Home >Home-page >Start-up seeks a voice in India speaker circuit

New Delhi: Indian political leaders such as Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh, Jyoti Basu, even Lalu Prasad Yadav may soon have a new source of income. They could make a lot of money by doing what many people say they do best—talk.

And India’s first speakers bureau, launched by former McKinsey consultant Pramath Raj Sinha, plans to help them do just that.

It isn’t just politicians Sinha hopes to represent eventually. He is hoping his service, launched in a joint venture with The London Speaker Bureau, will represent India’s best known executives, thought leaders, performers, even media people. Already, 9.9 Media-The London Speaker Bureau has signed on Rajat Gupta, special adviser to the UN and former CEO of McKinsey Worldwide; G.N. Bajpai, former chairman of capital market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India; Pradip Baijal, former chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India; Barkha Dutt, managing editor of news broadcaster NDTV India; Rama Bijapurkar, a marketing consultant; Ajit Ranade, chief economist of Aditya Birla Group; and Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra.

Sinha wouldn’t divulge individual fees for speaking appearances but said the firm expects “to start with around Rs3-5 lakh per talk within India." “This might eventually go up to around Rs30-40 lakh; global placements could get us four or five times this," he said.

Many international figures such as former US president Bill Clinton, his vice-president Al Gore, former UK prime minister Tony Blair and the last head of former USSR Mikhail Gorbachev earn anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000 by speaking at international events and seminars.

TALK SHOW (Graphic)

Speaker services is an organized business globally. Entities such as Washington Speakers Bureau and The London Speaker Bureau (TLSB) actively engage thought leaders for speaking at events organized by states and state bodies, public and private corporations as well as delivering motivational and leadership talks for firms. In India, however, the business is mostly unorganized and entities seeking such services have to rely on personal contacts or public relation agencies.

“While the demand for expert speakers within India is growing, there is immense interest in political, corporate as well as social leaders from India in the international market as well," says Sinha, founder and managing director of 9.9 Mediaworx Pvt. Ltd, a media firm with interests in print and digital media.

9.9 Media-The London Speaker Bureau is a 80:20 joint venture between 9.9 Mediaworx and TLSB, which is a decade-old player in the speaker business and represents leaders such as human rights activist and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Mohamed ElBaradei, Mikhail Gorbachev and Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.

“Interest in India and Indians is growing by the day among the global community. And with the corporate sector in India becoming more competitive, such services will soon be hugely in demand in India as well," says Tom Kenyon-Slaney, managing director, TLSB. The agency organizes speakers for firms such as Microsoft, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and even the Chinese government.

In India, some public relations and marketing agencies such as Perfect Relations and Mumbai-based Percept Holdings provide such services but in a limited fashion.

“We launched a stand-alone division called Conferences and Seminars sometime back, but it’s a small business and we don’t have any celebrities on our rolls," said Dilip Cherian, consulting partner, Perfect Relations.

Politicians, however, will have to wait a bit for Sinha to come calling. 9.9 Media-TLSB will begin with a roster of corporate executives, thought leaders and celebrities and eventually move to politicians. “Some of India’s political leaders are gifted orators. If marketed well, they will generate immense interest among global community. Because this business was never managed professionally here, these leaders have not had the opportunity to leverage their brand equity," says Sinha, the founding dean of India’s first global business school, Indian School of Business.

Perfect Relations’ Cherian said that he didn’t expect to see a lot of money being generated by this business. “The number of conferences and seminars in India has gone up tremendously and we see the same faces being circulated everywhere. There is need to broadbase the talent pool. But Indian organizations have got used to getting speakers for free, so they may not be ready to dish out big monies initially," he added.

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