A conversation about hiring professional speakers with Randie Pellegrini,
L.A.’s Planner to the Stars, Independent Meeting Organizer.
Interviewed by Ed Rigsbee, CSP, CAE.
ER: You organize meetings for social scenarios and entertainment companies, when and how did you start?
RP: In 1993, I returned in California after being in New York for 14 years—I landed a high profile event and INSTYLE Magazine became quite a support as well as many other magazines. I proved myself in the entertainment field—I had a style that was very different, which set a new standard. And in return I was very lucky and became very much in demand. Talk about pressure!
ER: You mentioned that you head the whole event inclusive of design, sponsors, PR, security and all the basics: catering, entertainment, transportation etc….you do high profile events—top execs, entertainment headliners, networks mostly. Would it be appropriate to ask you to name drop? Who are some of the famous people and entertainment companies for whom you’ve organized meetings?
RP: BMG Entertainment, Sony Entertainment, Fine Living Network, Creative Artist Agency, Paramount Studios, Donna Karan, Sharon Osbourne, Real Simple Magazine, Humane Society of the United States.
ER: As it relates to professional speakers, what percentage of meeting budgets go for speakers and how are speakers used differently in your meetings as opposed to the more traditional corporate or association meetings?
RP: Budgets vary—it really depends on what other entertainment is involved in the event and then we keep all the components within the set budget. I tend to go for setting a platform so it doesn’t always look like a speaker…so using recorded voices in character or using impersonators asking the questions and the speaker discussing or a huge intro of audio or video and tons of lighting, special effects…or working backwards…saying the result…then someone else saying why we need it. Just thinking out of the box is what I go for. Want the speaker to shine and the message to be clear…so I work with the design team and speaker to create something that has never been done before. It’s a win win that way!
ER: Since time is of the essence for you when you need to book a professional speaker, do you prefer to work with speakers bureaus or go directly to the speaker yourself?
RP: No preference as long as they work in a timely matter. It’s really about finding what the client wants—so I go to whatever source that may be to deliver.
ER: To serve your kind of meeting planning, how could speakers better make themselves available to you in a timely manner?
RP: Bottom line: “work with me”…be kind, flexible, return calls immediately and top of the list—“Be a team player.” Turn offs:Bad Attitude, not result driven, bad follow up, not a polished appearance, talking bad about people, being tired, being late and not being totally prepared.
The greatest gift that would be so helpful in working with my kind of events…is to be comfortable with all last minute changes. Be secure enough that you can handle any curve I would need to throw at you with absolute no fear. The entertainment companies change concepts and messages at the last minute 80% of the time…and when that happens; all concept of the platform have to conform to that.
So; inside tip…take improv classes! They teach you to never deny anything—to assume all scenarios and go with the flow so to speak. It’s a great way to start to trust change.
ER: Tell me about the challenges you have in putting on meetings for the entertainment industry? How does ego and last minute “change in meeting direction” play into what you do?
RP: Challenges consist of having very very small windows to pull off very high profile events inclusive of press…on paper—impossible.
Other challenges: dealing with pyramids of people to get every answer only having between 24 hours and 2 weeks to pull off 500+ people events. Dealing with press to keep things confidential and keeping the waters calm with all the venders’ needs and personalities. And at the same time to be sensitive that they are working with no sleep to very little. Also knowing that after we get the answers and everything is in place that you’ll probably get at least half a dozen changes to re expedite.
I take a deep breath and know this is the norm. I keep a very optimistic approach and then speak the truth and treat everyone I work with as a team player to complete all the tasks. I work with amazing people who get it….we work as a focused exciting group to make the client and message totally shine.
ER: In selecting professional speakers, what percentage would you guess is client requested verses planner determined? And has this percentage changed over the years?
RP: 20% client requested. No change over the years.
ER: What do you do when a client requested speaker is not available?
RP: It depends; most of the time I’m able to make it work—if not: I present a few options with a different angle or possibly pre- record and show at event.
ER: For the times when you determine the best professional speaker for a meeting, please tell me about your selection process.
RP: I just present pictures and clips for them to review or just give them my opinion on each speaker I present. Or most of the time…they just trust me to place.
ER: For you, when you are searching for a professional speaker, what turns you off, and what turns you on, about a speaker’s Web Site?
RP: I look at the momentum, there body language, their appearance, how they hold the crowd, their humor, their heart, their soul…..something that makes them different! As well as their reference list, the vibe of their web site…I want to feel like I took something home that I don’t know about the topic. The entertainment co’s are the pioneers that set new standards. Nothing can be the same old same old…it’s got to be fresh!
ER: You are on TV, radio, and you speak. You writing columns and have a blog. You do much of the same activities as full-time professional speakers. In your opinion, where do professional speakers go wrong in gaining publicity for themselves?
RP: I do all those platforms to gain credibility in my field. All publicity in some way or another seems to pay off…you may not realize it at the beginning but usually down the road; you’ll get a client that says—I saved the article you wrote knowing when my company plans a party and has the budget to hire an event planner—I was going to call you.
Everything you do in life is publicity…always be kind, ethical, helpful and it all comes back over and over again giving you great opportunities.
ER: What would be your advice for professional speakers attempting to gain access to the markets you serve?
RP: It’s tricky, such a tight circle. Personally, it makes my life easier to get quick newsletters or eZines so your name is always in front of my face and at holidays send me a card so I don’t forget you.
In general—through people you know—have them make an introduction for you and then follow up with email with a link of you speaking…and then maybe have lunch with the mutual friend so you create a comfort level with the client…and then you have a base. Then continue with newsletters etc….so your name is always in front of them.
In closing….I work in a very unpredictable circle of great, brilliant, demanding clients….it’s so important to always be calm, focused, overly prepared anticipating every possible challenge knowing what to do just in case and pull out all the creativity you can imagine to set new motivating trends for the entire world.
There are no rules except to be ethical, timely, kind, respectful, and make the client so darn proud. I feel that the great speakers speak in ways that allows your soul to sing!
ER: Randie, thanks so much for your time and insight.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.