Charging Speakers to Speak: ABM's Curious Policy
I've been scratching my head for some time over American Business Media's practice of charging speakers whom they invite to speak at their events. Working for a company that produces dozens of events a year, we recognize that speakers are taking time from their schedules to speak at our events. And we wouldn't be able to have high-caliber events without high-caliber speakers. We do not charge our speakers.
I've questioned people at ABM on this practice in the past and their attitude has been, hey, it is what it is. But I wondered, does anyone else think this is odd, especially for an organization that is supported by companies that pay very high dues (our company's annual dues to the ABM are in the five-figures, and larger companies may pay over $100k a year in ABM dues). At ABM's spring meeting, the organization reports its financials, and based on the last few reports, it's doing quite well financially.
ABM CEO Gordon Hughes says asking speakers to pay is about keeping the association on a sound financial footing. "We're a non-profit, whereas our members are for-profit," he told me. "We're just trying to cover our costs. What's more, he says, "Most people never question this. This is just the way we do it."
I think American Business Media events are worth paying for. I've attended them for years. But frankly, I bristle when I'm told I have to pay, even though I'm a speaker. So, is this just me being petty, or does anyone else think that charging speakers is odd? Well, we asked around and we got an earful from ABM members and non-members. Here's what they had to say:
- David Nussbaum, CEO, Sundance Enterprises: It does not make sense to charge speakers, because they are donating their time (both pre event when preparing and during the event) and in many cases, paying for travel expenses as well. Also, the speakers, as you know, are the key reason why other attendees PAY to come to these conferences.
- Charlie McCurdy, CEO, Apprise Media: I've never heard of such a thing!
- Don Pazour, CEO, Access Intelligence: The practice is more widespread than you might think. For our content-driven events where we charge attendees to attend, we do not charge speakers. We have two events that are designed as heavily sponsored one-to-one networking events. The speakers and the nature of the events in each case is vendors presenting to buyers. In these cases we do not charge the individual speakers, but the companies pay large sponsorship fees. I have been on the board of SISO (the Society of Independent Show Organizers). We have very low dues (unlike ABM) and for our CEO Forum, many of the speakers are the CEOs that would attend anyway. We charge speakers who participate in the full event. We also allow the program committee to use their judgment and suspend fees for those that only come to speak or have other issues. If someone speaks and is not charged, but attends full event, we call the waiver a scholarship. I think the extreme that I do not support is ABM, which charges huge dues to participating companies and then charges speakers, even speakers who do not stay for full event. Furthermore, ABM charges rather hefty attendance fees. As a general rule I am against the practice, unless it is SISO and we do this primarily for CEO forum or unless the event is a model where vendors pay to be able to be on the podium.
- Carl Pugh, CEO, Radius Events: Actually, SISO is the only event I have ever participated in where speakers are not comped for the conference. SISO's unwritten policy is that people who might attend anyway must pay.Those who would not otherwise attend, perhaps because they are out of the industry, are not required to pay. If someone within the industry is speaking they may stay for that day only without paying. The premise is that we are a non-profit org so our members or prospective members should support us with their time and money. Event revenue is one of our main sources of association income. We have so many member-speakers at a given conference that comping them all would be a big financial hit. I must say I was troubled for years by the SISO policy.It just felt wrong to ask me to pay as a speaker.
- Doug Manoni, ex-CEO, Wicks Business Information: Never charged them-and I think it's inappropriate because it implies they're attendees, and not respected as faculty.
- David Evans, director of events, Red 7 Media: I have seen it done, rarely, but since many speakers at many conferences pay their own travel and other expenses, it seems cruel and unusual to also ask them to pay conference fees.
- Steve Stoneburn, CEO, Quadrant Health Media: No, never heard of that. And certainly have not done it. In the medical market you are generally paying speakers, not charging them.
- Paul Mackler, CEO, HMP Communications: No, I never charge speakers to attend a conference when they're speaking. I do not think that is appropriate.
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