame. Why do I do this? My focus is to become known (A-list) and earn income from this free event. (So I can Eat)

    And in keeping with the movie theme. That person maybe the star but every now and then there is an actor who steals the show with a few targeted lines and actions. Sometimes playing a “No Named Supporting Role” can when you an Oscar. The key to competing with celebrity speakers is to be a more creative marketer of your brand.

    Take Care
    Johnny Campbell, DTM,AS
    The Transition Man

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