by Tom Isler | July 01, 2007

Marc Gunther

Call me Al: Marc Gunther fills in for Al Gore.

Last fall, former vice president and soon-to-be Oscar winner Al Gore agreed to speak at the FMI Show (Food Marketing Institute) in Chicago on May 6. Ten days before the speech, his representatives from the Harry Walker Agency, a New York City-based speakers bureau, called FMI to say Gore was canceling “for personal reasons.”

Michael Sansolo, senior vice president for Arlington, Va.-based FMI, said his first reaction to news was, “Ha, ha, that’s funny.” His next thought: “We’re screwed.”

Sansolo and his staff sprang into action. They created a list of solutions, from best-case to worst. It read: 1) Find a celebrity replacement. 2) Find solid replacements. 3) Find a former FMI speaker for an encore. 4) Move an existing panel into that slot.

After frantic phone calls to Tom Neilssen and Les Tuerk, CEO and president, respectively, of BrightSight Group, a speakers bureau in Princeton, N.J., Sansolo found a tag team to replace Gore: Marc Gunther, a writer for Fortune magazine, and Chip Heath, a Stanford professor and author.

Sansolo, while still fuming about the situation, says it’s important in such situations not to waste precious time cursing the canceller. “We didn’t work on a problem we couldn’t correct,” he says.

Planners in crisis might want to turn to bureaus, like BrightSight, that represent speakers on an exclusive basis, Tuerk advises, since such bureaus tend to have better relationships with speakers and can get favors from them.

Heath says he was happy to help an association in need but isn’t sure how well he filled in for Gore. “I got compliments after the talk but, so far, no calls from Hollywood producers.”