WHO WANTS TO CANCEL A SPEAKER CONTRACT? In early February, one of the lesser-known speakers in the portfolio of Speak Inc., a speakers bureau in San Diego, Calif., called the bureau to predict that his star was about to rise.

He didn't say why or how. But two weeks later, Speak Inc. and many companies who had booked him or were planning to book him found out. Unfortunately for all concerned, he'd become more infamous than famous.

The speaker, a stand-up comedian named Rick Rockwell, was the man behind the curtain in a beauty contest-style television show called "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" During the show, which aired February 15, some 50 women vied to marry Rockwell live on stage, though they knew nothing about him and had never even seen him. Not long after the broadcast, news of a former restraining order against Rockwell and suggestions that he misrepresented his financial status came to light. (The woman he apparently married on the show has had the marriage annulled.)

"I thought I'd chosen an unknown professional speaker," says Berkshire Life's Sharon Chapman, CMP, who had booked Rockwell for a March awards event. "His fee was minimal. I just needed an emcee to read a script." But a week after she signed the contract, the Rockwell story had exploded.

"[Speak Inc. founder] Ruth Levine was very proactive. She called me and said, 'What do you want to do?'" says Chapman, meeting planner at the Pittsfield, Mass., insurer. "She didn't even give me a chance to get into panic mode."

Meanwhile, at the bureau's San Diego office, Levine says, "Press inquiries jammed our phones and nearly crashed our Web site. By the second day, we had hired a temp." Not wanting to be drawn into the fray, Speak Inc. issued "no comment" statements and dropped Rockwell from its portfolio. "We are adamantly against what he did," Levine says.

"We decided that this was not the image we wanted to be projecting for our people," Chapman says. "Ruth found me a replacement within four days. It was a complete load off my mind." Levine also negotiated on Chapman's behalf with the new emcee--Jim Gossett. "He was great--very enjoyable and very professional," Chapman says of Gossett, who worked her March 18 event at the Sheraton Boston Hotel & Towers.

The tale is a reminder of the value of speakers bureaus when the unexpected happens. Not only was Levine able to help Chapman find a new speaker quickly, she also took over responsibility for the contract cancellation with Rockwell. "If we didn't have Ruth," says Chapman, "we really would have been up the creek!"