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From the Field
By Mathew Sheen

In the news business, the role of the agent has evolved…

Today agents do much more for clients than “just find jobs”. Many agencies
are now providing a full range of services, especially in the area of career
guidance. Let's face it, newscasting is an extremely competitive business and
everyone is trying to get ahead of the competition. Our business is changing;
consolidation is resulting in the elimination of many news positions.
Fragmentation is creating many new opportunities with cable networks. At this
point you are asking yourself the big question, "Do I need an agent?"


If you work in a major market you probably DO need an agent. If you are just
graduating from a journalism or broadcast program you probably DO NOT need an
agent. Those working in large markets need an agent to help them “jockey”
for top positions at their stations (or networks) and handle contract
negotiations. On the other hand, if you have just graduated and you are
trying to find your first on air-job, and you have a good education, strong
work ethic and a desire to be an anchor or reporter; however, lack one major
and essential element -- on-air experience. At this stage in your career, it
is best to send out tapes on your own. If you have enough determination YOU
WILL land a job. In smaller markets and even some middle markets, news
directors are not familiar with agents. These news directors may be
intimidated and feel undue pressure from an agent; possibly harming the

This brings us to the major gray area; those in middle markets. If you are
working as an anchor/reporter in market 40 to 80 and are currently in your
second or third job, you are ready to move on to a bigger market or a higher
profile position. This is probably the time when you should consider hiring
an agent.


Market size and experience level are two different factors. In most cases,
people in larger markets usually have more experience. When an agent reviews
a potential client for representation he is looking to see if the talent has
the skills and experience that makes the person marketable. The biggest
factor in measuring experience and skill level is on-air performance. (I will
discuss what agents are looking for in my next article.) As a talent you need
to examine your performance and compare yourself to others working in your
market; as well, the markets where you want to work. Get as much feed back as
you can about your performance from anyone who will view your tape. It is a
fact that over time your performance will become stronger, even top
broadcasters have room for improvement. It may be the right time to look for
an agent when you are consistently the lead reporter on your show or
consistently anchoring strong newscasts.


As discussed earlier, the primary function of an agent is to find talent
employment, but today agencies offer many different services to their
clients. Some of the services that agencies provide are performance
critique, resume tape editing and contract negotiation. Each agency offers
something different, it is important to recognize the services that you need
and find someone who can meet your needs.

Let's begin with the most basic service, the job search. If you are nearing
the end of your contract or looking for a job, an agent can be a tremendous
help. Agents have access to job openings in areas that most talent would not
have. Utilizing an agent allows a talent to focus on the daily work of
anchoring or reporting while the agent conducts the job search. The agent
will contact the news directors, send out tapes and get feedback. In many
cases agents offer an advantage because of their existing relationships with
news directors and ability to get a tape viewed. Once a talent gets a job
offer, the agency will negotiate the contract with the station.

In most markets, news managers do not give feedback or critiques to talent
about their performance. Feedback and critiques are essential for growth.
Many agents will work with their clients on a regular basis reviewing tape
and discussing how they can improve. It is important that you find an agent
who gives you constructive criticism and will explore ways to improve areas
of weakness.

The resume tape is the most important tool for a talent to showcase their
work. Choosing the right shots can make a major difference. Most agencies
are offering tape editing services to clients. There are many advantages to
the client if an agent edits their tape. The obvious benefit is that the
client does not have to spend time editing. The agent knows exactly what
specific stations are looking for and they can edit a tape to fit those
needs. There is a set format that most news directors expect to see when
they are viewing tapes of potential anchors and reporters.

Servicing a client goes well beyond closing a deal and negotiating a talent
contract. If a client has contract "windows" or "outs," an agent can take
an active role in helping a client exercise contractual rights. If a talent
is ready for a bigger market, the agent can actively search for jobs that
meet the "outs." In other situations, for example, it might not be in a
talent's best interest to exercise an "out." This is where career guidance
is extremely important so clients can understand the effect of their
decision. The agent can also help a client build and maintain their
relationship with a news director. There are cases when a talent needs an
advocate to help them advance to a better position at a station.


The relationship between an agent and an anchor/reporter is unique. Having
the right agent can make a major difference in a talent's career. Once a
newscaster reaches a level in his career where he needs an agent, he should
identify career goals and seek an agent who can help him obtain those
objectives. Utilizing an agent is a great investment, especially if the
agent can help land that dream job. An agent will charge a client a
commission based on a percentage of gross income. But, if your are in a
smaller market representation may not be cost effective. Most agencies will
not charge a client commission until the agent finds the talent a job or
negotiates a contract. (This is regulated by the individual representation
contract between agent and client.) Before a talent signs a contract with an
agent it is important that the talent understands the terms of the agreement
and what compensation the agent is entitled to for his services.

Most agencies accept unsolicited tapes from newscasters. I would encourage
individuals who feel they are ready for an agent to submit tapes to the news