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William Morris embraces the glitz of power retreats

Talent agencies are the latest to convene industry powwows, which put a premium on attracting the biggest-name speakers.

January 10, 2007|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger is on a whistle stop tour this week to talk up his company's role in embracing new technology.

On Monday, he delivered the keynote speech in Las Vegas at the nation's largest consumer electronics show. He sat in the audience at the MacWorld conference in San Francisco on Tuesday as his company's largest shareholder, Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, unveiled the much-anticipated iPhone. Today, Iger was scheduled to touch down in Palm Springs to share his message with 320 talent agents.

Talent agents?

Jim Wiatt, chairman of William Morris, Hollywood's oldest talent agency, has coaxed some big moguls to his corporate retreat to pontificate about the future of the entertainment business. In addition to Iger, the program includes Starbucks Corp. Chairman Howard Schultz and MySpace Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe.

These power retreats have become the new thing in Hollywood.

Modeled after the infamous and exclusive Allen & Co. retreat for media and technology power brokers in Sun Valley, Idaho, where both Iger and Wiatt are yearly guests, these power powwows put a premium on drawing the biggest names possible.

In Carmel this year, Rupert Murdoch persuaded former President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and, of course, singer Bono to address executives from across News Corp.'s empire.

Now talent agencies, which strive to be on the cutting edge, seem to have joined the race to be the most future looking.

William Morris agents flew in from six cities this week and stayed at the La Quinta Resort outside Palm Springs to attend classes with titles such as "The Evolution From Local Talent to Global Brand" and "The William Morris Agency (An Entertainment Company)." All will be asked to attend a session with motivational guru Marcus Buckingham, who encourages acolytes to maximize their strengths -- even calling for a "strengths revolution."

Wiatt's sparkling speaker list could be seen as a call for his competitors to up the ante in making company conferences a measuring stick of power.

Perhaps next up United Talent Agency will invite one of its newest clients -- Nobel Prize-winning Bangladeshi humanitarian Muhammad Yunus -- to teach the Hollywood wheeler-dealers the spirit of giving.

So what's the program for these speakers? Iger and DeWolfe are expected to talk about the effects of technology on their respective companies. And, according to one agency executive, when Wiatt asked Schultz what he would expound upon, the coffee mogul responded: "Just give me a microphone."

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