There are two very different types of mother agencies. Both play an important role in your career, but they are very different, and you need to understand the role of each before signing another contract.
To keep things simple and separate, we’ll call one a mother agency, and the other a mother agent.
- Mother agencies are agencies that contract you out to other agencies. By default, an agency you have an exclusive all-encompassing contract is a mother agency, although they may not all contract with other agencies for more work.
- Mother agents are individuals and or non-agencies that act as a mother agent, help develop you and get you signed. In short, more like a manager.
Also, for clarity, we’ll call the other agencies that may get you work under a mother agency, the booking agency.
Compensation for the mother agency or agent. (short version)
Then there are two types of ways mother agencies get compensated:
- They can be compensated by part of the commissions and fees paid to the booking agency. (No financial cost to you.)
- And they can also get compensated directly by you out of your earnings. This may not sound as attractive as keeping more money for yourself, but you should consider that under the first scenario the agency doing the actual bookings (the booking agency) may be conflicted since they can make more money booking someone they do not have to share their fees with.
Mother agencies & mother agents in more detail.
When your agency serves as your mother agency it’s usually because you’ve signed an exclusive, and often worldwide (or national) contract with them for your genre(s).
In this case if you get booked out of your area, for example you live in Los Angeles and get booked for New York Fashion Week, your mother agency handles all the bookings and probably payment as well. While this may seem ideal, there can be drawbacks. Your agency makes less money when you get booked through another agency and the financial impetus on your agency may make these types of bookings less attractive for them. Plus it takes you off-market in their area while you are working elsewhere.
However, there are many agencies, mostly in smaller markets whose business plans are such that they make a bulk of their money shopping you in bigger markets, and that can be a very good thing.
Good and bad, you can’t ignore the fact that there are multiple conflicts of interest for both the mother agency, as well as for other agencies that are booking you through your mother agency. Many models only sign regional contracts with agencies and are represented by separate agencies in each market. You do have to have value to each though, and when first getting started that may not be the case.
Advantages of your agency serving as your mother agency include:
- When starting out they may help develop you more.
- Through their relationships they may get you work outside of your home market.
- In many cases, at the better agencies your booker serving as your mother agent may have your back.
Disadvantages can include conflicts of interest including:
- Financially it may make sense to not book you for higher paying jobs in another market because you become less available in your home town.
- You may get better attention and more bookings by having separate agencies in different markets.
- In some cases it may cost you in higher commissions (more on that later).
- Some agencies won’t work with other agencies and that can mean that some bookings are not available to you.
- You have all your eggs in one basket.
Beware of smaller agencies in large markets that sign you exclusively (even if just for your home market). Many smaller agencies that may discover or sign you first are not able to get you the same work as the larger and more notable agencies. If you get interest from a top agency, your contract may inhibit you from signing with them (see 5 ways to get out of an agency contract).
Independent individual, or non-agency mother agents:
Independent mother agents are generally un-conflicted. Most also only make money when you do (beware of those that ask you for money up-front), and many don’t cost you a dime. However, there aren’t many independent mother agents, and you have to be very qualified to get their attention.
These types of mother agents usually gravitate towards younger talent that has the natural ingredients to become successful. They’ll shop you to different agencies and in many cases groom you to better your chances of getting signed.
“Grooming you” can include educating you about the business, helping you get in shape, using relationships with photographers to get your book (modeling portfolio) in order, helping you with your walk, as well as providing industry and even emotional support.
“Shopping you” can include using relationships with agencies to introduce you to, and you may also get a more serious look. Going to open calls can be treacherous. The new face coordinator sees so many potential models that it’s possible to get overlooked at first and many aspiring models can’t, or won’t go back again. However, your mother agent will, and may also give them progress reports that keep you in consideration to get signed.
We’ll discuss compensation for an individual or non-agency mother agent below. You may be surprised by how it works. If you are able to get a good independent mother agent it can be the way to go.
Agency compensation in more detail
In case you are not familiar with standard agency compensation, we’ll start by explaining the most common formula.
Agencies usually take a 20%* commission from your fee, and they also add a 20% fee for the client to pay. What does this mean?
To use round numbers, if the rate for a job is $1000 the agency will generally keep 20% ($200) from your compensation, and they will also bill the job at a 20% premium (another $200). So under this formula they agency makes $400, you will make $800. You may at first look at it as the agency making half what you do, but this is flawed thinking.
First, the 20% premium when billing would never have been available to you. One can also say that you probably wouldn’t have gotten the job without your agency, but that’s another story.
The agency has an overhead that includes (but is far from limited to): Rent, administrative staff, billings and receivables, commissions for your booker and many other expenses that come out of the $400 they made. And by the way, it’s not 40% as many first think; it’s 33% (400 is 33% of 1200).
With this in mind we can go on to how a mother agency gets compensated.
*Please note the formula used here isn’t absolute. Talent in extreme demand may be able to negotiate a lower rate. Also, some states have limits on what an agency can deduct from your compensation.
Your agency’s compensation when serving as your mother agent:
Using the example again of a Los Angeles agency that books you through an affiliate in New York, there are three different methods of compensation your mother agent can be getting:
- The mother agency may get part of the booking agency’s commission (commonly half of it, or 10% of the rate). This costs you nothing.
- Becoming more common, your mother agency may charge you a fee: Again, usually 10% of the booking, sometimes less, rarely more.
- And, sometimes a combination of the two above.
In our opinion, you should not be concerned about what the agency makes if they are doing their job booking you. Especially in the case of their getting you work through another agency. Consider number 3 above and let’s say your mother agency received 10% from the booking agency’s commission and also charged you 5% on top. They are making only 15% vs. 33% had they kept you for themselves.
An independent mother agent’s compensation.
There are two ways an independent mother agent gets compensated.
- The most common is for your mother agent to get a commission of your fees from the agency you sign with. Usually 10%, sometimes less. This can also be called a “scouting fee”. This, again, costs you nothing.
- Some independent mother agents may require a portion of your compensation either as sole compensation for themselves, or on top of what they get from the agency you sign with.
Independent mother agents may also shop you in multiple markets. Usually they will continue working with you once signed and help you continue becoming more successful. After all, when you make money, they make money. If dissatisfied with your agency, your mother agent can help you through that, or find another agency and negotiate your way out of where you are. They may also be there when the contract comes to an end and help you get it renewed, or find a new agency.
This may sound perfect to you, but keep in mind that the only way a good independent mother agent will be interested in you is if you show a lot of promise. There is one potential drawback to an independent mother agent and that is that some agencies won’t share their earnings with a mother agent, or pay scouting fees. This isn’t very common, but even when applicable when you read the next section you’ll understand why in many cases this shouldn’t concern you.
Mother agents and contracts
Independent mother agent contracts:
We won’t get into modeling agency contracts here as that would double the size of this article. But, often times independent mother agents won’t require a contract from you. Why would they help develop you without a contract? It’s because they often only rely on getting compensated by agencies you sign with.
So what happens if you get an offer from an agency that won’t work with or compensate your independent mother agent? Well if you don’t have a contract that becomes entirely up to you. You can sign anyway and do nothing (not recommended), you can share some of your own compensation with your independent mother agent and that wouldn’t necessarily be just to be loyal, but perhaps to keep your mother agent helping you. Or what we’ve seen as being more common, just pass on the offer. If you get an offer from a top agency that won’t honor your mother agent’s work, chances are very high that other agencies will be interested anyway.
What if they do require a contract?
We’re going to have to leave this to you. The handful of independent mother agents we know don’t require contracts, nor do they ask for any of your compensation. But we are aware that some do. I’d ask myself:
- What are they investing into me?
- What’s their track record?
- Most importantly, what are the terms of the contract and how can you get out of it if dissatisfied?
As you can see there are many variations of the relationships you can have with a mother agent or mother agency. We hope that this helps you better understand it all and that it helps you make better decisions – especially with your first agency contract. Don’t get caught signing away more of your rights than you need to!