With the down economy, being a speaker is an effective way for the entrepreneurs and business owners to market themselves and/or their businesses. In addition, organizations are finding it difficult to finance professional speakers. Free Speech helps in both situations.
“You know, it’s hard to get new members these days,” said Bill Johnson of the Lombard Senior Men’s Club. “Everyone is busy with other things, but since I’ve started using Free Speech, my club members keep coming back. They ask me ‘Bill, how do you do it? You get the best speakers!’ and then they come back next time. I really think our club would fall apart without Free Speech. Every organization needs something to hold them together. For us, it’s Free Speech and the speakers it provides. No kidding”
Free Speech was launched officially in 1996, and the response was, and continues to be, enthusiastic. At the end of its first year, Free Speech represented 36 speakers. Today, more than 170 speakers are available. During the first six months of 2011 alone, more than 250 requests for speakers were made by Chambers of Commerce, Rotaries, Kiwanis Clubs, retirement communities, church groups, women’s groups, men’s groups, and libraries.
Free Speech is just what it says – free. The clubs and organizations pay nothing to engage a speaker. All speakers speak pro bono, and neither Richardson nor her company makes money.
"A few years ago we had to institute a one-time-only new speaker fee of $35 to help promote new topics to the groups via an e-newsletter service,” said Andy Richardson, vice-president of GR-PR, and director of Free Speech. ”A speaker can stay in the bureau forever, and he or she will not be required to pay this – or any other fees - ever again.”
The benefits to groups and clubs are obvious. For the speaker, Free Speech provides opportunities to hone speaking skills, market themselves, make contacts, convey a message, teach, and give back to the community and sometimes all of the above.
“Free Speech has given me the opportunity to talk to a diverse range of groups,” said Terry Bass, President, Chadons Resources Group. “It also has resulted in some of the best testimonials that I’ve received from attendees.
People who call for speakers for the first time are always incredulous that no money of any sort is expected of them,” Ginny said. “Some of them are suspicious and want to know where the catch is. We tell them we do this as community service, and they still can’t believe it.”
What is not allowed is blatant selling of anything. An author may bring copies of his or her book, but offering the book must be very low-key.
Free Speech History
Ginny Richardson is owner and president of GR-PR, Ginny Richardson, Public Relations, a Hinsdale firm specializing in social media and traditional media relations. Free Speech is an outgrowth of this PR business.
In 1996, Ginny received a phone call from a client who asked if she knew anyone who could give a dynamic talk at a chamber of commerce meeting. She recommended four people - a friend with an exercise business, a banker with a terrific sense of humor, a motivational speaker she knew, and a camera buff whose talk was titled, “How to Take Better Pictures.”
Later, Ginny had lunch with a reporter from a daily newspaper, and she mentioned her “just-for-
“My friend wrote a short story that ended up on the front page of her paper,” Ginny said. “The day the story came out my phone rang non-stop. Here it is 15 years later, and it’s still ringing.”
Ginny typed up the growing list of names with short descriptions of each person's topic. This list was snail-mailed, at her own expense, to clubs and organizations in DuPage County. Today, Free Speech is run entirely online and with a much longer list of speakers. It reaches beyond DuPage County and into the city and north, south and far west suburbs.
The response from the groups has been tremendous.
“It seems many groups need and want good speakers,” Andy said, “and not all groups have big budgets. Free Speech fills that need.”
“Many people don’t understand why we, as a PR company, would spend time on a division that doesn’t make money,” Ginny said, “but we are rewarded with loads of contacts and maybe most important – proof that some things in life are free.”
For more information, visit: http://www.free-
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Ginny Richardson Public Relations (GR-PR) is a Public Relations firm specializing in social media and media relations for business, healthcare, not-for-profit, arts and entertainment. GR-PR is located in Hinsdale, IL, a suburb of Chicago.