Who thought that in 1986 a small sponsorship company in Victoria would in 2007 become the first Speakers and Entertainment bureau in the world to franchise its operation. And in 2015 it is Australasia’s most awarded bureau and the premier organisation of its type.
ICMI specialises in the provision of guest speakers, entertainers, masters of ceremonies and teambuilding activities for conferences and events, with a comprehensive catalogue of over 5000 specialists on their books.
From humble beginnings, ICMI was formed after Founder and Managing Director Barry Markoff, an economics graduate, took a turn in career path which saw him travelling to the US to study a Masters of Arts, majoring in physical education and sports psychology. This path saw Mr Markoff working with a number of elite and semi-elite athletes.
Recognising a high demand for motivational speakers and entertainers in the sporting arena, he decided to start his own bureau in a small office on Clairmont Street in South Yarra, which then saw the business grow to it’s current location – High Street in Prahran.
“It’s been a great journey; I really delight in knowing where we started off – and where we are today” Markoff said, noting the significant changes that both the business and the corporate sector have undergone over the past 3 decades.
Early in the lifespan of ICMI, the company began hosting its own award winning lunches to showcase their talent, featuring notable speakers such as Dr John Hewson, John Bertrand, Kevin Sheedy, Allan Pease, and Dr John Tickell and attendees including Ian Leslie, Red Simons, Pat Cash, Kerrie Anne-Kennerley and Allan Moffatt. Over the 25-year span of the bi-monthly luncheons, ICMI saw over 50,000 total attendees.
Over the years, ICMI has continued to go from strength to strength, gaining many notable business contracts including the World Masters of Business utilizing ICMI to exclusively contract all of its speakers; including many large names such as General Norman Schwarzkopf, Mikhail Gorbachev, Dr Steven Covey, Lee Iacocca and Rene Rivkin.
In 2000, ICMI was appointed by the Australian Olympic committee to run Olympic Communicators, the official Olympic speakers bureau, ahead of 69 other speakers and management companies – a thrilling and exciting time for the company.
Locally, ICMI maintains a strong relationship with the Franchise Council of Australia, providing all of the speakers and entertainers for the association’s national conference, as well as the MC’s for the different awards nights throughout the country.
The company also has close ties with the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia, is a member of the Melbourne Convention Bureau, and is heavily involved in AIME, the largest meetings exhibition in Australasia, which is held in February on an annual basis.
When asked as to what he believes has lead to the lasting success of his business, Mr Markoff attributes this to many factors, including the strong support and hard work of ICMI’s franchisees.
As mentioned previously ICMI became the world’s first franchised speakers bureau in 2007 and 8 short years later, ICMI today has 17 owner-operated offices throughout Australia and New Zealand – an impressive feat alone.
Holding a strong relationship with each one of the franchisees, Mr Markoff states that franchisees are provided with a variety of resources through the company’s national support office, as well as extensive and ongoing training.
“I say to them; ‘you’re running your own business, so you control your own destiny,’” Barry explains.
“They’re in charge, and they’ve got the full backing of the National Support Office, which helps with marketing and administration. Our franchisees are basically selling and relationship developing with clients, and we assist with everything else.”
ICMI has also found that another positive of having franchisees is the level of support between the group.
“We see the franchisees regularly sharing new information amongst themselves, educating one another in a highly efficient manner, and this method is extremely effective in maintaining positive relationships whilst also taking our business in a positive direction for the future”.
Franchising has undoubtedly contributed to the success of ICMI as a whole, but
Mr Markoff worries that the ongoing negative spin that the Australian media has placed upon franchising as a business strategy may have repercussions on the industry as a whole, in the form of a misinformed public pushing for poor or rushed legislation.
“I think the franchising industry is amazing, because there seems to be a lot more cooperation between the boss and those who work within the organisation than in any other industry,” he says.
“They all have to work together; I find there’s a lot more humility between franchisors and franchisees, and I think it’s fantastic.”
On top of the strong bond between the entire team at ICMI, another strength of the company, according to Mr Markoff, is the numerous showcases ICMI hold for current and potential clients each year.
“In May, we had over 500 people attend an event that we put on in Sydney, and one in Brisbane the next day with over 150,” says Mr Markoff.
“We put on the top speakers in Australia, and we showcase them to the corporate sector.”
Not only do these showcases exhibit what exactly ICMI has to offer, but there is often a charitable angle to these events as well.
ICMI has worked alongside a broad range of organisations and hosted a variety of benefit events, including a ‘Women in Leadership’ function earlier in 2015, where over $20,000 was raised for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. Over a 1000 businesswomen attended this event.
Among many other charitable works, the company recently sponsored a guest speaker for the Brighton Rotary Club, which was able to raise several thousand dollars towards the Cathy Freeman Foundation.
As well as supporting many community initiatives, the company also realised the importance of a healthy work lifestyle, and alongside Graeme Cowan, the creator of the ‘R U OK? at works program created a Work Health Safety division in 2013.
The Work Health Safety division is a program designed with the aim of helping companies create a mentally healthy workplace for their employees – an area that Mr Markoff feels extremely passionate about.
“$41 billion a year is lost in productivity by Australians,” noting that the cost of presenteeism due to mood disorders is 6 to 7.5 times higher than absenteeism,” said Mr Markoff.
“Companies are becoming more conscious of shared values and getting all their people involved in the organisation, and as a result, they are doing things completely differently to 10 years ago.”
“The whole game is changing, and it will continue to be that way because the younger people coming through will only want to work for companies with good values.”
“We’re looking at new and different areas, such as women in leadership, which has increased almost 10-fold in the last decade. Leaders of today are looking to improve themselves, which is great.”
Following on from ICMI’s recent shift into the US market, the future focus of the business will be towards growing a more substantial international presence.
“It’s a whole new level of expertise that I haven’t dealt with in the past, and I’m enjoying that challenge,” said Mr Markoff.
“We’ve taken it one step at a time, and never bit off more than we can chew; that’s the reason why we’ve seen a natural, double-digit expansion most years. It’s been a great growth story for us and I’m looking forward to the exciting challenges to come.”