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THE PRICE OF FREE SPEECH?

by EN

Letting speakers pay to host sessions might work once, but in the long term visitors will feel disappointed and duped, says Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer at RefTech.

 

I received a phone call the other day from an exhibition organiser who read one of my articles and was very keen for me to speak at their forthcoming event. My PR was elated and quickly called them to discuss and find out more.

 

For those of you who know me, you will know that I’ve been rather outspoken in the past – saying that you get what you pay for with speakers, and that good speakers are hard to find. In my experience many of the free sessions you attend at trade exhibitions are simply thinly-veiled sales pitches. The speaker isn’t paid to speak, so they want their money’s worth from the session and use it to sell to the audience.

 

Imagine my PR’s delight when the organiser told her that there was a fee associated with speaking – wow she thought, at last there’s a company who wants to ensure good speaker content and is prepared to have some control over it by entering into a paid contract with the speaker.

 

But how quickly that delight disintegrated when it became clear that it would be us paying them for the privilege of speaking. And it wasn’t cheap either – the cost for a 45 minute masterclass (plus other associated advertising) was £3,000.

 

This exhibition is running seminar sessions that are the live equivalent of advertorials. The Advertising Standard Authority has very strict and clear guidelines and states that advertorials (or any paid for content that could look like editorial) should be clearly marked and distinguishable from pure editorial.

 

But when you look at this exhibition’s website, these sessions are billed as masterclasses – as sessions to help the visitor, to educate them and to impart knowledge. So how annoyed will that visitor be when they find out that the masterclass is a sales pitch? And how much more annoyed would they be if they ever found out that the presenting company paid a lot of money for that 45 minute sales slot?

 

Will that visitor return home with a great exhibition experience and want to return next year or will they feel disappointed, duped and unlikely to return? In my book it is deceitful and disrespectful to the visitor and their precious time.

 

Businesses and events should be in it for the long haul. They should be honest with their clients, and build relationships that have longevity and substance. There will always be shows that come and go, but those that stand the test of time have built up good, solid and truthful relationships with their visitors and exhibitors.

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