THE MODELING AGENCY
What exactly is a modeling agency and what does it do? A great deal depends on the market in which an agency operates, the owners and the agency’s personnel.
A modeling agency's number one purpose is to find the model work. They work as the model's representative or agent. As an agent they seek and negotiate contracts of employment for the model or talent who is an independent business. For finding the model work, they take a percent of what the model makes (10% to 33%). In the United States, in some states they are considered private employment agencies and must be licensed by the state. That sounds fairly simple and straightforward, but it is amazing how it can vary.
The Top Agencies
In the major cities, like New York you will find the heart of the fashion and advertising industry in the United States, which leads to a high demand for all types of models. It is the same in other countries, the largest cities will have the strongest agencies. The modeling agencies in New York compete to fill that demand with the finest talent they can find. When an agency sees someone who has potential or someone who satisfies the demand, they will invest in that individual to get him/her ready for the market. They don't do this to be nice people - they do it because they feel they can make money from that person. They know the market and they will invest in you (a loan against future earnings) to prepare you for that market. If they guess wrong and you do not become marketable and profitable, they will cut their losses and drop you. The top agencies are working with big-budget ad agencies and fashion designers so there is money available to develop new talent. These top agencies will help train you (more like on the job training), get you test shoots, layout your portfolio, and put together comp cards and other printed materials you need. They take care of finding you work, booking the jobs, bill for the jobs and eventually cut a check for the work you do. Once you are in an agency like this all you have to worry about is following instructions, learn your craft, be dependable and professional.
The Secondary Market
Within a secondary market, the modeling agencies are not working with big budget clients. In some cities there may be enough work that an agency can be a full time operation - perhaps even supporting a few people on staff but there is not enough work to pay for the development of new talent. For this type of agency you must provide the marketing tools and training. The agency may help you with where to go to get photos, composites and training, but they can't afford to pay for it or loan you money. There just isn't enough budget for them to guess wrong even once. So it is up to you to foot the bill. This is fine if the agency is really out there looking for work for its models and there is enough of a market to make a living. Make sure you check them out and that they know what they are doing and not just playing at being a modeling agency.
Managers, Bookers and Modeling Schools?
A good agency will help manage your career and find you work. In big cities this can be split into two parts, managers and bookers.
The manager will help you develop your "look", your modeling skills, and develop your natural talents. They will help in preparing your marketing materials for the market in which they think you will be most successful. They should have knowledge of the market place and will honestly evaluate your potential for that market. They should have contacts so they can send you to photographers, graphic designers and printers to prepare your marketing materials. They should have the means to prepare you to be a model.
The booking side is where the agency tracks down who uses models. The agency has a phone that is manned and an office that a client can visit. They make the rounds to keep in touch with those who use models and provide them with composites and head sheets of their talent. They advertise, do lunches, do cold calls and turn over stones to find who is hiring models. They book time for models to work, give direction to get there and make sure models show up. They handle billing, collections, and complaints. A good agency finds you work and earns every cent of their commission (usually 15% to 33%). But, in smaller markets, they are a rarity.
The Modeling School
Further on down the ladder you find agencies in markets that are too small to support a full time modeling agency. In these markets the modeling school is usually the full time moneymaker and the agency is just a hook. If you finish the school you get to be in the agency. This can be fine if you like to play at modeling and have the money to do so. In most cases if your city has a population of less then a million it will not be able to support a full time agency. Even in a city of a million you may be better off marketing yourself than working with a so-so agency. When you get to a city with a population of a couple million or more there may be just too much ground to cover and an agency can be very helpful.
How do you find a Modeling Agency?
By any means you can think of. One way is to have your particulars sent directly to the Agencies in your area by the Models Register. This is by far the quickest and easiest way of making contact. You will want to know what their model screening process is. Some may contact you from your approach and ask you to show up to be evaluated. Or they may just schedule an interview with you. All work differently so be prepared. Then once contact has been made, be sure to check them out. One way is with the Better Business Bureau, in any case don't be pressured into signing anything right away. If they offer a contract or want you to sign up for a class, ask if you can take the contract with you and you will get back to them in a few days.
Checking out a Modeling Agency
A certain mystery surrounds the modeling industry. How does one become a top model? There is no clear cut answer to that question. Because of this mystery and uncertainty, a great deal of room exists in which a scam artist can work. Since a modeling agency is often the key to becoming a successful model, this is where many scams take place. How do you find a legitimate modeling agency? There is no easy answer.
First, there is no rating service for modeling agencies; there is no governmental authority; there is no licencing organization to tell you which agency is legitimate and which is not. Most agencies are small, independent businesses working in a very competitive market place.
One thing to do is to check out agencies is to call them after business hours. You can find out fast which agencies are trying to be legitimate businesses. The idea behind this is that modeling is a very competitive, fast moving business and things don't just happen 9 to 5. If a photographer, has an emergency come up after business hours (a cancellation, a client who has to shoot tomorrow and will pay anything to do it). He will need to be able to contact someone immediately or else he is down the road to another agency. A good agency knows this and you will find, when you call them after hours, they will have an answering machine or service that will give you an emergency number to call (a cell phone or pager). If you find the machine just tells you to call back during business hours or they have no after hour answering service at all, look for another agency.
If you follow the local news media (newspaper, TV), there is a good chance information on local agencies will show up.
Another method of researching the local market takes even more work - follow the local fashion print advertising. When you start to see which stores use local models regularly, you can start making phone calls. Call the store and find out who handles the advertising. You can hope that the person at the store who does this can direct you to their advertising agency, their photographer, or may even direct you to the modeling agency they use.
Modeling Agency Contracts
There are three styles of contracts that you typically will run across.
The exclusive contract
Some modeling agencies will work with exclusive contracts. This means that they are your exclusive representatives and they get a commission on any work you do. They get this commission whether they find the work or you find it on your own. If you sign this kind of contract, be sure the agency is really going to be working for you. If they are providing a lot of guidance getting your career started and are out there beating the bushes to find work for you, this type of contract is fine. If the agency signs you just to fill space in their roster and then leaves you hanging in limbo for the length of your contract (usually one to two years) it can be a bad way to try and start a career.
The non-exclusive contract
Another type of contract is a non-exclusive modeling contract. In this case if the modeling agency finds you work, they get paid their commission. If you find work on your own you pay them nothing. You are free to sign non-exclusive contracts with other modeling agencies. This way you might have several agencies representing you at once. Now don't expect the same service and help from a non-exclusive agency as with an exclusive agency. In smaller markets, where you are expected to provide all of your training, portfolios, composites and other marketing materials before an agency will work with you, signing an exclusive contract is a kind of a rip-off.
The Mother Agency Agreement
The final contract is a Mother Agency Agreement. In this case the modeling agency knows there is not enough work locally to support any one over the long term. Their position then is to move you on to a major market and get you signed with a major modeling agency. They may get you work locally but it is more with the idea of getting you ready for the major market. For helping prepare you and helping to place you with a top modeling agency, they get a percent of your earnings for a long time to come. You, in essence, never leave the mother agency - you are just loaned out to the top agencies. This can be an attractive arrangement if the mother agency invests time and money in your career and gets you on with top money making agencies.
The trouble comes when this gets attached to a modeling school. You not only have to pay for all of the classes, the photo shoots, the career guidance session, you then must keep paying these people again for doing nothing. You need to examine these agreements very carefully before you sign.