Economy tanks for celebrities too

The grim economy is hurting even those golden beings we call celebrities, as meeting and convention organizers cut back on speaking fees.

Companies are keeping a tighter lid on costs for meetings, and in some cases opting to hold video conferences rather than in-person gatherings. That means less money for the big names paid to address corporate gatherings.

"Quite a few are being flexible when it comes to fees," said Chris Johnson, marketing director for Big Speak, a speaker's booking agency based in Santa Barbara, Calif., in an interview. He declined to be more specific.

Speaking is a lucrative sideline for the famous. For example, Donald Trump commands fees of $200,000 and above, according to the website of All American Speakers Bureau. That fee trumps -- pun intended -- the $50,000 estimated fee listed for Paul Volcker, one of President Obama's key economic advisers, and famed venture capitalist Jim Rogers. It also shows that the speakers market values celebrity over achievement as the casino company that bears the name of the star of NBC's The Apprentice recently filed for bankruptcy.

Groups, nonetheless, are eager to hear well-known people expound on the economy.

"People want to know the trends and when things will begin looking up," said Andrea H. Gold, president of Gold Star Speakers Bureau of Tuscon, Ariz., in an e-mail. "People want hope and tangible guidance. I always find economists and futurists of great interest, whatever the economic time."

Some business celebrities, including CNBC's Maria Bartiromo and Goldman Sachs Chief Investment Strategist Abby Joseph Cohen, do not list their fees on the All American website. Bartiromo's colleague Jim Cramer charges $50,000 plus for his speaking fees; the top estimated rate is for former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt. All American Speakers did not return phone calls for comment.

"A few speakers have lowered fees to address some groups' tough budget situations," Gold said. "I can tell you that very few RAISED their fees this year, something that usually happens in a new calendar year. This may sound strange, but a few speakers have actually raised their fees in this market."

For now, celebrities will have to sing more loudly for their suppers.

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