Booking Campus Speakers: Tips from our Team


The Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau works with colleges and universities across the country on booking campus speakers. Putting on great events and meaningful gatherings is rewarding, but it’s also hard work and requires managing a lot of moving parts at once. Here are some tips from our team as you plan your next event with a speaker.

1. Before you reach out…

Part of our expertise and service is helping you find the best possible speaker for your event. A general briefing such as, “we are looking for a speaker on social justice for 200 incoming students” is information we can work with, but the more background you can give us as part of your inquiry, the better we can tailor our recommendations.

  • Is your event specifically around one book, topic or theme?
  • Is the date for your event fixed or flexible?
  • Who is your audience? Will the event be open to the public?
  • Is your event in-person or virtual?
  • What is the budget for your event?*

Taking the time to walk through some of these questions in your planning committee will help get everyone aligned on the event’s purpose. And again, if all you have is “We want a #1 New York Times-bestselling author for our commencement keynote,” we’ll help you find a great speaker all the same!

*When we refer to budget, we are looking at various elements: The budget for a speaker honorarium, the budget for travel & accommodation, and (if applicable) the budget for books—we will give you information on all of these. As part of our consultation, we can provide guidance on inter-departmental coordination that might help extend budget parameters. Costs for travel (to your city and to your campus) and accommodation are always additional to the speaking fee. Please look into any travel reimbursement guidelines and restrictions you might have ahead of time. We can look at bundling travel costs with the speaking fee when necessary.

2. What does a speaking agent do?

Once you reach out to us, you will be having planning conversations with a speaking agent. While the word “agent” might conjure up images of cutthroat Hollywood agents or discerning literary agents, speaking agents have a unique role. A speaking agent facilitates the conversation between a hosting organization and a speaker, working towards the end goal of creating an event that is worthwhile for everyone involved. While it is our job to best represent our speakers, that work is less about intense negotiation rounds than it is about making sure our speakers and clients are on the same page about the event’s content and purpose.

3. Mastering “legalese”: Firm offers and contracts

Firm offer: Once you have decided on the speaker you want to book for your event, your speaking agent will ask you to submit a firm offer. This form puts into writing many of the questions you will have already discussed with your speaking agent: When is the event? Who is the audience? What is your budget? etc. This form will be submitted to the speaker, and once accepted will serve as the basis for your contract. As such, please confirm within your team and department who is authorized to sign the firm offer before submitting. And since we believe four eyes are better than two, if applicable, do copy an advisor or department head on your correspondence with us. Best practice: This is also a good time to loop in your legal department and let them know you are kicking-off a contracting process. There are rare occasions when colleges and universities want to use their own contracts, as opposed to our template. This is something we should know before we start working on the…

…Contract! After a speaker has accepted your firm offer, we will start the contracting process for the event. Our helpful contracts team will be there to guide you through this process and answer any questions. Here are some things to keep in mind during the contracting phase:

  • Who is authorized to sign the contract?
  • What comments does your legal department have?
  • Has anything about the format of the event changed since the firm offer? (see also 5)

4. Book sales

Book sales are an important component of all our events. We have a dedicated book sales team that can help you place an order for physical or digital books and advice you on what bulk discounts may be available. Many of our speakers are happy to sign books following their event, as time allows. If you are planning on a book signing, please let us know in your conversations with your speaking agent and in your firm offer form.

5. Gearing up for the big event

As you get ready for your campus event, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Event promotion: We do not promote individual events but we are happy to share marketing materials with you that you can use in your own promotion (see below). It will be your task to promote the event to your audience.
  • Schedule changes: If you are planning to make any adjustments to the event program, please let us know as soon as possible. Is your event now open to 500 people instead of 50? Do you want the speaker to join a meet-and-greet before the event? Program changes need to be discussed with and approved by the speaker, and additions will most likely impact the overall budget. Off the stage, our speakers are teachers, parents, employees, caretakers, etc. and we need to be mindful of their time and duly compensate their work.
  • Car services: Please use a professional car service when arranging transport for the speaker to the venue to avoid any liability issues.
  • Promotional material: Feel free to use the speakers’ bio and photo from our website for promotion and introduction of the speaker by the host. If you need additional material, please reach out.
  • Reading guides: If your event centers around a specific book, feel free to ask us about supplemental material and reading guides—chances are we may have something available!

6. Post-event feedback

You made it! The auditorium has emptied out (or the Zoom webinar has ended) and your event is over. We will be in touch about feedback, so please use this opportunity to tell us how everything went. If you have photos or testimonials from audience members, do share them with us. Our speakers are grateful for your feedback, and our team relies on your comments to continually improve our work.

7. Additional questions?

If you have more questions, please consult our FAQs or reach out to speak to someone from our team.

We look forward to working with you on your next event!