1/4/2012 12:30 AM ET|
What it costs to hire a celeb
It's big business when celebrities get lined up for personal appearances, endorsements or speaking engagements. The money's good, even if sometimes there are risks.
Of all the places you might expect to find former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman in Las Vegas, there is one place you probably wouldn't think of looking: a bar mitzvah.
Ryan Totka, a celebrity booking agent and co-founder of Florida-based AthletePromotions.com and CelebrityTalentPromotions.com, found himself escorting the flamboyant figure to a hired gig as guest of honor for just such a celebration.
That booking -- which ended in a bar of a different sort after a barnstorming tour of Sin City's best clubs -- remains one of the most unusual bookings Totka has helped arrange.
"It was like a rolling snowball -- everywhere you went the crowd just kept getting bigger and bigger," he recalls. "With some celebrities, they can be somewhat undercover. But with him, the whole place just stops. . . . With these NBA players, like Shaq and Dwight Howard, who are over 6-foot-5, they are going to get recognized wherever they go."
That recognition factor is a cornerstone of Totka's business. For the past dozen years, he and his company have served as an intermediary between celebrities and their agents and the folks who want to hire them for personal appearances, endorsements and speaking engagements.
Although athletes are a focus, they have made arrangements for celebrities, comedians, business leaders, reality-TV stars and celebrity chefs. "Pretty much anybody who is in the limelight that a company would want to get to for a corporate affair or speaking engagement," Totka says.
Beyond the usual ribbon cuttings and corporate retreats, there occasionally are opportunities to book more intimate gatherings.
"We get everything from the CEO's kid that wants LeBron James at a birthday party to a big financial firm that wants a big name as a motivational speaker," Totka says.
"You can't fulfill every request for a birthday party or bar mitzvah or someone who just wants to meet somebody," he says. Sometimes, however, professional connections, coupled with cash, can score a big name for a small gathering.
What's it all cost? That depends largely on the celebrity, the event and a variety of negotiable items. Minor celebrities can cost just a few thousand dollars; marquee talent may need $1 million or more to be persuaded to do a private concert.
"Companies will come to us and say, 'I have a $50,000 budget,' and they are hosting an annual banquet, financial seminar or just a private event for employees," Totka says. "A lot of times, they don't have anyone in particular they want, so they come to us and say, 'Here is our budget, who do you recommend?' We try to match them up. It all depends on budget. If somebody has a $5,000 budget, you can't go get a big-name guy. There is no chance they are going to do it."
And even a big budget doesn't always assure success.
"A lot of these guys get so many demands on their time," Totka says. "We've had Tiger Woods turn down a million deal. The money is relative. It seems a little weird sometimes when some people barely make $10,000 a year and you have someone who turns that down for one night of work."
Other expenses -- such as airfare, ground transportation, food and lodging -- also have to be factored into the fee. Sometimes that can work as a negotiation chip.
"We've seen some people reduce their fee up to a third if the location is close enough that they can get a car to take them there," Totka says. "We usually know what they demand going in. Some demand first-class travel or private jets. Everyone is different."
More magnanimous celebrities and athletes may agree to an appearance at a reduced rate, or even for free, if a particular cause or charity is involved.
"It's not always about the money," Totka says, recalling how entrepreneur billionaire Mark Cuban once took "a lot less" than his standard $100,000 speaking stipend as a favor.
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