Marketing Mambo

How to Pick the Right Speaker for Your Event with Speaker Bureau SVP Brian Palmer

April 11, 2022 Terry McDougall Season 2 Episode 15
How to Pick the Right Speaker for Your Event with Speaker Bureau SVP Brian Palmer
Marketing Mambo
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Marketing Mambo
How to Pick the Right Speaker for Your Event with Speaker Bureau SVP Brian Palmer
Apr 11, 2022 Season 2 Episode 15
Terry McDougall

Brian Palmer is SVP of National Speakers Bureau. Over forty years ago Brian's father, John Palmer, founded National Speakers Bureau because he wanted to provide knowledgeable, ethical and creatively thoughtful options to those people charged with finding the right speakers for their audiences.

In 2018 NSB became a division of Premiere Speakers Bureau where Brian continues to help his customers capture the hearts and minds of those important to them. Brian and his jazz violinist wife of 28 years, Paula, have two kids who are working hard, being good and enjoying their 20s.

Brian graduated from Drake University with a BA in Speech Communications, and earned an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

To learn more about National Speakers Bureau, go to

To reach Brian: or 847.281.3574 


If you'd like to talk to Terry McDougall about coaching or being a guest on Marketing Mambo, here's how you can reach her:

Her book Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms is available at Amazon

Here's how you can reach host Terry McDougall:

Her book Winning the Game of Work is available at Amazon

Show Notes Transcript

Brian Palmer is SVP of National Speakers Bureau. Over forty years ago Brian's father, John Palmer, founded National Speakers Bureau because he wanted to provide knowledgeable, ethical and creatively thoughtful options to those people charged with finding the right speakers for their audiences.

In 2018 NSB became a division of Premiere Speakers Bureau where Brian continues to help his customers capture the hearts and minds of those important to them. Brian and his jazz violinist wife of 28 years, Paula, have two kids who are working hard, being good and enjoying their 20s.

Brian graduated from Drake University with a BA in Speech Communications, and earned an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

To learn more about National Speakers Bureau, go to

To reach Brian: or 847.281.3574 


If you'd like to talk to Terry McDougall about coaching or being a guest on Marketing Mambo, here's how you can reach her:

Her book Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms is available at Amazon

Here's how you can reach host Terry McDougall:

Her book Winning the Game of Work is available at Amazon

Hey everybody. It's Terry McDougall with marketing Mambo. And, you know, one of the lessons that I learned as a marketer is that you can't do it all on your own. And my guest today is somebody that I actually worked with as a vendor partner who made me look brilliant. Many many times, because I took his advice. 

His name is Brian Palmer and he is the SVP. Of national speakers bureau. So with any marketing tactic. We've got objectives that we need to achieve. And with events that is also true, but very often we're investing. Sometimes up to, , millions of dollars and the speaker is just such a critical. 

Part of the success and unfortunately, Whatley. There are many, many ways to make mistakes. With selecting speakers for your event, but Brian is an expert and he's going to give us a lot of insights on how he helps his clients pick the right speakers. Also he's going. Gonna comment on. What has changed since the onset of COVID. Because obviously. Mostly  live in-person events  or not happening with the regularity that they used to. So I think. 

That you're going to be really interested in hearing what Brian has to say. He's got some great stories. Please. 

And now. Without further ado, let the Mambo begin.  

Everybody. It's Terry McDougall, your host at marketing Mambo, and we're back with another fantastic guest today. My guest is Brian Palmer, who is the senior vice president at national speakers bureau. And I'll let Brian tell you about what a speakers bureau is, but I can tell you as somebody who did a lot with event marketing, that speakers bureaus are often.

Best friend, when you want to do a fantastic event with great speakers. So Brian, welcome to marketing Mambo. How are you today? 

I'm great. Happy to be here,

Yeah. Good. Well, we were just talking before I hit record about we're both here,

in the Chicago land area and we were getting a snow storm. So it's nice to be inside and be able to talk, from our cozy homes. 

shoveling snow for me as a great workout, head up but down and throw the snow, not too much snow on the shovel and you're done with your workout for a day three.

Yeah. Good cardio there. And your, a native of Chicago and aren't you.

That's right. That's right. So I know how to shoe myself and dress myself and, had to become more important as my hair line has steadily receded over the years.

Yeah. moved here from North Carolina. And so, people will be like, oh my gosh,  it must've been a shock and it certainly was a shock, but what I tell people is that once you have the right gear, it's not so bad. 

Exactly. That's 

Yeah. Yeah. Well, so Brian, tell our listeners what a speakers bureau is. 

Well, I once looked up what a bureau is and it has to do with expertise. So we are expert in things related to. Speakers and our company is oriented toward business and business-related association events. So really we have skill and know the marketplace for business related speakers. And when we interact with a customer, we offer up that expertise to help their event go on.

 you and I first met whenever I was working at a bank here in the Chicago land area,  and we do, maybe two or three day events where we invite clients to have a conference type thing and, We would, of course showcase some of our own subject matter experts, but sometimes bringing somebody in from outside who has expertise can be really helpful too.

And so I always found it really helpful to go to you and say, okay, this is the objective of our event. Here are the types of people that are going to be in attendance. Maybe it's an election year and you want to have somebody talk about like, what's going on among the electorate or whatever.

Talk to me a little bit about like the type of consulting or what you do when you're trying to help match speakers with,  a marketer or an event planners, objectives around their. 

Well, the event owner these days when it's always been somewhat the case, but particularly these days, They spend all this money on a meeting for a reason. It's not just to get together and have a nice time, but it's very easy for a meeting of quite a few people to cost well over a million dollars.

So the financial people in the organization, they want to know that this money is going to be well-spent. So speaker who will help that organization achieve.  Objectives for that session and for that event and make some sort of a contribution to the organization. And so, being aware of the people who would offer the grief fit, but as, or more important, somebody that does an excellent job on the platform, that helps increase the odds that the event will make the contribution.

The event planner and the event owner want to happen. And importantly, there's often a little bit of a difference between the event planner and the event owner. You have an owner tends to be more, oriented toward objectives. And the event planner tends to want people to be satisfied and happy with the gathering and right.

I enjoy that, that gap and progress doesn't happen in comfort necessarily. And so the men and women that own the meeting that want things to progress are often, far more at ease with somebody that is going to push the boundaries with the people in their office.

Hmm. Yeah. That's, really interesting. And, guess you could say that I was probably more on the event planner side of things, but as. Head of marketing. I was interacting with the event owners. So the person who was running the business that was paying for the events, and a lot of times, Objectives where, maybe a little bit more general or sometimes they might come and say, oh, I'd like to have this particular person who maybe,  writes op-eds or something for the newspaper, come in and speak.

But then, maybe I talked to you and you'd say, Hmm, that person is, yes. They're, well-known not a great speaker. 


That's that's a key ingredient. I mean, I just, this morning I was asked about an Olympic athlete, and a very accomplished multi time gold metal.  Olympic athlete. And they felt that this person would be a really good fit for their group,   She is not a public speaker.

She doesn't personalize her presentation. It's not strong. It's very low energy and very low key. And I advise them to steer clear difference between a good fit and she was for what they want to do and great on the platform is a very important thing. And I think I earlier said, , fit is important, but, I think quality presentation is even more important if the fittest clothes and the presentation is excellent.

I think you will have a better. The, five or 10 minutes into a mediocre presentation, people will get restless. They start looking at their phone, they start wondering who's the knucklehead that hired this speaker. We're being asked to make progress, do more with less. And they obviously didn't do a very good job picking this person so fit.

And then, but really a quality presentation. Now people often ask me what makes for a quality presentation and it has to do with a number of things. Number one, they have to be relevant to the audience. Really importantly, half the audience, most audiences tend to be oriented towards. The mind and ideas, the other half tends to be oriented toward the heart, wanting their Emotions touched an excellent speakers are able to go back and forth between,  those kinds of things. They can make a point, maybe provide some evidence and then tell a story about it. A story that might be interesting and memorable, and perhaps.  Entertaining as well. when I scout a speaker, I have a piece of paper.

I have my watch and I write down the time between a motive responses or laugh, are a speaker making a head-nodding point. And I average those out. And if there's an emotive response, every eight to 12 minutes,  that's not good.  If it's every one to two minutes.  That is  very good. And ideally, I want to watch that speaker in the context of what they've been asked to do.

So I'll ask a speaker when I'm scouting them. What were you asked to do? And I ask them to send me their brief and if the brief is very different than the presentation, then, that is not a good presentation. The point I made before about the disparity between what the planner wants and what the executive wants.

Not that long ago, I got a call from the planner and she said, boy, some people really didn't like the presentation. They made them uncomfortable. And,   I really wish she had been fine. 


And then two days later, I got a call from her boss  and this woman said it was perfect. He struck the right balance between humor and progress and hopefully, some people are going to be buffing up their, 


Yeah, th they're there they're

I don't know if monster is still a player, but you use that term. I think they're going to be bumping up their profiles cause they might be considering making a move or not like direction in which we're going or the idea of being held against.

  that's so interesting, that her objective was to shake things up  and this person came in and helped do that. And yes, it made people uncomfortable. And that sounds like that's exactly what she wanted to do. Yeah, I love that. That's so, so interesting. one of the things I was thinking about as you were talking about.

 The gold medalist, Olympian, how,  there's a lot of people out there that have name recognition, and a lot of times it, because of their name recognition, they can command a particular price. Because when somebody is marketing and event, they can say, Hey, gold medalist Olympian is going to be our speaker.

And people are like, oh wow.  That's awesome. On a be able to go see this Olympian. And, I think the interesting thing is that people will  have an expectation like, oh, well they were so excellent in their sport that they're probably gonna have like lots of wisdom to share and all of this type of thing.

And I'm sure that you see often that that may not be the case and that maybe there's somebody who actually, washed out, never made the Olympic team who is a great speaker and maybe they have more wisdom to share because they. Dealt with some hardships or something like that.

And think  back to, my relationship with you and other speakers bureaus that I've worked with in the past, and I always  really appreciated those diamonds in the rough  where  they were going to fulfill on the objective. Maybe they didn't have quite the same name recognition, but. They also weren't,  $50,000 for a 60 minute speech.

So can you talk to that intersection bit?

I love that intersection. There are a lot of accidents in that intersection. I think that, satisfaction is somewhat a function of expectations and when somebody is famous and they've done something extraordinary or they've written a book and. When the audience knows that he or she probably charges a lot of money, they expect a lot out of that person.

And  it's very difficult to develop a stellar 45 minute presentation and have the skill to do what the audience wants.  Not simply, Show up and tell your story. That is hard work. That's very difficult. And audiences are really demanding of the way that  their time is used. So people expect a lot of that famous person.

And when they don't deliver, they're a little bit disappointed.  And when  the person who does an excellent job, but isn't necessarily well known the surprise and delight. from a presentation that you didn't have particularly high expectations for, or didn't know a thing about, audiences love that kind of thing.

And I think smart people tend toward that kind of speaker. It saves a lot of money. And as an event owner, if you develop the reputation for bringing in really good speakers, people will come. If you have the reputation of bringing in really famous speakers, they might come, but that is a tough trail to stay on year after year, bringing in a famous speaker it's expensive and, happily, I know who those people are, and I know who the bad ones are too.

But, managing expectations and understanding the expectations. Regarding athletes, I mean, a lot of men generally they want that football player, that basketball player, that coach to come to the event they're fans of them. They liked the team. They love the idea of bringing that person in, sitting at dinner with this person  and having this great experience.

And there are plenty of those people who are very good speakers.   Well, I call them jock sniffers men who you lose a good bit of their sensibility when they catch the whiff of a well-used athletic supporter. So you gotta be careful. And a corollary to that is the executive who reads a really good book that they really like.

And no matter what they want a little bit of that to come to the event. And sometimes they are very good speakers. Sometimes they're not often that person comes on the heels of this long book tour, where they gave these a lot of short, little talks about ideas in the book and they come to your event and you pay them $40,000 and they essentially deliver, a book report.

 So  You have to do some due diligence. Now,  a relatively recent set of phenomena around people that are well-known I believe social media has diluted celebrity as it might have existed 20 or 30 years ago,   I mean, there's a lot more people that are famous for a bunch of things, including just being famous  and.

People are intrigued by that and famous people look really good  on your program. And, so people want some of that and a lot of actors and performers and,  people that are famous for doing things have come into the lecture industry.  And they don't so much give a speech, but they do what we call moderated Q and a they'll bill start.

They'll be introduced. They talk for five minutes. It's kind of like what we're doing here.    See, I don't have to deliver a really good speech, but I can give these short semi snappy answers to your question. And. so doing this on a big, virtual platform or at an event, or sitting with a CEO in comfortable chairs, legs, cross answering questions.

Some that might be organic questions, but others that the speaker provided.  So because they have snappy answers for those. So that used to be people  in the old days, 20 years ago, that wasn't very common and event owners didn't want that. But now that's a much bigger portion of what we do, especially with virtual talks.

I mean,  it's difficult to deliver a speech where you're not getting anything from the audience. And a lot of people have said, I'll do that virtual talk, but let's do moderate, acute.

Yeah,  it's reminding me of my last employer. We actually had. George Bush after he left office and also bill Clinton. And did. Events. I mean, of course like you said, very pricey, right? And we did events for our very top clients, but those were sort of the moderated Q and a where the CEO is sitting on the stage  in a chair across from bill Clinton and  asking him, curated questions.

And then, there's.  VIP photo op afterwards, at my former employer they thought that was totally worth it, to be able to provide that kind of access to  top clients, to, presidents who just left office. 

People love having that picture with the former leader of the free world and on the contracts very often.  There's a prescribed number of clinics.  And you can have  50 clicks or a hundred clicks. And the setup  is described and the brand of that  organization and the brand of that chief executive on the stage with this person, I mean that, burnishes their image raises the organization up, raises his or her reputation or their brand up a little 

it can be very powerful.

  Yeah, for sure. It's super interesting.  liked what you were saying about the,  Q and a, because  it sounds like that that could be a good way to use. Somebody who's famous, but maybe isn't a fantastic speaker. And I think that people do just like to be able to go and see somebody like Michael Jordan Norris or somebody who's very famous to be able to be in the same room with them and hear some of their experiences or something like that.

 It's cool. It's a nice little bragging, right. For somebody who's a attendee at an event like that. 

We're getting a lot of calls asking me what Tom Brady's true.

  Yeah. Gosh, 

And don't ask me. I'm not supposed to say


it's a bunch.

Yeah, for sure. this is many, many years ago, but I think it was like quarter million for, Clinton.    That was probably like a win-win for him too, because. For him to be able to rub shoulders with people that might want to contribute to his foundation. Right. That it's just to be able to meet other well-healed peoples probably a win-win there. But, I don't know if you've got thought on this, but  I've definitely thought a lot about this. What role do you think that events play in the marketing strategy for organizations? 

Well, like marketing is a thing for associations around and people studying people are professional in it. People getting face-to-face with their customers is important and valuable.  For a variety of reasons. know that, a lot of organizations a really happy that  the live events have slowly crept back.

And we're certainly hopeful that things remain stable like they are now because they've measured. What happens when they have an event live, when they have an event virtual  and when they don't have an event of velocity of things through their pipelines, their ability to attract investors, sponsorship for events, all those things are impacted  when they don't have, events.

It's a call. And it's very interesting, to see what can happen. , I had a big client, they were bought by  private equity firm. And, one of their senior executives said to me, yeah, You know, Brian, our event strategy has supported all aspects of our strategy for years and we do it exquisitely and we've measured it.

But when we got bought by the private equity firm, they were in the hospitality business. We ceased to be in the hospitality business and we became a financial firm. So they profoundly cut Their use of meetings. And later this guy said, , it's become a lot harder to achieve our objectives.

We've tried other ways, but when left to some financial people and they view it as a cost, because if it costs a ton  to fly house feed and entertain people, It's got a role it's been measured.  It does work.  And, when you are hospitable to people into the law of reciprocity, they'll pay more attention to you in the future.

They'll take your calls. changes things. So, I'm clearly prejudice because  I'm event oriented.  But, 

it's interesting to see, when a executive changes and when he, or she believes the use of meetings is useful and then somebody new comes in and they feel differently about it and  it comes and goes and, people have shared with.

 That does make a difference in some people who didn't think  it was useful, have  changed their minds when they saw the title.

 Yeah, it definitely has an impact on revenue. And it's funny because I've talked with people in and around marketing about this topic.  That you sort of alluded to that. I think that there are a lot of  people in business that don't really understand marketing and for the finance people to look at the price tag that is attached to  marketing activities, whether it's events or other things, a lot of times.

 Because they don't understand it. That honestly it's an investment rather than an expense  that it's very easy to say, like what $5 million for the marketing budget or,  whatever.  That's too much, let's cut that in half.  Right. And not realize that, Okay.

if you're not  investing, you're not going to get a return on that.

 And, to the point that I think you're making,, I used to see it cause we did big events in my life.  Job. And you helped us with many of them, CEO, retreats like conferences, where we go to a resort for a few days  and our CEO, or, other C-suite individuals would come down and.

There was golf and there were dinners with keynote speakers 

and breakout sessions with, , subject matter experts. And just that time spent together and introducing clients or prospects to.  The people that were in the know within our organization, it increases the comfort level with who is this organization and are they trustworthy?

 What are their capabilities?   This was, high level B2B type transactions that we're talking about, but, People have to feel comfortable that if they choose to entrust an organization with their business, that they can follow through on it, that they're going to be a trustworthy and capable partner.

 And I agree with you.   Being in the same room and having the time  to spend with somebody to develop that relationship is really critical. And I think a lot of times the  speakers are,  I don't want to say they're the window dressing, but they're part of the ingredient of what's going to get somebody they're like, oh, I'm going to go and learn from  this why speaker that they've hired to come in.

But that's just part of, sort of the recipe of. What they're going to get when they come. 

Well, you don't need to have a speaker at a meeting. I think it can be a good idea, but I think one of the fundamentals of a meeting is the value of sitting at a table and sharing a meal with other people.  It's very powerful. And throughout history, I'm sure there are books that have been written about those kinds of ideas  and it's powerful and, Well, fashioned and well timed and well paced and not having a bump in the road, hiring somebody to speak that it's really not very, very interesting.

 I'm thinking of a fun story. So permit me,  went through a process with.   They didn't hire the person that I recommended. They hired a friend of a very senior executive. So afterward I wrote the guy and said, how did it go with the guy said, well, he called us by the wrong name. He was supposed to talk for 30 minutes and he spoke for 15.

He told two body jokes. He ordered an $89 bottle of wine.  And he stole the robe from the room, but he loved the golf.


my gosh. 

So,  it's not just what happens on stage necessarily. And then now the good news is this guy spoke for free and. before the guy told me about all this stuff, he said, Brian,  I'm going to write an article for one of those meeting magazines. The most expensive speaker I ever had  was free.

That was That he was going to title it. So he reflected terribly on the organization and the event and the man who. Brought him into, speak. 


problem often is when you get somebody to speak for free, you don't have as much control over how they handle things. And I think that's a part of meeting somebody, a friend of a friend, don't treat them differently, treat them like you would.

Be treating somebody that's charging you a lot of money in terms of having the preparation call, telling them about your organization, sending them a  That outlines what you want to have happen. Don't leave it to chance that this person is going to  know what you want to do. This is the purpose of our event.

This is our goal for that session. And here's the things that we'd like you to contribute to this gathering. And sometimes you'll get pushback from the guy, but his internal buddy, but to the degree, you can make it very clear what you want to have happen. And I think you can increase the odds of things will go.

 Yeah, that's so interesting. And I was just envisioning that, maybe that executive thought, oh, this guy is so funny and entertaining when I'm out on the golf course with them. He's got great stories. He could be a great speaker for our group and there's something that's very different.

Okay.   Telling a joke out on the ninth pole versus,  standing in front of,  an audience that of your clients and prospects and,  doing a meaningful presentation. So 

 Well, I heard one of the jokes that he told, and it was really funny and I've told it a couple of times since, but not for a corporate 


Yeah. Yeah, exactly. You've got to be cautious about that. Well, so I'd like to pivot a little bit and ask you,  how did you get started in doing what you do.

Well, dad started the national speakers bureau in 1972. He had been right out of college. He worked for William Morris booking bands for state fairs, but he worked his way through college. You had a band. And so he worked at William Morris in the winter and in the summer. I don't know how this worked out, but he traveled around the Midwest playing at fairs and that he made his way up through  the music and banned food chain.

And he got tired of all the travel. He would be gone for weeks at a time sometimes. So he started the national speakers bureau. He actually stole a phone book from a New York hotel, brought it back with him and started looking for businesses that New York had that Chicago did. And he arrived at a speaker's bureaus and that led him to start here.

And when I was in college in the seventies, I worked here in the summers and when I finished college, I started working here and it's been a long time.

Yeah. Wow. That's so cool. What now? What did your dad play in the band 

 well, he was a music major in college. So you kind of have to play the piano, but he played the tenor sax. Although he grew up in Kenosha, he played the violin and he was hit by a train, not hard. I mean, the train was going slow, but it knocked them enough. Both his lungs were punctured.

And the doctor said, take up a wind instrument to rebuilt, your lungs.    that kinda changed the course, but  I think to a certain degree, we're on the fringes of the entertainment business. And so some of the precepts, what makes a good show  and what makes a good presentation.

 There's some overlap, you know, that point I made about, an emotive response, every  one to two minutes.  I got that from my dad who years ago was asked by Phyllis Diller. He was doing a show and she was performing and she gave him a legal pad, a stopwatch and a pen because she wanted to know how long between laughs and he noticed how powerful that notion was.

And that's something that we pay attention to here.  So that's one of the ideas From the entertainment business came to be very useful here.

Oh that's so cool. Well, Phyllis Diller for anybody listening. You don't know, Phyllis still or look her up. You know, I'm a child who was born in the sixties and she was a, female comedian and, off and on like Merv Griffin and  Johnny Carson. So, yeah.

she's a legend. 

And she, she worked very, very hard aircraft as do a lot of people who seemingly make it look so easy.

Sure. Yeah. I was actually thinking, as you were talking about that, going to comedy shows and how,  sometimes. I've been at comedy shows where I've laughed so hard,  I thought I was gonna,  lose control. I, you know, P myself basically.  And sometimes you need a little bit of a break to catch your breath.

But if it goes too long between laughs you kind of lose, you're not paying attention or you do feel like, okay, come on. Like, when's the next funny joke going to come?  So I suppose is like sort of a rhythm. 

Well, and I think throughout a presentation  up  and down, because the people that  in a speech are at you. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Every 

moment you do, you do, get worn out and you do get tired. of laughing, laugh. Is wonderful for us, but it uses energy. You can 

be, you can be worn out. So people that change that pace,  tell that funny story, make the point, provide sight  the evidence that means it's 

so, and then do that kind of thing through the course of a talk.

 Yeah, that makes sense.  Well, so Brian, it's been so great to talk to you, and I'm just wondering if you've got any  last words of wisdom for our audience before we close.

Well, when you  are  considering a speaker, or you're helping somebody,  to select a speaker,  ask them what they want  and try to get really specific what their goals are, what kind of speaker they want. And have a basis for judgment, have a basis for deciding, because in the absence of that, it's hard to make a decision.

It becomes particularly hard to make a decision. It's very hard for a group of five people to decide on one speaker. And if you have those criteria, you have the basis for a decision because  costs of a bunch of. Mid to senior people, considering speakers, watching video  coming together decide is extraordinary.

 And a lot of people don't pay attention to that. And remember  the notion that half the people want their hearts touch the other half, want their mind touch. So,  I have some clients that they're real brainy and they keep hiring the brain eats.  And they've got a sales audience,  the sales audience,  they're looking around saying, yeah, yeah, yeah.

 Let's move on.  So don't only two speakers, like the ones that you want. And, make sure  that they are a good speaker  don't guess don't hope do some due diligence to make sure that they're  great on the planet.


great advice because  I've been surprised on both sides of that boundary there. Either somebody I had not heard of that you. Recommend. And  then I'm like, oh wow. What a  beautiful, wonderful surprise this person is. such a good speaker or, going on name brand, and then having somebody be sort of a dud as a speaker.

And I  honestly think that that can actually be.  More costly,  like you were saying earlier that somebody comes in with very high expectations because somebody has a strong brand or they're they're well-known and they're really not a good speaker.  So,   Brian, thank you so much for being a guest and please let our listeners know where they can find you. 

national is our website  and there's some search tools and I'd be glad to help you out in the future.

 Okay, great. And how bad are you on LinkedIn? 

Yep. Brian Palmer, I'm all over there. That's a fun place to visit and exchange ideas.

Great. Okay. Well, Brian, thanks so much for being with us. 

Thank you.