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What Do You Do with Held Dates?

Bill Bruck

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Here was the question:

What do you do with held dates -- especially "stale" holds that carry over for months and clog your calendar? I'm looking for input on (a) whether/how often you contact the bureau/client involved; (b) policy regarding multiple holds for the same date; and (c) what you do when you get a definite offer for a date on which you already have a hold.

-- Sondra Thiederman

I've got this date thing nailed:

  1. I don't contact the bureau or client about a hold unless there is a reason (e.g., need to release it for another client or personal plans). If you want to check on them just to "clean up" the calendar for general reasons, it is probably fair to call every month.
  2. OK to do multiple holds as long as 2nd and 3rd parties know that that is what they are and you keep careful track.
  3. If you get a definite offer for a date, the person who has the first hold has 24 hours in which to commit or release.

-- Bonnie Dean

When I get a bite (esp. a definite bite) I call the first hold and give them 24 hrs to yeah or nay. If I have holds carry over more than a month I follow up to see how they are coming to clean up. Yes sometimes there are 2-3 holds for same date... the same 24 hr policy holds if something concrete comes in. I have not had a bureau have a problem w/this.

-- Craig Sundheimer

How often to contact the bureau/client: As a Speakers Service/bureau, I make contact with a prospective client regularly (at least once/week) after the client has requested a hold for a speaker. Or, if that client has requested a hold until after a planning committee meets to make a decision on a speaker, I contact the client as soon as possible after the date/time of their meeting to find out about their decision regarding a speaker -- if they have selected the speaker for which I have requested a hold, I write the contract; if they have selected another speaker, I contact the speaker immediately to release the hold. I try to "stay on" the client as much as possible without being obnoxious to let them know that the speaker needs to know their decision -- this also helps "nudge" the client to encourage them to come to a decision.

Multiple holds for same date: If after our speakers pencil in a hold for a prospective client they receive another inquiry about that held date, they will contact me about the new inquiry, at which time I contact the first client to ask about the status of their speaker decision. If they have decided on that speaker or need a little more time to make their decision, I contact the speaker with that information and ask the speaker to pencil in a "secondary hold" for the second inquiry. If the first client does not plan to use the speaker, I contact the speaker to release the hold and to then hold the date for the second client.

Definite offer on date with a hold: Same as above: Our policy is that the first client, even though just holding the date without a firm offer/contract, has the first rights to the date held. If they are unable to come to a timely decision about firming the offer, then the date can be released to the client with the firm offer.

Craig Sundheimer
Speaker Services Manager
CLASServices, Inc.

-- Brian Jeffrey

We tell people that we will "pencil in the date" for them and give them the "rights of first refusal." If another opportunity for that date comes along, we contact the first client an ask for a firm commitment. If we can't get a firm commitment, we give the date to the second client.

-- CJ Johnson

Here's Larry Johnson's policy on holds:

  1. We never call on a hold, no matter how old it is, unless we have to give 24 hours notice. I call it a "no hassle" policy.
  2. I prioritize multiple holds by the date received. For all intents and purposes, though, I find that if I tell someone they are a 3rd, 4th or whatever hold, (beyond #2) it's rare that the bureau or meeting planner really wants us to hold the date.
  3. When there's a firm offer on a date with a hold, I call the first hold, tell them about the firm offer, note the day and time called and obtain the first hold's agreement that he or she will let us know in 24 hours if they are releasing or booking. I also tell the "firm offer" people that we can't commit to the date until the 24 hours has passed, and make sure that the wait is acceptable.

-- Elizabeth Fried

As a bureau, I believe it is my responsibility to notify all speakers I've asked to put a hold on a date to release it as soon as I know. If your bureau does not do this, then I would ask when the expected confirm date is and follow up within one week of that date. If none can be provided, then follow up within 6 months of the date and then monthly from there on.

-- Gene Swindell

My policy is:

  • Once a date is put on hold, the client has 10 days to respond. A letter is sent to the client advising such. On the ninth day, the client is e-mailed of the deadline 24 hours later.
  • If a date is being held, I am obligated to that client for the 10 days. If a firm offer comes in the meantime, I will call the client and advise to spur a decision. That usually gets action.
  • When a date has been held for 10 days and there's no decision or response, the date is cleared and the client is notified. Don't hold dates forever ... for anyone.

-- Janelle Barlow

My policy is that I hold a date for someone until something definite comes along, and then I call to find out if the original person still wants the date. If they can't confirm, then I give it to the definite person booking. I explain this to people when I put a tentative one the date. It is only tentative as long as no one definitely wants it.

It seems to work and no one has gotten upset with me about it.

-- Jeff Tobe

Our system works for us. As long as no one else is asking for a date, we don't mind holding a date up to the date!! I just don't hold my breath anymore. Bureaus know that 2nd holds can be as solid as 1st because of those stale dates you referred to. So, we have no propblem telling them that they are a 2nd hold (actually is a great selling point to their client -- "better act soon if you want him"). Finally, we only give a hold 24-hour notice if we do get a confirmed offer...only fair.

-- John Putzier

I require a 50% "Commitment Deposit" to guarantee the date and to begin program development. I rarely have a problem with this. It is also non-refundable, but creditable toward a future engagement of equal or greater value for one year.

-- Lois Creamer

Here is the advice I give my clients on your questions about holds.

  1. Contacting bureau/client when a hold goes on and on -- I always suggest you contact and say the following "I'm updating my calendar, are you still interested in the date?", or, "do you need anything else from me in order to green light the date?" You have every right, and SHOULD be in communication about holds. That said, I wouldn't call a bureau constantly. Call one week, wait 10 days, then send a fax back request with checklist-type option to indicate what disposition of the date is.

  2. Multiple holds -- first one requesting the date is first hold, second is second hold, and so on. Always tell your client "you are the FIRST hold on that date", or "you are the second hold on that date."

  3. If booking materializes while holds still exist on same date: See #2. Earliest hold gets priority. If hold #2 calls wanting the date you say: "GREAT! I'll call the client who has the first hold on that date (they will already have known they are #2) and give them 24 hours to either book or give up the date. Then do just that. Call #1 and say, "I have a client who wants the date you are currently holding. Since you have right to first refusal on the date, I'm giving you 24 hours to book or give the date away. I hope you can pull it together!"

If you have a policy about holds, it makes it easy on you, your clients and prospects, and the bureaus you work with. I suggest all 3 of the policies above to my clients.

-- Maye Musk

Stay on hold until: (a) the month before, or you need that date. The bureau/client seldom tells you your hold has been cancelled. (b) Tell them they're on "first hold," "second hold," etc. (c) Call the first hold and give them the option to accept as you have a definite offer. The bureau usually calls the client and books or cancels you right away, without fuss.

-- Peg Fitzgerald

I frequently have requests for multiple engagements for the same or similar dates. We will hold a date for a short period, around 1 month on a calendar that is at least 6 months out. If a second request comes in for that date, and a signed contract with needed deposit is not yet received, my admin assistant will call the first contact and let him/her know the date has been requested by another group. That often moves a contract forward quickly, and we have not met with any resistance or hard feelings to date. To the second group, they are told the date is being held, might be released and a list of alternative dates offered.

By the way, I often receive requests to speak at an organization's conference with a set (i.e. nonflexible) date. If I am not available, I consistently ask about the upcoming year. This usually works! I have bookings late into 2001.

-- Ron Culberson

I take a pretty "laid back" approach to this. I put holds in my calendar but don't worry about them until someone is ready to sign the contract. I use a first right of refusal approach and let clients with holds know when I have another client who wants to book the date. I then give the other clients a reasonable amount of time (usually 2-3 days) to book me. If they can't make the decision then the client who signs the contract gets the date.

Most "bookers" know that I must take the sure gigs so I have never encountered any problems with this technique. It seems that as long as I am keeping people informed, they are happy.

As far as stale "holds," I leave them in the calendar until I get confirmation that they will not turn into bookings. It doesn't concern me until I have another request for the same date.

-- Willie Jolley

We tell clients that we hold dates for thirty days. So as not to call and bug them, we wipe them off after thirty days and the date is fully available again.

-- Larry Mersereau

If a planner asks me to hold a date over 12 months out, I offer a 30-day hold. I call at the end of 30 days to see if I'm one of the final three in consideration. If yes, I'll go another 14 days. If no, I release the date. After the second 14 days, I call again to ask if there is a decision. If no, I have to release the date. I also advise that, if a definite booking comes in the meantime, I will call and ask for an immediate decision. If they can't make it, they lose the date. It's kind of a "first right of refusal" for 30 days.

If the date is within the next 12 months, the procedure is the same, but I only give 14 days for the first round, 10 for the second, unless they give a definite committee meeting/decision date I can live with. It's still just first right of refusal until that date. If a definite gig comes in, they have to decide on the spot or release the date. Hey, I have to eat, too!

Bureau holds are a little different. I know which bureaus are serious, and which ones are throwing proposals at the wall to see if something will stick. The "spaghetti at the wall" bureaus (you know who you are!) get a "spaghetti" hold ... meaning they get the courtesy of an email if someone else books the date. Serious bureaus get a follow up call after 30 days, and 14 days. If they're on top of it, and know I'm in the final cut, I'll give them more leeway. If they're obviously doing nothing to pursue a decision, I telll them dipolomatically that the date is becoming a "spaghetti" hold.

I hate having "holds" on my calendar, but I understand the way committees make decisions. Sometimes, it takes a little tough love to get a decision made in a reasonable amount of time.

-- T. Scott Gross

We ask the bureau what is the decision date when they place the hold. When a second hold is put on the date we advise the new hold client that they are second and that number one has first right of refusal. We do not buy into the bull about '24 hour' notice. We call the first hold client and they are asked to either accept or reject the date. The 24 hour idea creates problems... "can I have 36? the VP is out on vacation" ad nauseum.

-- The humble Farmer, Robert Skoglund

Held dates? Ho ho ho.

I got your answer yesterday from Ed Reed in Camden, Maine who runs a clothing store.

Ed said a woman came in and asked him to hold a shirt for him while she shopped for a similar item in other stores. Because Ed had never seen her before, he asked for a deposit.

When reduced to those terms, she wasn't all that serious.

I imagine he would have done it for a regular customer.

If Ed were really hungry, he might have held the shirt with no deposit.

-- Cher Holton

As a result of a really irritating and frustrating situation with a client holding a huge block of dates, and constantly changing/rearranging them, I finally developed a "Date Confirmation" policy which is included in my Proposal and Letter of Confirmation. It reads:

"Date Confirmation Policy: Because of the competitive nature of booking dates, it is necessary to have a signed Letter of Agreement before dates can be confirmed for a client. To facilitate your administrative needs, we will hold the dates identified herein for two weeks from the date of this Letter of Agreement, giving you a "Right to First Refusal" should another client ask for the same dates. After the two-week period, the dates become open and will need to be renegotiated. Once your signed Letter of Agreement has been faxed to our office, the dates are confirmed for you."

If, during the two-week period, another client wants the date, I explain that the date is on hold with another client who has the right to first refusal, and I can confirm with them within 24 hours.

Obviously, there are still times when I need to be flexible about this, but at least the written policy gives me the teeth I need when the situation gets ridiculous!

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