Editorials

In the 16th minute of fame

In America today, there are four stages of public life: schlub, rising star, star and motivational speaker.

Consider Colin Powell. The ROTC program at City College of New York led to a 35-year Army career that culminated with four stars and an appointment as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, secretary of State under President George W. Bush.

Great American hero, if you overlook that sales job he did to the United Nations on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But his days as a star are over.

But now you can see him live! In person! At the Get Motivated! seminar April 27 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis! Learn his secrets of "take-charge leadership!"

And he's just one of the fabulous speakers in the daylong Get Motivated! seminar. See and hear former first lady Laura Bush! Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani! The formerly incredibly Rev. Dr. Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral and former host of the "Hour of Power"! Former bag-boy-turned-Super Bowl-quarterback Kurt Warner! And more!

Admission at the door is only $225 per person, but if you act now, you can get a ticket for $1.95 or send your entire office for $9.95!

How can this possibly be? How can $1.95 get you in to see and hear this many stars, not to mention this many exclamation points! There must be a catch!

Oh, there is.

In 1968, Andy Warhol famously predicted that "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." What he failed to note was that when their 15 minutes are up, many of those people will become motivational speakers.

It's hard to make it in the motivation racket these days. The field is hideously crowded, what with everybody and his dog claiming to be a motivational speaker.

To make it in this industry, you've really got to have (a) a big name or (b) a gimmick. Inspiring stories of overcoming adversity with perseverance and a positive attitude are a dime a dozen.

For more than 25 years, Peter Lowe's gimmick has been volume. His firms (there have been at least three) flood arenas with multiple big-name speakers, advertise heavily in newspapers (always a smart move) and offer teaser prices to attract early ticket buyers, as they've done in St. Louis.

Is it a scam? Not really. But there are some asterisked aspects to it.

To begin with, do the math. Colin Powell, at the peak of his post-government service earning power, was getting as much as $150,000 per speech. Speakers bureaus were quoting $75,000 for Laura Bush and $100,000 (plus travel in a Gulfstream IV or bigger private jet) for Rudy Giuliani.

The further a celebrity's fame gets past its expiration date (and you'd have to think Giuliani is way past his 15 minutes), the less they can command. But if you bring all three into St. Louis on one day, plus lesser lights like gas-bag former football coach Lou Holtz, Kurt Warner and eponymous magazine editor Steve Forbes, you're looking at $300,000 in talent fees.

If you put 20,000 people into a convention center, you've got to get $15 a head to pay the talent. Add in advertising, travel, lodging, hall rental, security, etc., it's an additional $5 to $10 a head. So how do you make any money?

Something called "upselling," for one thing. You contact the guy who buys a ticket for $1.95 and talk him into a better seat for $50. How are you going to get motivated up there in the nosebleeds?

Something called "lead generation, for another thing. Everybody who attends has self-identified as a potential client for sales and investment kits and advice. Get Motivated! seminars always include several unadvertised speakers touting books, sales programs and videos.

Get Motivated! promises a money-back guarantee on all its materials. So here's my motivational speech: Persevere, maintain a positive attitude and keep your receipts.

Contact Horrigan, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, at khorrigan@post-dispatch.com.

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