How to select an agent.

I have to admit, I have been surprised by the amount of questions gets about agents.  The most common being, who do you recommend?  By asking a few follow up questions, it is clear that finding out about and hiring agents seems intimidating.  It should because these reps take a significant amount of your salary (sometimes up to 10%) and can have a profound effect on your career.  Often journalists looking for an agent worry it the agent will be willing to take them.  But let’s turn the tables a little bit.  The question should actually be:  Can this agent really help me advance my career?  This isn’t an ego thing.  This relationship should benefit both parties.  When you hire an agent just because you are glad the person is willing to take you on, you are selling yourself short.  You need to clearly see how your career will benefit.  Otherwise you will be writing checks for years, to someone you don’t believe in.  That’s too costly a mistake!

So how do you select an agent?  It takes more than finding out what agent represents the main anchor at your station or another reporter in the ranks.  Those personal endorsements are great and important, but a small part of the picture.  There are several other things to consider.

When selecting an agent consider his/her:

  • Reputation
  • Ability to work with ND’s and GM’s
  • Understanding of industry trends and traditions
  • Ability to coach
  • Solid legal support

Getting those ringing endorsements from other reporters, producers and anchors is a great start toward figuring out an agent’s reputation.  I would suggest cold calling clients listed on the agent’s website and asking what this agent has done to help that person in the last year, 6months, 3 months etc.  There are different types of agents.  Some excel at placement.  Some shine as coaches.  Some offer more individualized attention.  Some agents are known as serious advocates for their clients if a problem arises.  You need to know the agent’s reputation so you have an idea of what type of representation you will get.

A key to reputation, is how the agent handles ND’s and GM’s.  The last thing you want is to hire an agent that MANY ND’s and GM’s have blacklisted.  This does happen.  Bridges can be burned and you don’t want to be caught in the flames too.  This is especially crucial if you have a dream market in mind.  You don’t want to get a call from your dream station, only to find out the ND will not work with your agent.  So how do you check this out?  Talk with your former NDs.  If you are first starting out, ask a professor if he/she knows of any ND’s or GM’s you could call.  If you have a dream market in mind, you might want to call the AND, and see if he/she has a minute to talk.  Tell him/her your goal is to get to that station one day and could that person recommend any good feeder stations and agents that the station works with.  You might be surprised how much information the AND will provide. (For more on why making connections with the AND is so crucial read “When the interview really counts”) Now this is going to sound strange at first, but you don’t necessarily want an agent the ND or AND just loves and gushes over. That agent may not be very aggressive at getting great deals for clients.  You want an agent the ND or GM says is fair, and decent to work with.  That means the agent probably has good insight into how much positions in the market and within that station group pay.  You want an agent who isn’t a hothead, but is persistent and will fight for the best deal with business savvy.  Also, remember agents and ND’s will not always get along.  If you hear from one ND that the agent is awful, check with at least two other ND’s before making a decision.  Personality conflicts happen to all of us.  The only exception being if you are absolutely 100 percent sold on a particular station.  If that ND says he/she refuses to work with an agent you have some thinking to do.  Not just about the agent, also the ND.

I feel so passionately about vetting an agent’s understanding of industry trends and coaching, I dedicated a whole article to these topics called “The one thing you need to require from your agent regularly.”  Read it please if you are considering hiring an agent.  This is the payoff for the up to 10 percent of your salary you are giving up.  If you want an agent to be an advocate for you, the person must grasp what industry leaders are looking for and be able to see what’s coming next.  This is particularly huge with the eruption of social media’s influence on television news.  There is even less focus on training in newsrooms.  Managers are more concerned with how to compliment newscasts on television with web based elements.  The economic downturn means less money to pay for training sessions and in some cases less money for more seasoned talent that can mentor in newsrooms.  You need someone in your corner that can give you constructive criticism so you can grow in your job.  Agents are becoming the go to people you need more and more.  Make sure your agent can actually provide advice about producing newscasts, writing packages and being a backpack journalist to name just a few things.

You also want an agent that has solid legal support.  Why?  Contracts are getting more and more complicated, especially when it comes to social media clauses.  That non-compete you signed could become an issue too.  What about sections demanding you stay a certain weight?  You want an agent that has a direct line to an attorney so you can get answers fast if a problem arises.  These are issues that an agent should be able to advise you on.  I have known of agents that say, “You will have to hire an attorney for that,” while negotiating contracts.  Seriously?  What is the 10 percent you are paying for if you cannot get any advice on legal elements of your contract?  When interviewing agents ask what legal support is provided.

One last thing to keep in mind, make sure you feel comfortable speaking with the agent.  You may need to have very frank discussions.  Agent contracts often last longer than station contracts.  You will be probably “stuck” with this person a long time for better or worse.  Make sure you can get along with them!  Remember agents have a lot to gain retaining you, so don’t sell yourself short.  Look for the kind of representation you really need to advance your career.