Agencies - facts, fiction and FAQs
By Russ Freeman, written 1363428711
This is a quick guide to what makes an agency, how an agency works, and to hopefully dispel some of the myths about agencies.
I’d like to thank ALBA for helping me with this - I got some great insights and also had a bunch of my ideas and thoughts corrected. I’d also like to thank Gavin for looking over it, correcting my mistakes and giving the benefit of his experience.
The advice and legal discussion applies to the UK. It may apply elsewhere but it’s beyond my knowledge. I am not a lawyer so if you are interested in the legal aspects please do seek legal advice...and let me know what you find :-)
- There is no joining fee so don't pay one!
- Agencies will have an office and will want to see you.
- They may insist you get some professional images taken and may insist you use their photographer.
- If you are brand new they may insist on some training.
- Agencies don't charge you for finding work.
- Anyone can be a Model Agency!
- Read the contract, watch for limitations and exclusivity! Keep a copy and read at home before signing.
- Don't sit back and wait for work. Talk to to your booker.
There is no joining fee
An agency will not charge you a fee to join because that’s not how they make their money (more below). As far as I am aware it is illegal to charge a joining fee but it’s been mentioned to me that some agencies, specifically children’s agencies, are working around this.
Generally speaking if an agency is trying to charge a fee then be cautious.
The only exception to this that I could find is cooperative agencies who will very likely request a stakeholders fee which is refunded when you leave the agency.
They may ask you to get some professional photographs
Different agencies want different photographs in different styles. Sure, there is some commonality but it’s likely they will want uniformity with any images they use to promote the models they have on their books.
It’s quite likely they will either take a couple of polaroid, or equivalent, snaps of you when you go into their office. It’s also possible they will insist you spend some of your own money hiring a professional photographer they recommend to get some images for your portfolio.
This is a cause of much confusion because often there is an affiliation between the agency and the photographer so it could be seen as essentially charging you - especially if the photographer is in house.
On the other side; An agency may spend their own time and money hiring a photographer and team to create your portfolio and may deduct these fees from your first income through the agency.
Agencies may charge for some services and that is to be expected. Some agencies will fund a model starting out including employing a photographer and team. For a model starting out this is in effect offering a line of credit against future work and there may well be a clause in the contract to allow the agency to ask a model for this debt to be paid off if in the early stages a model; decides to leave, decides they don’t wish to model any more, gets stopped by parents or the agent is unable to find work because the model is continually unable to fulfil agreements like going to go-sees, tests, castings and shoots etc. This is a perfectly normal clause of a contract and you should be aware of this.
You cannot be charged by the agency for putting you on their website or changing your on-line portfolio. You can be charged for the production of a model video or comp cards, this is a model's marketing material for the specific agency and as such are costs the agency may incur and pass on to you.
Agencies generally have an office
Agencies will generally have an office and a daytime phone number. They will also have an emergency, out-of-hours, number for you to call should you not be able to make an appointment.
An agency will always want to meet you in their office. Consider it an interview not just based on your looks but also on your personality. Some agencies have open days where you will be alongside many other aspiring hopefuls. It can seem intimidating but it doesn’t need to be. Take some of your best portfolio photos but don’t be disappointed if no-one looks at them.
Agencies derive their income from commission earned on bookings
When you go onto an agencies books they will find you work and will charge you a percentage of the fee usually based on their day rates for a model and usage – the percentage is usually between 20-30%, for example you do a job with a fee of £800 for the model the agency will take their percentage specified in your contract (at 30% commission about £240) and you will receive the balance of £560.
You don’t get charged for the agency finding work for you.
Model Training - what is it?
Not everyone knows what happens on a go-see, not everyone knows what happens on a catwalk or in a studio.
Some agencies may offer, or even encourage, model training especially if you are brand new to it and have never stepped foot on a catwalk or in a studio, or been to a casting or go-see. This is not unusual!
Be cautious about training fees and apply some common sense to them. Often an agency will pay all of the fees for you against your future earnings. This will form part of your contract. Be aware of such fees especially because if you fail to deliver your side of the contract then the agency may be able to terminate your contract and will likely expect such fees to be paid upon termination.
Anyone can be a Model Agency and often they don’t know it
Anyone can be an agency. All they need to do is find work for you and abide by a code of conduct. There is no secret sauce needed to be an agency.
Studios with model registers are essentially acting as agencies if they are finding work for models. The biggest problem with this is lack of terms and conditions, written contracts, insurance and compliance with Agencies Act. Spot checks can and do happen - it's likely most studios with model registers are unaware of this!
Carefully read the contract you sign with the agency, and of course a red flag should be raised if the agency doesn’t even have a contract!
Some contracts are management/representation contracts where the agency will take a set and specified percentage, others are not and the model's services are simply bought in and sold on and the fee offered to the model does not bear any resemblance to the fee the agency gets.
Look at the restrictions carefully. Remember that everything is negotiable. They may ask for exclusivity but does not mean you have to agree to it. There is no reason why you can’t be represented by a dozen agencies. An exclusive contract restricts your scope of work, but with a big agent can also be very valuable, this is a judgement call. The warning flag to look for in the contract is agencies that require a percentage of any fee from work you find yourself (as a freelance model on sites like PurplePort.com). Ensure payment terms are in the contract. Terms for leaving the agency should also be specified.
Ask for the contract as soon as the agency says they want you on their books. Take it away with you to read, don’t just skim it in the office and sign it there and then. Ask a third party, like a parent, to read the contract for you just to double check there is nothing onerous in it.
Also ensure you have a copy of the contract for your own files too!
Get on with your booker
The agency will provide you with a booker and you must get on well with them. I know it sounds obvious but having a good working relationship with your booker, talking to them on at least a weekly basis, is vital. They are primary point of contact at the agency and between the booker and the boss of the agency they will find you work. If you don’t get on with them then it’s unlikely you’ll find much work through the agency.
Remember that you are self-employed and so you are your business. If your agent isn’t getting you work then talk to them, find more agencies to join. Don’t just sit back and wait for work to come to you.