Q: What services should an agent provide?
What services can I expect an agent to provide for me and what shouldn't I expect from them?
A: This is a very good question because the breadth of service and amount of effort will vary, perhaps considerably, from agent to agent. Typically an agent's services in the entertainment industry - as distinct from those of a personal manager - can be grouped under three main heads, namely (1) finding work (2) career advice and (3) contract negotiation.
The agent's client in any given instance may be an actor, musician, variety artist, presenter, playwright, composer, songwriter, director, choreographer, designer or other individual. Some clients are so well known and so much in demand in their own particular field that work for them often comes unsolicited to their agents. In the vast majority of cases, however, this happens rarely if at all and the agent is expected to be proactive in seeking as much work as possible for the client - but it should be the right type of work which the client is well suited for and which will help both to keep the wolf from the door and also hopefully advance the client's career in the process.
An agent's lack of success in finding sufficient work of the right type to keep the client busy is usually the most frequent source of complaint by the client, which may lead to the them ultimately severing the relationship. The fault may indeed lie with the agent but equally it may be due to lack of talent and/or experience on the client's part, although it has to be said that real talent is unlikely to pass unrecognised and if the talent is there, experience will come with time and regular work should follow.
A skilled agent will maintain and foster a good relationship with a wide range of contacts in the industry in order to remain informed about opportunities suitable for clients as well as constantly scanning advertisements for suitable jobs and auditions. The agent will also help the client compile and regularly update a well presented CV and arrange at the client's expense for photographs of the client which can be circulated to potential work providers. In some instances a showreel of the client's work may be helpful but this should not be regarded as a routine resource. Where the client is a performer, it may be considered appropriate in some cases to invite casting directors to view the client in performance mode. There are also specialist agencies concentrating, for example, on children, voiceovers, literary work, lookalikes and so on, with whom more general agencies will routinely maintain contact for referrals of mutual interest. All this comes under the head of finding work.
Career advice involves discussion with the client and more or less acting as the client's mentor in the light of which choices will be made. Some opportunities will be pursued and others will not and if more than one is available at the same time, one will be preferred over another or others. A good relationship between agent and client and regular contact between them to discuss the negative as well as the positive is therefore crucial to a successful outcome.
Contract negotiation is a highly skilled part of the agent's function, particularly where the client's remuneration is concerned. Usually an experienced agent will be able to cope with detailed contract terms without outside professional assistance, which may be regarded as good for the client because no extra fees or commission will be involved, but in complex cases where a lot of money and/or potentially disputatious small print is involved and the agent feels out of his or her depth, the agent may advise the client to seek the services of a solicitor.
Personal management services, other than advice, are not usually included in an agent's remit unless specifically agreed and reflected in the agent's remuneration. Management services may cover, for example, travel and accommodation arrangements, financial management and investment, handling personal correspondence and fan mail, liaison with other professional advisers such as lawyers and accountants, tax advice and returns, setting up promotional events and appearances, diary management, behavioural advice and more or less acting as the client's business nanny. Only the most successful and well known clients are likely to want or be able to afford such services but occasionally an agent may stray across the boundary on a voluntary basis.
It should be clear from the above how important it is to discuss the level of service with your potential agent before the appointment is made, though switching agents where one party or the other is dissatisfied is only rarely problematic and even then usually boils down to negotiating commission-sharing arrangements between old and new agent.
* Readers may care to note that Stage advice columnist John Byrne is about to have a book published online which will contain 101 questions and answers about entertainment agents' business. It will be available at www.getmemyagent.com
First published 21st September 2006