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What to Look for in Modeling Agencies (And What to Stay Away From)

11, March 2018

Miss Missouri Teen USA 2018, Chloe Bartlett,modeling agencies

Miss Missouri Teen USA 2018, Chloe Bartlett. Photo: Chloe Bartlett Instagram

Many girls desire to be models, but most of what is portrayed in movies and on television is not an accurate portrayal of how it usually happens in real life. The biggest misconception about how a girl gets into modeling goes something like this: A pretty young lady is walking down the street or hanging out at the mall with her friends and a modeling agent just happens to see her, hands her his card and exclaims, “You’re gonna be a star!”

Then she is whisked off in a limo and goes through the shopping and makeover montage from the movie "Pretty Woman," getting decked out in a whole new wardrobe and having her hair and makeup done. Then she signs a $1 million contract with a top modeling agency, receives major advertising campaigns with cosmetics companies and top designers, and her image is splashed across billboards, beauty magazines and the jumbotron in Times Square while she struts down the Victoria’s Secret runway. As thrilling and breathtaking as all of that sounds, it is an extremely rare scenario, and I mean extremely rare! The majority of working models are essentially average people who are working very hard to make a decent living doing what they love. Most successful models did not simply "get discovered."

They showed up at an agency, maybe quite a few agencies, and eventually they were hired. As a former model, I understand how overwhelming it can be to have the drive and desire to be a model but not even know where to begin. But, don't you worry! We're here to help you and give you the rundown on modeling agencies so that you can go after your dream. (Read: Shoutout Models Revolutionizes Modeling Industry)

Here are some common questions about modeling agencies that we will answer in this article:

  • Do you need an agency to be a successful model?
  • Where do you go to find a good agency and how do you know if an agency is reputable?
  • What should you wear and how should you do your hair and makeup when meeting with an agency?
  • What should you do if an agency asks you to pay for a portfolio?
  • How much do agencies charge?
  • How do modeling contracts work?
  • How joining a pageant can help you with your modeling career.

There are many types of models, so first you need to know which aspect of the modeling industry that you want to get started in. (Read: Here's 20 Types of Models (And Which is Best for You))

Do you need an agency to be a successful model?

Even though social media and online model castings have opened up the doors of opportunity for freelance models who do not have agents, trying to get work that way is an extremely high risk and unpredictable, especially for inexperienced models and minors. Modeling agencies do three main things: they protect their models from would-be predators, they give their models credibility, and they get their models access to established clients and professional work that will pay well. (Read: How to Become a Model (And How to Get Your First Job))

Agencies are worth the percentage that you pay them because you will not get the best jobs without them, and you will not make the money you deserve. They are motivated to get you work as a model because that is how they make their money. High-profile clients depend on modeling agencies to present them with well-trained and professional talent that they can count on to get the job done. Advertising campaigns and runway shows are expensive, and models who can meet a client's needs and complete whatever they are asked to do on time and to the client's satisfaction are going to go far and have successful careers. But, even if you do work with an agency, you will still have to be a go-getter and work hard to get jobs because modeling is a highly competitive business. You are constantly going to have to go on auditions and "go-sees" and prove yourself to potential clients. Nothing will be handed to you, and you’re not going to be treated like a star, so the smart thing to do is get yourself educated so that you can be a step ahead of those girls who are sitting outside of Jamba Juice, still waiting to be discovered at the mall.

Where do you go to find a good agency and how do you know if an agency is reputable?

The most important thing you need to know about modeling is that a smart model knows that she is the one who is in charge of her career, always! Therefore, she does her homework about everything related to modeling even before she takes her first photograph. Modeling agencies are everywhere, but most major cities only have a handful of them that are reputable. The reason for that is there is only so much work to go around, and most agencies have a lot of models on their roster. The first thing to do is do some research on the possible agencies in your area and then begin investigating them. A reputable modeling agency invests a lot into their public image, not just in order to hire models but to get attention from potential clients who they want to do business with.

Check out their website, their Facebook page, their Instagram and anything that you can find online about them. A reputable agency will have a well laid out website that lists everything that you need to know about them. They will tell you what kinds of models they represent, such as high fashion, classic, plus size, petite, men and children. They will also have photographs online of a majority of the models that they currently work with. You will quickly be able to separate the top agencies from the shady ones because legitimate agencies will all have similar characteristics that are consistent. They will have a system in place for hiring and they will be clear about how they expect you to meet with them. They will tell you how to submit your photo and information to them either online or via mail, and they will have an established open call day and time.

An open call is a day and time that is set aside each week for aspiring models to come to the agency to be seen. A modeling agency is a very busy place and time is valuable. A reputable business is not going to allow people to just drop by any time they feel like it. Pageant Planet founder Steven Roddy also created a modeling agency that you can sign up for called Shoutout Models. Here you can create a profile and find modeling jobs in your area. If you are not already represented by an agency, this is a great place to start!

Miss Washington USA 2018, Abigail Hill. Photo: Jerry and Lois Photography

What should you wear and how should you do your hair and makeup when meeting with an agency?

It is crucial that you go to an agency's website and do exactly what they tell you to do with regard to open calls. Typically, they will be very clear about what you need to bring and how you should dress. They may tell you to bring some photos with you, but they do not need to be professional photos at all. They usually just want to see some simple shots of your entire body and some clear shots of your face that actually look like you. But, if they are interested in you, the will take their own photos of you.

When it comes to your hair and makeup, the best thing to do is keep it simple. Going to meet a potential modeling agent is not the time to glam it up with your full pageant face, including false eyelashes and hair extensions. Remember, they want to see what you really look like. So, keep your makeup very clean and simple, and wear your hair down in a natural style or put it in a ponytail. If they tell you not to wear makeup at all, then do not wear any. The typical “model outfit” is a pair of nice, fitted jeans and a simple tank top or t-shirt. They want to be able to see your body. They truly do not care about your wardrobe, so do not be concerned about dressing to impress.

What should you do if an agency asks you to pay for a portfolio?

Every model has a portfolio, or “book” as it is commonly called in the industry, as well as a composite card, which is a card that includes a composite of your photos and your measurements, or "stats" as they are referred to. This is your calling card, and it is one of the ways that you get jobs. A model’s portfolio is the model’s resume, as it contains photos from jobs or practice shoots. When you first start out, you will have to invest some money in having photos taken by a reputable photographer who knows what kinds of images you need. It is not unusual for an agency to help you get your portfolio started because you won't get work without it.

That being said, you still need to be educated about what you should expect to pay for a professional portfolio. The fake agencies will want you to fork over large amounts of money for your portfolio and tell you that you need it in order for them to hire you. They are using a truth, but twisting it for their own purposes. Yes, you do need a portfolio to get work, but it takes some time to build one. A beginning model will have one or two photo sessions with a professional photographer that your agency will recommend. You will pay the photographer directly for the shoot, including hair and makeup, just like you would for a pageant headshot. But, that money goes to the photographer, never to the agency. You will then sit down with your agent and go through the photos and they will select the best ones for your book and modeling card. Then, as you begin to get jobs, you will begin to collect what are called, "tear sheets." The phrase is taken from tearing a model's photo out of a magazine. The point is that the photos of you that are used in advertising will become part of your portfolio, and that is how your book begins to grow.

How much do agencies charge?

The way that modeling agencies make money is by taking a percentage of their model’s earnings, and by selling modeling courses and training related to modeling. An agency is kind of like a temp agency in the service that they perform. They charge the client for using the model in their campaign, and they charge the model for getting them the modeling job. They also may offer modeling training in order to ensure that their models are all trained in posing, walking and turning for runway work. There is nothing wrong with an agency having a modeling school as a part of its business, so don’t run away from an agency just because they want you to sign up for a course.

I actually used to teach all aspects of the modeling business for my agency after I stopped working as a model. Just remember that you are the one who is responsible for your career, so be careful and do your research. Do not be so excited with the prospect of being a model that you neglect to do your homework to determine if an agency is legitimate in what it is selling. A lot of people think that if an agency decides to hire you then they are going to pay for everything for you, and that is just not the case. This is where it is imperative to get as educated as you can about how the modeling industry works. The industry standard pay rate for a new model varies from market to market. And, the commission that an agency takes varies depending on what kind of contract a model has.

Miss International 2018, Kelsey Craft,agencies,modeling

Miss International 2018, Kelsey Craft. Photo: Kelsey Craft Facebook

How do modeling contracts work?

Modeling contracts are probably the most extensive and confusing part of being a model, even for experienced models. So, if you need to hire a lawyer to understand a contract that you are presented with, then you hire a lawyer. If a model is a minor, then her parents or guardians must learn and understand how contracts work and what their purpose is. Don't be afraid to ask questions or get more information if you require it. Once again, a smart model knows that she is the one who is in charge of her career, always.

There are several different types of contracts in the modeling business. There is the mother agency contract, the one-time contract, and the exclusive and non-exclusive contracts. A mother agency contract will most likely be the first one you’ll ever sign because your first agency or your mother agency helps you to get started in the business and builds up your portfolio.  A one- time contract is only good for a single booking, for one job. When the job is over, the contract is complete. The most common contracts for the more established models are the exclusive and non-exclusive contracts. They both have their pros and cons. A non-exclusive contract allows you to sign with as many agencies as you want. This type of agreement is more often found when working in a catalog or commercial market, rather than in high fashion and runway. It gives the model a lot of freedom to work where they want to or need to, but you may not get as consistent a paycheck depending on the work available.

An exclusive contract means that you are going to be exclusive with one modeling agency while that contract is valid. There are times when the exclusive part refers to an exclusive period of time, location or a type of a modeling job. The binding part of this type of agreement is that you cannot work with anyone else outside of the terms, so if you decide to sign an exclusive contract, make certain that you aligning yourself with an agency that is reputable and is not going to take advantage of you.

How joining a pageant can help you with your modeling career

This was just an overview of how modeling agencies operate and what you need to do to get started in the industry. The great news for pageant girls who want to become models is that they are already trained in a lot of modeling techniques already. You will be able to transfer a lot of the skills you've have learned in pageantry to the modeling arena.

Just think...all that you've learned about your pageant interview will come in handy when you have to meet with agents, casting directors and potential clients and try to convince them to hire you. All those hours that you've spent practicing walking, turning and posing on stage will put you miles ahead of girls who don't know how to be poised and calm on a runway. And, the time that you've put into volunteering for causes and investing in your community has made you a down-to-earth, relatable and authentic person with a rich emotional background that you can draw from when you have to express feelings and characters in photographs. The biggest difference is that in pageantry, you are selling yourself as the product, and in modeling, you are hired to sell external things like clothing, makeup and beauty products to name just a few. There is a lot to learn, and it is your responsibility to make sure that you know what you are getting into. So, take your time, and do not let your enthusiasm to become a model cause you to rush into making decisions. Now that we know how to find an agency, it's time to get ready for your first job. Check out this next article. (Read: Here's What You Need to Book a Modeling Job)

Miss Washington USA 2018, Abigail Hill,Jerry and Lois Photography,modeling agency

The main thing to remember is that whatever you do, you must remain true to who you are, and what your ideas and values are. We want to support you wherever your journey takes you because we believe in you and your dreams. We already offer so many resources to help you grow, but what else can we do to help you reach for the stars?  Is there more about modeling that you'd like to know? (Find a Beauty Pageant to Compete in)

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