Lately I'm hearing a recurring theme from clients who have signed with the wrong agent. They're getting pressured to take a job they don't want. And that means they've hired the wrong agent.
So let's back up a bit and take a look at rule number one when hiring an agent.
The agent works for you, not the other way around. The agent is your employee, not the other way around. Since you pay the agent for a service, you're the boss.
I've mentioned this golden rule before, but sometimes people can end up with the wrong agent for other reasons. If you don't ask the right questions, and if the agent doesn't ask you the right questions, you're headed for trouble.
What are the right questions? Well, let's look at a common scenario of an agent calling an on-camera person out of the blue:
Agent: "Hi, I'm an agent with the Acme Agency and I saw some of your work recently and was impressed. I'd like to sign you as client."
Red flag! Any agent who wants to sign you without talking to you and finding out about your goals is an agent you don't want. How can an agent possible know where you want to go without talking with you?
I like to call these kind of agents "volume agents" since they try to sign as many people as possible using the "more hooks in the water" strategy. When I was a manager I would often get huge boxes of tapes from agents with a note to the effect of "Here are all my clients. Hope you like some of them."
That's not what a good agent does. A good agent knows your personality, your goals, your geographic preference, how much money you need, and what kind of job you want. A good agent does not take a perky anchor with a morning show personality and send that person's tape to openings for a hard news reporter. A bad agent sends you out for everything. A good agent calls me and says, "I heard you need a female co-anchor, and I've got a gal who I think fits the style you like."
Here's another scenario: Agent signs client, agent thinks he'll have client in a new job in no time, but no job offer materializes. Agent then gets frustrated since he hasn't gotten a commission after three months and tries to pressure client into taking anything.
Agent: "Hi, I've got a job offer for you!"
Client: "Great! What is it?"
Agent: "One man band in Indianapolis!"
Client: "Uh, I told you I hate the cold and I don't ever want to shoot my own video again. And I'm already in a sunbelt market that's bigger than Indianapolis."
Agent: "But this would be a great career move..."
Red flag! The agent (your employee) has done the exact opposite of what you asked.
This endless parade of red flags can easily be avoided in your first conversation with the agent. Since you're the employer, treat it like a job interview.
Questions your should ask:
-I'm interested in (location and type of job). Do you think you can find an appropriate opening?
-Can I have the phone numbers of some of your other clients?
-How do you approach News Directors? Do have have personal contacts or do you simply send tapes in response to openings?
-What's your background in the news business? How long have you been an agent?
-Is your fee negotiable? (Remember, your agent fee comes out of your gross salary, not your take home pay.)
-What salary can I realistically expect?
-What happens if I find a job on my own after signing with you? Do I still owe you a fee?
-If I'm not happy with your services, what are the terms of the contract if I want to end it?
Meanwhile, there are questions the agent should be asking you:
-What's your long-term goal?
-What type of job do you want, and what jobs do you not want?
-What kind of stories do you like to do?
-What parts of the country are you willing to move to?
-How much money do you want to make?
-What's important to you as far as lifestyle?
As for contracts, some agents have them, some operate on a handshake. As with any contract, have a lawyer look at it before signing.
Finally, don't get stars in your eyes because an agent called you. I've seen some of the most God-awful tapes submitted by "volume agents" that simply sign anyone who's breathing. Having an agent doesn't make you talented. You need to realize some of these people are simply out for the money and have no interest in anything else.