How to Find a Modeling Agent

by Cathy McKim

Pretty young lady smiling

It isn't easy for someone without an agent to promote themselves to fashion industry members that hire models.

A model needs an agent. Models work in print - from high fashion editorial and magazines to catalogues and flyers - or in shows, and it isn't easy for someone without an agent to promote themselves to the fashion photography studios, advertising agencies, show coordinators, fashion editors, and clothing stores that hire models. The other area of work for models - commercials - is equally hard to get to without an agent to rep you to commercial casting directors.

There are two ways to connect with a modeling agency: you can market yourself, or you can go to someone else who has the connections and expertise to market you (model scout, imaging service, or model placement or development service).

Going Solo
If you go solo, do some research first: decide what agencies you want to approach, and what you need in order to approach them. Do they hold regular open calls? Do you need a test portfolio in order to attend? Can you make an appointment with one of the agents for an assessment of your potential?

Modeling agencies tend to have an open door policy; an aspiring model can get at least one quick once-over, usually at an open call: a time set aside by an agency for unsigned models to show their portfolios, and meet briefly with an agent. Agencies which hold open calls usually do so at least once a month; they try to see as many people as possible during these calls, so don't expect a lot of personal attention. Be prepared and be professional. While some agencies will see you without a portfolio, it's better if you have one.

If an agent sees solid potential in you, you will be invited back for a closer look. If an agent sees some undeveloped potential, you may be advised to make some changes and test again, possibly with a different photographer. The agency will then base their decision on your second testing. Or you may be advised that you are not marketable. There's nothing wrong with looking for a second opinion - or even a third - but if you've been to three open calls with three top agencies and all three have said that your "look" is not in demand, then either forget about being a model or consult a professional imaging service to change your look. Take seriously the opinions or advice given to you by reputable agents. They know the business and the market; their livelihood depends on it.

Agents need to know if you are marketable. It is rare for an agency to sign a model who has no portfolio before at least one test session has been shot. If you have no portfolio, an agent who feels you have potential is likely to advise a test shoot, and may suggest photographers, make-up artists, and stylists. If you have a portfolio, the agent may suggest further testing if your portfolio does not market you properly.

Model Development Services
If you don't feel ready to promote yourself directly, you can go through a model scout, an imaging and placement service, or a modeling school. These professionals will give you advice and guidance, select the best image or "look" for you, assemble the photographer, artist and stylist most likely to bring out your best. If you test well, they will market you to the agencies most likely to be interested in what you have to offer.

Modeling schools will, in addition to all the above, provide formal instruction in grooming, deportment, runway and on-camera techniques, and other professional training.

Deal only with legitimate modeling agencies, schools, placement services and scouts. Ask agents for professional references from clients (fashion studios, fashion photographers, ad agencies); ask school directors and model scouts what agencies they have placed models with. Watch out for circular references; if an agency vouches for a scout or school, and the scout or school promotes only to that agency, you might want to find someone else who can evaluate the reputations of both.

Once an agent offers to represent you, you must decide if you want that agent. Find out how the agency does business, and what they have in mind for you. Ask about contracts, commissions, testing sessions, promotional costs, clients, international contacts, and how the agent plans to market you. If you have been listening, learning, and doing research all along, you will be able to evaluate the agency to see if it is right for you. Ask yourself if you trust this person with your professional image and your career. Hiring an agent is one of the most important business decisions you will ever make, so take your time. Never sign anything under pressure; once you sign it, it is binding. Don't rush in; if you're marketable today, you'll be marketable next week.

If you have the right body type, height, look, and style; if you have what the market wants; if you test well; if you move well; if the clothes look good on you; if you accept the responsibility of maintaining your physical condition (exercise, nutrition, skin care, hair care, and a healthy lifestyle); if you follow advice from the professionals; then chances are you will find an agent.
Cathy McKim is an author and blogger living in Toronto, Canada. She studied visual arts at York University and acting at George Brown Theatre School. By day, she works as a copy editor/staff writer. After hours, she can be found acting, scenic painting, or involved in other forms of visual arts projects. She also finds time to write short stories, personal essays and blog posts. Her article is an excerpt from "An Actor's Guide to Agencies in Toronto" published by Moonlighters Publishing Inc.

With thanks to: Jeff Andrews, Colin Armstrong, Shari Caldwell, Cari Fallis, Michael Gaitt, Jennifer Goldie, Megan Goldwell, Carolyn Govers, Frank Hogg, Gerry Jordan, Cindee Karnick, Peter McGuire, Fran Messinger, Sandie Newton, Penny Noble, Michael Oscars, Louise Parent, Mark Preston, Nancy Ramos, Estella Ruston and Sandi Sloan for their time, insight and humour.

Copyright © Moonlighters Publishing Inc. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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