Times are tough right now for every industry-but especially advertising. With marketing budgets being slashed for small businesses and national corporations alike, companies are spending less money on placing ads, which in turn means less commercials and print ads. Because these are the bread and butter of most regional talent agencies, many are being forced to close up shop.
Don’t be left out in the cold when your agency closes! Here are seven signs that your agency is in trouble:
1. Things are tense in the office
When revenues are down, agents are under the gun to get people booked. This can be a Herculean task if there are no places in town booking models or actors. Chances are the agency owner is pressuring the agents with threats of wage cuts or even termination. If your agent seems testy, this is not a good sign.
2. Bookings are few and far between
Obviously if you are not working, that’s a problem for you. Ask your agent-is it just slow? Is the market slow? Should I be marketing myself differently? A savvy agent will take the time with you on the phone to answer these things. An agent worried about his job may not (see item 1). Ask around during auditions-are other people getting work? Many times the clients that book models and actors may play favorites when it comes to talent agencies, especially when their budgets are limited. Clients want to work with an agency they can trust when times are tough. You want to make sure your agency is the agency of choice.
3. The cattle calls are more frequent
Agencies may sometimes actually create fake auditions in order to keep up the appearance of being busy. Nothing is scarier for an agency than an empty office. I have personally known of huge cattle call auditions being called out just so actors feel like they’re being submitted for work, even if they’re actually not. Some warning signs: vague details on the job, short or no scripts, or being called in multiple times for cattle calls for the same “client”.
4. You’re not allowed to do your own marketing
Actors often have to do a lot of the legwork to get booked on their own. This can mean a lot of networking with clients, photographers, and casting directors. It is often small projects such as indie film work or photographer test shoots that get an actor or model booked on a major campaign. The job of your agent should be to get you in front of as many potential clients as possible. If all of the sudden your agent has a problem with you marketing on your own, be wary. If there is a problem with your agency, or there really is no work, your agent may try to keep that information private so you don’t leave and go to a more successful agency.
5. A shoot with the “agency” photographer
When money isn’t coming in from bookings, agencies have to rely on other revenue. While it may be illegal, or at the very least unethical for a franchised agency, many of them receive kickbacks from photographers for getting their talent to shoot with them. Franchised talent agencies are not allowed to require their talent to go to a specific photographer, but it is a common practice to give an agent financial incentives under the table. If you’re being pressured to shoot or reshoot with a specific photographer and your photos are still current, that may be because the agency gets money for sending you there.
6. Heavily pressured to go on the agency website
Again, agencies will have to rely on other streams of income when there is not enough money from bookings to pay the rent. There is often a fee paid to the agency for posting you on their site. Being on your agency website can be a useful tool, but if it seems like your agent is more concerned with you paying to go on the site than they are getting you work, turn and run! If they feel that strongly that you will get work if you go on their site, ask them to advance you the money and deduct it from the money from your next booking.
7. The big boss is in the office
If the agency owner is hanging around the office more than usual, that’s typically not a good sign. He may be dealing with floating money to pay rent, payroll, and pay the talent, going after uncollected accounts, or just pulling his hair out trying to wine and dine the clients. You may get called in to a meeting with the head agent or agency owner to talk about your career. This could be a good thing, as long as you get the impression that the agency is still truly interested in you. If the above conditions exist, though, it could be a list ditch effort to keep you from leaving the ship before it sinks.
I get phone calls and emails from talent on almost a daily basis who are concerned about their agency. If you’re seeing several (or even all) of these warning signs, chances are your agency is not in good shape, and you may be out of work sometime in the very near future.
So what’s an actor to do if he’s concerned about his agency? Here’s some advice in case you need to get out of your talent agency contract.