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I operate an Internet radio show that seeks to help independent entertainers and artists promote their projects.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Agent. Publicist. That’s the Same Thing. Right? By guest writer: Lynette Carrington

Editor’s Note:

Working with Lynette Carrington has quite arguably been the most successful, progressive, and enduring collaboration that I’ve enjoyed in my five years as a podcaster and blogger. I defy you to find a more astute and altruistic business person in the indie community.    

As a Lifestyle Editor and journalist for Arizona Sports and Lifestyle Magazine (and TV show) she brings an enthusiasm to her work that is nothing short of contagious. She’s also been fortunate enough to have interviewed some of the biggest names in the entertainment business – always asking relevant questions and gathering interesting bits of information for her readers.

In her capacity as a publicist, Lynette puts her clients’ needs first and is always willing to share helpful advice with others when asked – even if she’s not involved in the project directly.

In today’s guest post, she helps to draw some clear lines between the roles of agent and publicist and offers up some best practices in dealing with each.

Lynette, the floor is yours…


Agent. Publicist. That’s the Same Thing. Right?
By:  Lynette Carrington

I am often approached by fledgling actors, actresses and entertainers that are seeking a publicist. Sometimes, one of the first questions is, “How soon can you get me work?” I’m not sure why, but it seems some in the entertainment industry think that a publicist is an agent or an agent is a publicist; or that an agent, publicist and manager are the same thing. Let’s cover just a few basics on talent agents and publicists.

An agent is typically with an agency (although some work independently) and they work to get their talent paying jobs. In return, the agent takes a percentage of money the talent earns from doing that job. Most of you reading this probably know that and at this point I’ll inject some advice. As some of the strongest words of caution I can offer to talent that don’t yet know the ropes, finding an agent can be tricky. There are so many fly-by-night agencies that will dazzle you with name-dropping, claiming they discovered Brad Pitt or that Chris Hemsworth took classes with them, etc. Be extremely careful with any agency that relies on making you “star struck” but has nothing of substance to show in terms of what jobs they are getting for their clients. Red flag. HUGE red flag. Also, too, realize that every star has to start somewhere and even big name stars may have taken classes with many outlets or coaches prior to hitting the big time. No agency should try to lay claim to a star’s success in an attempt to separate you from your money or in a bid to get you to sign a contract. Agents or agencies that use this technique are banking that you’ll want your career to look just like that of Robert Downey Jr. or Jennifer Lawrence and you’ll do anything or spend any amount of money to make it happen.

Don’t fall for it.  
The better gauge is to do your research. Before you commit to an agent or agency, get on to IMDb and look up your potential agent or agency. Who else do they represent? What kind of work has their current roster of clients been getting? Who have they represented in the past? Are they strictly booking commercials and industrial films or are they booking well-known network television shows and major films? Don’t be afraid to ask for the professional credentials and/or license numbers for agencies. Also, ask to get professional references from production companies, clients and/or corporate accounts. If a personal reference is what you want, just hop in the Internet, type in the name of the agent or agency and the word “complaints” after it. This should give you some idea if that agency is on the up-and-up or on the take. Also check the Better Business Bureau. If you hear an “agency” advertising on the radio that a big casting agent is in town casting for some huge company, just remember it is going to be a cattle call where you’ll be herded in with hundreds of others and in many times, you’ll be pitched classes and photos. That’s how they MAKE that money to run those radio ads. Be smart, don’t waste your time and don’t get suckered.

Another red flag is any agent that promises you work or says they already have work for you before actually signing you or having you seen by a casting agent or director. (On a related note, a casting agent or director should not be your agent. In most cases, that is a conflict of interest and will be viewed by some as unethical.) No good agent should ever promise or guarantee you work. This brings me to one of the biggest, muddiest and nastiest problems that I’ve encountered with agencies. Some agencies make the lion’s share of their money off of selling you photos, classes or both. There are some known agencies that have been around for decades and that is pretty much all they do. They make money off you in that way rather than getting you actual work, leaving you bitter, frustrated or thinking that you are lacking in talent because you’re not booking work. What do you think that agent will tell you when you complain that you’re not getting work? Yes, they will very likely suggest that you need new photos and more classes.

That being said, some agencies will have a small roster of photographers they utilize because they truly are good and can photograph to industry standards (sorry, Olan Mills isn’t going to make the grade, here). Either way, make an informed decision. I have personally encountered agencies that will tack on multiple hundreds of dollars to a photo session through a referred photographer because you need “professional photos”. Why pay $2,000 for your photos when your “agent” might be pocketing half of that money? You should be free to pick and choose your photographer and it would be best to ask your agent’s advice if you are going to use a photographer of your own. If an agent ever insists that they do your photos or that you absolutely must use this or that particular photographer…RUN, as quickly as you can.

An agent or agency should not charge you a “fee” for representation; another red flag. However, it is very common that you might have some incidental fees for a video that needs to be made to show some basic skills or representation of yourself. You might have to pay a small fee to maintain space on a casting database in connection with your being a part of an agency or buy comp cards. Each situation will vary, but you should never feel like you’re being gouged or pressured into something that costs a lot of money.

Remember, your agent makes money when they book work for you and you’ve completed the job.

If money is an issue for you, be up front with your agent before you sign on so you know exactly what fees you’ll be responsible for throughout the year. In nearly every situation, you should never sign on to an agency hoping that being an actor, actress or model is going to financially support you.

Moving on to publicists…a publicist gets publicity for you and publicity can come in many forms. A publicist is not an agent. A publicist will not typically be out looking for jobs for you. Rather, a publicist will help to find you publicity for accomplishments, awards, participation in different types of films, milestones in your career, etc. A publicist might maintain your social networking accounts and help to engage your fan base, although not all publicists do this. Sometimes that task falls to a manager or someone who does nothing but social networking.

Places that publicists within the entertainment field seek publicity and related attention include radio, podcasts, television and cable shows, websites, magazines, local newspapers and possibly trade publications. If you are an actor and just starting out on your first indie film, you shouldn’t expect that you’ll see your name splashed across People magazine or on CNN. That being said, if you do have something that is newsworthy, a good publicist will find a place to get you at least some level of exposure.

I am a publicist that does not work with an agency. I am independent and I keep that in perspective. I am a fantastic choice for the right type of client who is either getting started or who has achieved some measure of success. Would I be right for someone like Tom Cruise or Hugh Jackman? Of course I could easily do the work, except I’d have to take my expertise to an agency that would offer the technical and logistical support that would fall along the lines of what someone of that stature would require. Being a publicist of someone on the A-List often includes not only a publicist, but an entire support team that is comprised of many people.

Since I am not typically working with A-List actors and actresses (I do that in a different job as a writer, journalist and television host), I can indeed assist my clients with assorted other tasks that they don’t have time to do or for other requests that will naturally sound better coming from a publicist. I know that may sound a little funny, but there is definitely a protocol, lingo and considerations that are involved in my line of work. Knowing how to approach a magazine with a newsworthy item will differ from approaching someone that has a podcast, which in turn is different from what I might say to a newspaper.

As a talent, when you approach a publication yourself, you will frequently not get the same reaction or response from a publicity outlet than if you had a publicist do it on your behalf. Typically, those within the media know that a publicist is in the business of handling schedules, following up and working at a level that is productive to both the client and the potential publicity outlet. We speak the lingo and know how to act as a conduit between a talent and publicity outlet. Having a publicist can often put you ahead of the pack, too, because publicity outlets are used to dealing with industry pros.

Other tasks I have dealt with under the publicist umbrella: putting out press releases, checking on a client’s property, updating and optimizing IMDb pages, securing legal representation, fielding fan mail, finding film festivals, industry networking, arranging red carpet appearances and yes, even dealing with online client defamation and stalking. Most publicists just deal with securing publicity, but since I’m not held to the constraints of a large agency, I have more flexibility to assist my clients with associated management tasks.

How do you know when it’s the right time to hire a publicist? Once you’ve gotten to the point where you are busy enough auditioning and working that you don’t have time to maintain your own business affairs, it may be time for a publicist. If you are booking progressively more high profile jobs and roles, that may also be a time to consider a publicist. Or, you may just be looking for someone to field inquiries on your behalf. A publicist can be a great supplement to someone in the entertainment industry when the time is right. Join me on my always entertaining journey here on Facebook.

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