In Depth

An Agent: Yes or No?

Deciding whether an agent is right for you requires careful research and listening to your intuition.

Like any partnership agreement, it’s important to assess whether you’ll get along with each other, and whether the agent has the right contacts for the jobs you want. It’s important to look at an agency’s track record to know if it can deliver.

“You should talk to as many agents as you can,” says Mendes Napoli, president and owner of Napoli Management Group in Los Angeles. “Getting your call returned as a prospective client is a good indicator of what the relationship might be like.”

Here are some important things to consider before signing with an agent:

* Do you like each other on a personal level?

“It’s like a marriage,” says Steve Herz, president of IF Management in New York. “The core of our staff has been together for 10 years now. We want clients who work hard, who are in the business for the right reasons. They’re interested in journalism and making a difference in the world. They’re the kind of people who care about their family and co-workers. It’s the qualities you’d look for in a friend.”

* How well, and how often, does the agent communicate with you?

“Do they talk with you once a year, when it’s time to renew your contract, or periodically, to assess your career?” notes Deborah Collura, vice president of news for Post-Newsweek Stations. “Are they willing to listen to what’s important to you? Your geographic, financial and position preferences? Is the agent giving an honest assessment of your work? The good, bad and ugly?”

* Does the agent have the contacts to get you where you want to go?

“You’re hiring someone to open doors for you,” says Rob Jordan, president of Rob Jordan Talent Management, “so ask them, ‘Do you know news directors in New York, or Albuquerque,’ or wherever you ultimately want to work. Ask them for client references. On my Web site, there’s a list of people I represent, and I have no problem with prospective clients calling people I work with, to ask about me.”

* What is your competition going to be within the agency you sign with?

“You’ll have competition in the general marketplace, but you shouldn’t be up against multiple people in the same agency,” Jordan says. “A lot of major agencies have hundreds of clients. Ask, ‘If there’s an opening for a morning show in Dallas, how many people do you handle who will be interested in that job?’ ”

* Will you be able to afford the agency’s fee?

Commission fees for talent agents vary from agency to agency, ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent of the talent’s salary.

“Our fees depend on where the person is in market size and potential earnings,” Jordan says. “There are agents who are not flexible in their commission structure. You need to look at whether you can afford it because agencies can’t promise clients premium dollars anymore.”

-- Dinah Eng