The Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers found its 91st Annual Insurance Leadership Forum interjected into this year's presidential race when keynote speaker L. Paul Bremer, the former administrator of the United States — led occupation government in Iraq, told attendees that the U.S. made a mistake in not deploying enough troops in Iraq.
Bremer's October 4 remarks to the CIAB took place at the Green-brier in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., were released by the conference organizers that day, and were later picked up by media outlets all over the country. Bremer's comments then became fodder for Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates John Kerry and John Edwards during their subsequent debates with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Press reports quoted a Bremer spokesperson as saying Bremer believed his speech was to be off the record, but a CIAB news release issued August 28 specifically stated that the conference was open to media coverage.
A controversial outcome from the hiring of a speaker as topical as L. Paul Bremer doesn't surprise Ruth Levine, founder of the Speak Inc. speakers bureau headquartered in San Diego. She notes that Bremer had only just left government service and is a neophyte when it comes to the speaker's circuit. “They [ex-government officials] don't know what the expectations are,” Levine says. “It will be a while before they completely understand the protocol. The mistakes Bremer made are very common — and I'm pretty sure he won't make them again!”
Hiring a speaker with such a high profile will “absolutely put a meeting in the spotlight, Levine notes, “and it's a great marquis name that can attract record attendance.” But, she adds, when meeting planners book someone like Bremer they should make it clear to the speaker what is mutually expected and that the speaker “not say anything that will be politically controversial.”
As for whether a speech should be on or off the record, Marc Reede, president of the Nationwide Speakers Bureau in Beverly Hills, Calif., says that a speakers bureau in theory can have some control over conditions at an event, such as press coverage, but that in reality, once a speaker arrives at the meeting, all bets are off. And if someone is a public figure, says Reede, “they shouldn't be surprised if they are quoted.”
The CIAB, after publicizing Bremer's speech beforehand and releasing excerpts from his remarks, is now keeping a low profile. Its original news release concerning Bremer's speech was posted on its Web site, but has since been removed. And the conference organizers are maintaining a discreet silence. “Given the sensitivities involved here,” responded Barry Meiners, CIAB's director of marketing and communications, to an e-mail requesting information, “we are declining interviews for the time being.”