Mother Agencies

It is common for real agencies (and even some of the scam "agencies") in small markets to have relationships with other agencies in larger markets, either in the US or overseas.  They act as filters for these larger markets, finding, preparing and sending models to them that they believe are suitable for those markets.

Whether this is the right approach for you is a matter of your own circumstances.

The positives:  a good "mother agency" can save you the trouble of going if you are not suitable; can prepare your portfolio and give you experience at modeling to help you be successful in the larger market; can open doors for you when you arrive, so you are not just one more pretty face at an open call, and can arrange for support for you when you arrive at the larger city.  In addition, most of them can get you local work until you are ready to go on to the larger market.

The negatives:  a "mother agency" gets a cut (typically 5% to 10%) of your earnings from the larger agencies.  In times gone by it used to be that the mother agency commission didn't come out of your pay, but from the agency commission. Now it is common for "mother agencies" to take their cut from the model, who has less bargaining power. That's both good and bad for the model: it costs them more money, but makes it less likely that they will be rejected by an agency that doesn't want to fee split with a mother agency, which is especially likely with the more commercial agencies.

So why pay that money? It's a lot cheaper to get some pictures done, send them to agencies or go to open calls on your own. You will have to do all that anyway, but you won't have to pay someone a hefty part of your earnings just to get you in an agency door.

Here's when it makes sense, and when it doesn't.

If you are in a moderate sized market city, working with a booking agency there who can also get you prepared for "the big city" is useful.

If you are living in an area with a good local mother agency who you can see routinely, who can take the months to develop you and make you ready for New York, and who can open doors for you at the other end, it makes some sense. They are your safety net at home for when the big, bad booking agency in the big city doesn't seem to be doing what you need, or you don't understand what is happening to you. Your mother agent will be one who knows you, knows the culture you came out of, and can help you and your family understand what is happening.

When it doesn't seem to make sense is when you are already living in the major market city or when the "mother agent" is in the same city as the market you want to get into. In the first case, you can go to the open calls on your own, seek the advice of the agencies you see, and use it to find photographers or whatever the agencies tell you you need. You don't need a mother agency, you just need to know where the agencies are and how to approach them. You are already there.

In the second case, if you are hundreds or thousands of miles from the "mother agent" they can't do an effective job of helping you more than you can do for yourself. Unless you are willing to move to where they are and work with them for months (very expensive, and unnecessary) they won't do much more than give you generalized advice and have you go through the motions of "development". A good mother agency must have a long term relationship with the model, must know the model very well, and know their family very well - or there is little use in having one.

There is an exception: where the model and the "mother agency" are both in remote areas but the mother agent has good contacts in areas, such as overseas, where the model might want to work. In this case the mother agent can help a lot with understanding the demands of working in a different culture, and can smooth the legal and cultural difficulties that models will face.

The mother agency system developed to deal with two problems: moving qualified models up from small to larger markets when they were ready, and helping people who didn't understand the modeling world to work within the system. The first of those remains valid and common. Models in Dallas, Denver and San Francisco all have a smooth access to New York, Los Angeles and Europe by using their home "booking agency" as a mother agency.

But the second of those problems can now be solved much more easily, cheaply, and without the possibility of conflict of interest that a mother agent may have. Information about modeling has long been available through books, but they were incomplete resources at best, that didn't always answer the questions a model had. In the last few years the appearance of forums on the internet devoted to mainstream modeling has considerably improved that problem. Now models can find, in one place, a wealth of knowledge that used to be known only to the few, and can ask questions about the industry from models, parents, makeup artists and agents who are actually in the business. All that for free, or nearly so. Effective users of these forums will generally not find that a mother agency is necessary.

An excellent forum is at: Models.com, which is now available for a free membership.

All of the above discussion has assumed we were talking about real, good mother agencies. Certainly there are many of them, but there are a lot more that are either scams or simply useless intermediaries who offer no more than you could do for yourself, but take a percentage of your income for a long time. The worst of them also find other ways to make money at your expense: setting up photo shoots with “their photographers” that they take a cut from, selling you unnecessary portfolios, putting you in models apartments at inflated prices and a variety of fees for various services.

It's sometimes difficult to tell the bad from the good, since all agencies do at least some of these things. It's made harder to tell by the fact that any of these "mother agencies", whether good or bad, whether needed or not, have usually got a string of "success stories" to tell: models they worked with that were placed in major agencies. The trouble with those "success stories" is that in many cases the models could easily have done it on their own, without having to deal with a "mother agency" at all. They don't tell you that part, or claim it isn't true. A little commonsense goes a long ways. Ask yourself some questions:

1. Does the mother agency really have an opportunity to work with me for a long time and really get to know me and my problems?

2. Does the mother agent say she has years of work as a booker in a major market? If so, why aren't they bookers now, making a lot more money? (Note, there can be good answers to that question: lots of people get burned out on places like New York and want to move somewhere they can have a more normal life. Others get fired and hang around the industry, hoping to trade on the appearance that they can make hopefuls into stars.)

In this time of ready access to information it's smart to ask, "Why do I need to pay for this?" when so much information and so many support services are available free to models.

Have I already tried on my own and failed to get representation? Have I sent pictures to the agencies that interest me, gone to the open calls, and it didn't work? Then, [u]after[/u] all that, perhaps some personal guidance can help.

The bottom line?

If you are already in a major market city, you don't need a mother agent to get into other agencies in that city.

If someone wants to be your mother agent and they are hundreds of miles from you, you don't need them unless you want to go directly overseas to work.

If you are signed with a good booking agency in your own city that also acts as a mother agency, it can be helpful.

Modeling forums and a little personal research end up being both cheaper and more effective for most people than paying a "mother agent" for the same kinds of advice.

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