Happy 20th Birthday to us
20 years ago, on the 1st September 2001, The Speakers Agency was launched from my rather small spare bedroom. Armed with a dial up internet connection, an extremely slow desktop, and a £1000 invested in a website The Speakers Agency was born.
Fast forward 20 years and today husband and wife team Fred Harris and Sylvia Tidy-Harris employ a number of outstanding agents and The Speakers Agency is one of the most respected agencies in the UK. Committed to a genuinely transparent and ethical practice, it continues to cater to clients large and small across the world. There have been amazing times but it hasn’t been all plain sailing.
The agency has survived a massive recession and the COVID Pandemic. It has lost and grieved for some wonderful speakers to tragic illness such as Deborah Hollamby and Lynda Bellingham. The murder of Lyra McKee was a massive shock. And hearing that some of their early speakers like Nicholas Parsons and Tom O’Connor had passed made everyone sad.
Calling the business The Speakers Agency was a wise move
As Sylvia recalls, “I was holding down my freelance tour managing job for Saga Holidays and Titan Tours which took me to destinations across the globe. Fred kept his day job too and we expected it to take off slowly.
However, we didn’t realise that at that time we were the only bureau with a website. As a result, business took off like a rocket. We had rather cleverly, albeit rather naively, branded our company with a name that explained precisely what we did. The bookings started to roll in within a couple of weeks. I was lugging a brick of a mobile phone around with me, I took the first booking on the Yangtse, the second whilst waiting for my group in the diner at Graceland’s and the third on a swamp tour in Louisiana.”
The only problem for Sylvia was in order to accommodate a desk, the spare bed had to be upended and placed against a wall along with the wardrobe. It was a mess. Furthermore, speakers and bookers alike wanted to pop in, because 20 years ago, there was no video meetings or WhatsApp.
Sylvia continues, “I felt uncomfortable inviting people ‘upstairs’ to my office. So, I moved down to the conservatory. It wasn’t the brightest move as I had to shelter under a sun brolly in summer and wrap myself up in blankets in the winter. We had to move quickly so that we could have a downstairs office. And move we did within three years of setting it up.”
The Speakers Agency Speaker List
Back at the start Sylvia’s father, the cartoonist Bill Tidy MBE, her late mother Rosa, and Sylvia herself were the first three speakers listed on the website. Fast forward to today and there are over 700. They range from Event Host Fred Siriex, Adventurer Simon Reeve, Documentary Maker Seyi Rhodes and Political Editor Robert Peston to Awards Host Meera Syal and leading diversity speakers Dr Shola Mos Shogbamimu and Afua Hirsch. Listing some of the best-known celebrities available, the website also includes hugely inspirational speakers who have overcome humungous obstacles to get to where they are today.
There are Business Icons, Leading Entrepreneurs, Sporting Greats, Adventures, Olympians…. The list is endless. They deliver speeches on subjects as distinct as management, innovation, welling and mental health to diversity and inclusion, finance to technology, education to the environment, achieving peak performance to the importance of optimum branding.
The Speakers Agency Client List
The Agency is hugely proud of its extensive client list. They include Lloyds, Googles, Barclay’s Bank, BT, Goldman Sachs, London Stock Exchange, Travers Smith, Ernst and Young, Cunard to name but a few.
As Sylvia says, “our first booking was for a Ladies Luncheon Club and our first speaker to contact us was a wonderful lady called Jennie Storr. Jennie was our first booking and she also became our first agent. She continues to handle all our Ladies Luncheon Club and WI bookings and is hugely popular with her clients.
Today Sylvia and Fred work alongside fellow director Holly Kerley and online marketing assistant Katie Patrick. Christine Agar is their long-standing office accountant. A small but highly effective and proactive team.
Sylvia is the Co Chair of the European Association of Speakers Bureaux and a Patron of Child Bereavement UK.