Last week in Washington, as Howard Baker was moving into his new White House post as chief of staff, his speaking agent in New York was making some fast adjustments, too. Suddenly, suitably distinguished replacements had to be found for about a dozen Baker lecture dates before high-paying audiences, according to Don Walker of the Harry Walker Agency.
Industry sources familiar with Baker's speaking fees and lecturing schedule estimate that the former senator collected more than $500,000 in the last 18 months working the lecture circuit. But now that Baker has assumed his new $90,000 post, he is expected, like others on the White House staff, to forget about giving paid lectures.
$90,000 for 44 Speeches
Meanwhile, last week in California, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown was explaining why he felt justified in picking up about $90,000 for 44 paid speeches during 1986.
Welcome to the strange and amazing arena of public speaking, a world in which Brown and Gov. George Deukmejian may receive $5,000 for a single speech--the same fee that Richard (Mr.) Blackwell can command for narrating an afternoon fashion show.
In the realm of paid speaking, however, a fee of $5,000 is considered peanuts--for nationally known figures currently in the public eye. Silence may be golden, but for many audiences, the price of talk is right up there, too. Consider some of the recent fees paid for a single luncheon address or after-dinner speech:
--Radio commentator/syndicated columnist Paul Harvey: $30,000.
--Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick: $25,000.
--Author/management consultant Thomas J. Peters: $25,000.
--Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: $25,000.
--Television journalist Ted Koppel: $25,000.
--Television journalist David Brinkley: $18,000.
--Syndicated columnist Art Buchwald: $15,000.
Such fees are generally for providing an hour- or 1 1/2-hour talk (with questions and answers) and travel is frequently required.
But sometimes, high fees are offered to well-known lecturers for non-speaking engagements as well. For instance, all that some individuals may be required to do is stand on a podium and shake hands with a firm's sales award winners. Or the duties may be even less if the individual is also a film or television personality.
"People pay stars to do nothing but show up at a party. They'll pay anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000. There are stars available for that. It happens to be true," said Joyce Aimee, owner and president of Aimee Entertainment Assn., a Los Angeles "full service agency" that specializes in booking speakers and entertainers for local women's clubs.
It is said that California Angels star Reggie Jackson can collect $25,000 for attending a baseball card collectors' convention and also pick up $9 each time he signs a baseball card there. Jackson's agent, New York-based Matt Mirola, declined to confirm or deny those figures, saying only "I think that's personal."
Mirola added, however, that Jackson "doesn't charge. They just pay him what they think he's worth at the time. This is more than just people coming in to get autographs. It's an involved thing. Reggie's used to draw the crowd."
Sometimes even those who are known for their exceptional speaking abilities are also offered big bucks merely to attend events.
Tom Peters, co-author of "In Search of Excellence" and "A Passion for Excellence," revealed he once turned down an offer of $15,000 to show up at a cocktail reception in Hawaii. Like many in the upper strata of the talk business, Peters feels admittedly "schizophrenic" about asking and receiving whatever the market will bear for him to open his mouth.
"On the one hand, the fees are totally insane and the commercialism has appalled me," said the author, who's currently working on a new book in Vermont, away from his Palo Alto headquarters. "The other side of the coin is that if you have 30,000 people coming to a convention then I suppose the economics aren't that weird. It's a stupid amount of money, but there is some logic associated with it. These poor souls who are meeting arrangers are trying to create the event of a lifetime for the people who come to the meetings."
Peters is also willing to admit that though his fee is one of the highest in the business, it's also somewhat deceptive. Like many other speakers, he does considerable numbers of addresses for free or for reduced fees if the audience appeals to him. "I do between 150 and 200 speeches a year, with fees from 0 to $25,000, with a lot more of the former than the latter," he said. One of the groups for which Peters and other business management speakers are known to lower their fees is the President's Assn., a New York City-based organization of about 3,000 presidents of small to medium-sized corporations. Tom Lambert, the group's marketing director, acknowledged that his organization is able to book "the big gorillas (speakers)," for far less than their normal rates because the audiences promise other rewards as well.