always the client

“The client may not always be right, but the client is always the client!”

  • United States

Author:  Duncan Hesketh

This post has taken me almost 8 weeks to think about posting, client is always the client. I have started to write and then, delete — delete — delete. Leave it for a few days and try again, but still my anger and emotions take over as I have tried to construct a well thought-out post about “speaker feedback” and the sheer lack of response to by a speaker to us losing a client because of this speaker and their team’s non-delivery and awful behaviour.

I am not going to divulge the details of what happened, but the process is quite simple, and I would be interested to hear from you as to how you would have handled this situation. I know it has probably never happened if I look at the number of speakers who daily leave posts about how fantastic they are and all the glowing testimonials (apart from the recent post by a speaker who posted about back being live on stage and how wonderful the audience was, while the image date stamp showed 2017 in the bottom left corner ). But let’s not digress. In the highly unlikely event that this happened to you, how would you have handled it?

A short timeline:

  • Long term international client has booked 1–3 speakers every year for the past 6 years for their annual event. Most often only 1 speaker but it has happened that we provided 3 for one event.
  • After going back and forth for weeks a speaker we suggested was confirmed. I should really have listened to my gut on this one, but our team is great at what they do, and it was a very specific brief so all should have been fine.
  • Speaker was confirmed via their secretary and while the fee was certainly not significant and nowhere near their usual fee, but all was accepted by their team.
  • Travel was arranged and confirmed by secretary alone (at their insistence), without any input from us. We were completely kept out of the loop as far as travel was concerned.
  • Briefing call arranged (in hindsight: a thorough waste of time and not sure why secretary even suggested this). Speaker agreed to certain inclusions for the “canned” presentation with the client during the briefing, as per subsequent correspondence received by us from our client.
  • Anyway, event completed and then 3 days later the bombshell was dropped to us with a well thought out letter detailing everything that happened from arrival at airport, hotel, conference, presentation, post-presentation, speaker’s shocking behavior/manners, derogatory remarks made by speaker, speaker’s further shocking behaviour towards the transfer driver because they were unhappy with the travel arrangements (remember we had no input into travel details) and then feedback from all delegates….

WOW, our team sat for a week trying to think how best to handle such a situation, to try and resolve these complaints, maintain our relationship with our client and then of course: how to provide said feedback (2 pages) to the speaker and their team.

“The client may not always be right, but the client is always the client!”

Well, well, well….

In a nutshell, when I provided the feedback to the secretary, I politely requested that we not be bullied (think of a “don’t shoot the messenger!” kind of mail). We asked for their comments, and how they wished to try and resolve what happened.

This sadly opened the door for abusive and aggressive emails from the secretary for weeks, not only WITHOUT an apology but demands for full payment, if you don’t mind. To date, the speaker concerned has made not a single effort to reach out to any of us here at the Bureau, never mind me, as the Bureau owner. The contempt and blatant disrespect for us has quite literally been gobsmacking.

As an example: here is one line towards the end of page 2 from the feedback –

“I have never experienced a speaker with such a bad attitude, who did not deliver and who does not speak to people in a manner that every single human being should be spoken to, especially when you are in a country you have never been to and meeting people for the first time.

I had also mentioned to you that if I must be very honest, and speaking on behalf of the Conference Organizing Committee, SPEAKER X (name intentionally removed) was/is not worth a single cent of the money we had initially agreed to pay.”

So, as part of my processing this whole fiasco, these are my questions, dear speaker friends and colleagues: what would you do?

  1. Who, in your opinion, is the “speakers” client:
  2. The Speaker Bureau, who has booked you (the speaker) MANY times over a period of more than a decade? Or even for that matter, if this is the FIRST time the bureau has booked you?
  3. The Bureau’s client?
  4. Would you try and offer a resolution to both the Bureau and the Bureaus client?
  5. If this has happened to you before, was it resolved favorably in the end? And if so, how?
  6. Would you expect to ever be booked again by us or our 3 other bureaus in the group again?



Despite our best efforts to favourably resolve this disaster with the client (including offering them another speaker, at another event, completely at our cost), we know they will not be coming back to us again. Aside from the letter of complaints, and one or two very short emails, they have not engaged with us further. And they refused to pay a penny of the speaker’s fee, so we lost out on the (small) commission, too. And before any of you say that they should have insisted on payment upfront before they left for the other country, they were offered to be paid in USD on site — and it really wasn’t that big an amount that would warrant a security risk — but the offer was declined, and both speaker and secretary knew, before boarding the aircraft, that we hadn’t been paid.

Two thoughts in closing:

“It’s not how we make mistakes, but how we correct them, that defines us”.

We have been trying very hard to try and repair the damage to our relationship with our client. So far, that hasn’t worked.

Can this speaker say the same? And not to be too obvious about my feelings here: we are the client.


“The client may not always be right, but the client is always the client!”

I think perhaps these lines have blurred over the years. We, as Speaker Bureaus, are not just necessary evils. We are your clients.

p.s. To date I have still not ever heard from the speaker themselves.

Article written by Duncan Hesketh

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