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At a recent agent panel in New York City, four reputable agents were asked by a young eager actor if our respective agencies had a “brand.”  This type of Madison Avenue lingo amuses me.  I begin to think of corn flakes or cows.  One panelist who heads up a well-respected agency known for its stellar musical theatre talent replied that he really didn’t like the notion of pinpointing the type of talent his agency repped as in,  “They’re known for such and such.”  He prefers variety and being known for representing talent that works in all areas of the business.

Another panelist admitted to resisting the notion of “branding” at the beginning of his agent life.  He, too, wanted to be the agent representing all different types of actors, able to provide the solution to any casting director’s needs.  But he realized that the agency he runs started out with a singular focus and that is what established its reputation.  So these days he accepts rather than fights the “brand” because that is what gives the agency its unique qualities within the big marketplace picture.

I myself have worked at agencies known for representing the finest theatre-trained actors who work in all areas.  The “brand” is based on the fine theatre actors but the agents’ desire is always to stretch the brand to include film and TV.  As you can see, it’s a double-edged sword—”branding” separates and isolates characteristics. However, you can never be an all-inclusive brand.

The discussion went to “branding” for actors.  To me the the concept of  “branding” when applied to actors is just another way of saying, “Lead with your strength.”  Brand signifies recognition—what are you known for, what singles you out among the others in your field.  For actors it’s a question of “What makes you special?” “What is your strength?”  “How can you beat out the competition?” 

Because that’s what it’s really about, right?  You, the actor, need to go out there and distinguish yourself amongst your peers.  Do your best, be your best...and an agent or job will find you.  Really.  When selecting talent to represent these questions factor into the decision making for an agent.  So it really isn’t about your “brand.”  It’s about you and what you bring to the table.

The discussion turned to how that applies to working with an agent.  One specific question had to do with how we handle actors who want to branch into other areas.  As in an actor with a resume of musical theatre credits sitting across from an agent says they’re interested in going out for TV/film projects.  One of the agents on the panel sparked to this and gave a dramatization.  He nodded his head and said, “Based on what?”  He then went on to explain that he would be perfectly willing to submit the actor for those projects once he was sure the actor was ready, i.e. were they doing the meet and greets with casting directors, taking a TV/film acting class, that sort of thing.

Another agent explained that he actually gives out scripts for a mock audition requiring the actor to self-tape and submit for review. As in “So you want to be in pictures?” then prove that you’re ready.  This made sense to to me. Another agent admitted that he’s spending much of his time these days coaching actors on their self-taped auditions—providing feedback on lighting, sound quality (the reader is too loud because the mike on the computer is picking them up rather than the actual auditionee, his client.)

I suppose if we were producers of reality shows we would be interested in how many followers, youtube hits and whatnot you have.  But we’re actually more interested in that “je ne sais quoi” that ignites a fire in our belly when we see, hear or watch you do your thing.  And then we start to imagine what we could submit you for and how we could build your career and make money together.  Training and experience couldn’t hurt either.  But you better know right from the start that we are business people first and what sets you apart is what will get you the job.  So lead with your strengths.  Once you’re established you can go pushing the envelope.—Margaret Emory

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