Saturday, February 19, 2005

Job Hunting For Dummies - Agents

A question that comes up for newsies, even in a market this size is do you need an agent? As a professor at MU used to tell me all the time the answer is "it depends."

There are positives and negatives, like with anything else. Let's start out with a couple of positives.

Agents can be connected. Some agents will know well beforehand when a news director isn't going to be renewing someone's contract, so they can be positioning their clients well in advance. Some agents have solid relationships with certain news directors and that can give you the edge you need.

Agents can say what needs to be said. When you have an agent fighting for you in negotiations, they can go to bat for you with all the vigor in the world. Do it yourself and you risk damaging the relationship between you and the management you'll be under contract to for two to three years. This works both ways. For example, say you're putting on weight, which in TV can (depending on the market) actually matter and be fairly noticeable (camera adds ten pounds). Your agent can say something in the course of reviewing your tapes, without management putting themselves in a bad spot.

Now some negatives.

First of all an agent will cost you... probably anywhere from 7-10%. In this day and age of salaries that continue to drop, you have to ask yourself: can you really afford to lose 10% of a $35,000 job?

A big market news director once told me of a high profile agency: if he mentioned he had an anchor opening and was looking to replace the Asian female who recently left, he would get a tape from this agency that contained dozens of Asian females. So in this case, the agent isn't representing you, they're representing their 10%.

So do you need an agent?

I'm a big believer in networking, so for most non-anchor jobs in markets 20ish and below, I'm not convinced you have to have an agent. Just my opinion. I've even heard of news directors who when deciding between two candidates might lean towards the one without an agent cause it'll be less of a pain. But I'm sure there are just as many who don't want to deal with a big search and use agents they know as "filters."

When Shannon's dad was starting chemo, my goal was to get back to the midwest... specifically Milwaukee, Madison, St. Louis, Indy, Champaign/Springfield being the prime targets. I had discussions with three agents... all of whom I was very impressed with. I ended up going with the one with whom I made the best personal connection... someone who also worked into our deal a small, one-time fee, should I get a job in Peoria (which I eventually did). To this day however, I consider my former agent, Steve, a friend and make an effort to see him whenever life takes me to northern California.

The last question to consider is: do agents want you?

You need to not just be good (see previous posts on what it takes to be a good reporter/anchor). You need to be someone that they think they can sell. I had a someone tell me an agent told him he was too "white bread " and that's why they wouldn't take him (this person is at a large market right now, so by all means don't think an agent's word is gold).

I also point to Alan Heymann. Alan was an intern at WMBD and eventually a reporter at WCIA. If you've ever seen his work or worked with him, you know he's very smart, pretty darn close to what Jonathan describes a good reporter should be and his delivery is solid. But on his website, Alan shares the nine rejection letters he got from agents.

Editor's note: I'm not saying any of this post is right, just the way it is/can be.

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