The brothers behind Speakers Corner – a stable of orators including Stephen Hawking, Joanna Lumley and Andrew Marr – discuss the post-recession hunger for thought leadership and why sibling rivalry is good for business
Nick Gold I stumbled on Speakers Corner in 2004. It was a small family-run business. I joined as a lifestyle choice. I knew that I wanted to get back into working for a small company, having gone to the corporate world to understand how business works.
Speakers Corner was self-sufficient, but I quickly saw the chance to grow it. And I wanted to grow it with somebody else. Tim and I started talking about it very early on. As a joke I said: ‘Wouldn’t it be terrible to work together? It would be the worst thing ever. Do you want to join me?’ As we talked, we realised that Tim was looking for something different and that we should give it a go. We were both young enough to take the risk and see what happened.
Tim Gold Having worked in marketing and branding, I thought I would set up my own agency, but the world we now operate in means meeting and talking to some of the greatest minds around. And that is very alluring…
Nick … And now you can’t leave.
Tim I’m too entrenched.
Nick The age gap between us is four and a half years, so we weren’t necessarily close as children but always got on. We have different skills and I knew instinctively that we would riff off each other. It’s natural that we’d take the lead in the areas we knew best, so we’re not treading on each other’s toes.
Tim Nick’s strength is process and structure. There was a time when everyone in the business did everything in the whole life cycle of a booking. Nick made a fundamental shift in the way we worked by splitting the operation into two departments: we now have an account management team and a logistics team. The account managers are outgoing, extrovert and sales-orientated. Our logistics people are dedicated to the contractual work, organising travel, as well as the speakers. Those guys have to be meticulous.
Nick We had 300 to 400 speakers when I joined. Now we have 6,500. The financial crisis in 2008 changed the business. This industry has traditionally sat in the entertainment budget, which is the first to be cut in a recession. But firms realised that it wasn’t a typical recession. They couldn’t predict what would happen and they couldn’t afford consultants or be seen to be hiring them. When they had to start reinvigorating their own workforces, the events we offered took on a new life.
Tim We started off with a few after-dinner speakers and it’s since evolved into a TED Talk type of roster, with more thought leaders. We’re now looking to other sectors, which means that our ambitions are higher. When you’re competing with the management consultancy firms it’s a much bigger market than when you’re competing with speaker agencies.
Nick The first thing we say to a client is: ‘Tell us about the event and what you hope to get from it. Define its success.’ Getting this out of them means that we can say a speaker is the right match, or maybe we can suggest other people. If they come to us with a famous name in mind, they have put that person on a pedestal and they’ll blame us if that speaker turns out to be wrong for them – and rightly so. So sometimes we push back. We want a client to trust us, even to have us push back on the aims of the event. Sometimes a business will hold an event because that’s what it has always done, not even knowing whether it works or not.
Tim We are privileged to work with heads of state, Harvard professors and so on. If there is one event that stands out for me, it is Stephen Hawking’s keynote address for a telecoms company in Miami. It was pre-recorded in his study, which took five hours. That was pretty amazing.
Nick A few years ago Tim did a lot of work on a partnership with a London venue called The Brewery. We created a brand called the Knowledge Guild, which is driven through content rather than the names of the speakers. None of the speakers at an event on mental health we held under this brand could be called celebrities, but it attracted 300 people because they were interested in the content – and they were the people who held the budgets for such events. I still tell Tim that maybe this work is not as easily rewarding as putting a big name on stage, but he is clear about the long-term partnership and the aims of Knowledge Guild brand.
The greatest satisfaction I get is the chance to find a speaker the audience hasn’t heard of who then blows them away.
Tim I tell my wife that I’m in two relationships: one with her and the other with Nick. I probably end up seeing him more than her. We do have the odd blow-up at work, but out of those tend to come good solutions. It’s also fun growing something with your brother. What adds to our dynamic is that I think we’re both naturally competitive. If we’re always competing with each other to improve the business, that plays out in how everything progresses here.
Nick We live in a society where we don’t know what’s coming next, But my brother is always there. It’s a very deep bond – even if he does know how I operate day to day and he’s not afraid to share that with the rest of our family!
Speakers Corner: Vital info
Directors Nick Gold, managing director, joined in 2005 having previously been a business systems manager for Centrica. He assumed ownership of the business in 2010, taking over from founder Cheryl Goodhill. He also co-chairs the International Association of Speakers Bureaus.
Tim Gold, director of account management and marketing, has a background in advertising and marketing, having previously worked for menswear retailer Charles Tyrwhitt
Clients The big-name roster includes Bentley, Bupa, EDF Energy, the Law Society and Volvo
Speakers A large stable of talent features Brian Blessed, Brian Cox, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Joanna Lumley, Jo Malone, James May, Michelle Mone, Jon Snow and many more
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