What is an Agency?


All too often models get involved with things they think are "agencies" which really are not.  Hence this article. I ask the title question because I see people responding on the forum or to castings about "agencies" that aren't.  So let me throw the question out and see what kind of answers I get.

OK, you in the back row.  The one with the horn rim glasses.  What is an agency?  . . . . Nope.  Wrong answer.  You.  Over there in the A&F T-shirt.  What is an agency? . . . . Nope.  Wrong again.  Alright you, waving your hand so insistently.  What is an agency? . . . No, that thing you are with is not an agency, even though it says "agency" in the company title.  How about you, Viktoria? . . . . No, wait a minute, you know the right answer, and I don't want you telling people prematurely.  This is my story.

Among aspiring mainstream models, most of what beginning models spend their time on, is about "getting an agency".  Sure enough, it is important.  So important that you really ought to know what an agency is, and why you want one.  More important, you ought to know when something advertising to models is NOT an agency.  It may or may not be something useful to you - but it isn't "the agency" that you think is the brass ring.  So let's go through what an agency is, and then some things that people confuse with agencies which are not.  An agency is one because it acts like one, not because of what it is called.

A model agency gets work for models.  It has clients who hire models, it puts models in front of those clients, books work for the models and takes a commission on that work.  That is how it makes its money.


An agency may do lots of other things as well:advertising, bookkeeping, billing and collection for models, model development, career advising and a host of other functions.But the paragraph above in bold is what really distinguishes agencies from other things.

As we will see, not all agencies call themselves "agencies", and not all things that call themselves "agencies" really are.  There sometimes are good reasons for that, but if you don't understand the reasons, you will not understand why so many of the "opportunities" that you see put before you are not about being with "an agency" at all.  This is going to be complicated.  Suck it up.  It's your career - you need to invest a little time understanding how it works.

Let's discuss things that are NOT agencies, even though they might seem to be.

Proscout, Model Search America, IMTA, MAAI, AMTC and all the others are not agencies.  They don't claim to be agencies, they don't act like agencies . . . and yet every time someone brings them up, somebody insists that they are scams because they take money up front "and agencies don't do that".  Well, agencies sometimes do do that, but never mind that part.  All those companies run model searches or model conventions where aspiring models can be seen by real agencies in the hopes of being signed by one.  The search and convention companies take their money up front because that's the only way they can get it.  They don't get work for models to take a commission from.

Web sites are not agencies.  There are hundreds of model listing sites that host pictures and information about models.  Some of them are used by agencies to find models; some are used mostly by models and photographers to find each other.  Some claim to be "agencies" or "managers", but they don't have clients, don't operate in ways that clients can easily use, and don't act in any effective ways as model agencies.  They are described in gruesome detail here:  http://www.newmodels.com/managers.html  A real agency will have an office with a published street address, a prominently published phone number to book models through, and real people answering real phones during business hours.  If a company doesn't do that, it's not "an agency".

Casting websites are not agencies.  Again, there are quite a number of websites that list "casting calls" for models.  Most of these charge for access to the site or the casting.  Most of them are scams, with "casting calls" that are bogus, worthless, outdated, or not authorized by the casting directors for public release.  There are a small number of sites that have legitimate castings on them; most of those are free.  Still, none of these are agencies, and none of them replace the need for an agency.

Modeling schools are not agencies.  Yes, I know, some of them have agencies attached to them, or act in part like agencies.  But if they could make their money by booking work for models, that's what they would do.  The reason for those schools is because they can't find enough work for you.

Just because a company has "agency" in its title does not make it one.  Here is an example.  There is a "casting call" on another site from a company with the word "agency" in its name.  If you go to their web site, they again refer to themselves as "a model agency".  But if you read what they say they actually do, it's very different.  This is what they say about themselves:  "founded as a way for talent nation wide and  internationally to meet with the top management companies. In addition . . .  dedicated to promoting  top talent  and exciting new faces to the fashion industry."  Nowhere in there does it say anything about getting models jobs.  That's not what they do.  Even if you believe what they say about themselves (and that is a whole different question), they are not "a model agency".

Here is another example.  "Mother agencies" are not agencies.  Oh, they might be.  The best mother agencies are the ones who can get local work for their models (that is, act as real agencies) while developing them and sponsoring them to larger markets.  But the "sponsoring them to larger markets" part isn't acting as "an agency".  It's what "managers" do, which is different.

Personal managers, development companies and management companies are not agencies.  The job of a personal manager may include preparing a model to be in a market, getting her book together, presenting her to agencies to be signed by them, and assisting her in managing her affairs once she is signed.  None of that has anything to do with getting jobs for models.  They are not agencies.

Still paying attention?  I hope so, because here comes the confusing part.  You really need to understand this if you expect to have anything to do with New York City during your modeling career.

Sometimes management companies are agencies even if they don't say so in the company name.  All of the important "model agencies" in New York City that you have heard of are not "agencies" at all.  They just act like them (which is really what this essay is all about).  It's a matter of legal definition and regulation.  So if they aren't "agencies", what are they?  They are all "management companies".  Yes, they make their money by booking work for models.  For all the purposes you care about, they are "model agencies".  But their title doesn't say so.

And it's worse.  Also in New York City are lots of other "model management companies" who do not book work for models, and don't act like agencies.  What do they do?  They act as "personal managers" - or at least the better ones do.

The moral of this long story is this:  don't pay attention to what a company calls itself.  That doesn't mean much.  What counts is what they actually do for you.  To understand that, you have to actually read what they say about themselves, ask questions of them about how they make their money, and pay attention to what they say.  If you don't take the time to do that research, your "agency" may not be one at all.


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