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There is more to the modeling world than the media lets on. If you want to find out what it really takes and how to manage your modeling career, then you've come to the right place! This blog is dedicated to the aspiring and already established models who live to defy the standards and stereotypes in order to make a place for themselves in this crazy industry.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Understanding the Role of Mother Agencies in Modeling

***Just FYI: When I use the word "market," this is just industry lingo for "location" and usually refers to a specific city***

In your attempts to pursue a modeling career, you may or may not have come across the term "mother agency." Not all models deal with this type of agency arrangement but it does help to know as much as you can about the industry and all its aspects, including this concept.

While reading this blog post, keep in mind that having a mother agency is not mandatory, nor does a model need one to be super successful. The choice to become involved in this type of deal should be based on each person's needs, goals and situation as it relates to becoming a model.

So what is a mother agency? Like regular modeling agencies, mother agencies sign models, use contracts and market them to clients in order to book paying assignments. However, the major difference is the fact that mother agencies also groom, develop and prepare their models to work not just in other markets/locations but with other agencies as well. HUH????

Your brain is probably firing off tons of questions after reading that part but be patient--hopefully the rest of this post will answer those questions and demystify this concept.

It's helpful to think of mother agencies as "loaning" out their best models to other agencies as needed. This often happens when the mother agency is located in a small to medium-sized market where there isn't as much high caliber, top paying work. Because they know the good stuff is in places like New York, Los Angeles and even in international markets, they'll use their industry know-how and skills to market their models to attract the big fish agencies in those desirable places.

However, there are mother agencies located in big markets, too. They also operate the same way and for the same purpose but will typically focus on getting their models work in other countries, as well as other large markets nationally (i.e. a model could have his/her mother agent in Los Angeles and, as a result, have the ability to travel and work in New York and/or Miami when bookings come up in those areas).

The benefits for the mother agency includes but is not limited to:
  • Gaining more paying work and exposure for their models.
  • Vital networking connections with bigger, well established agencies.
  • The opportunity to make more money.
The benefits to the model include but is not limited to:
  • The chance to work in one or more larger markets.
  • The opportunity to make more money on assignments and work with big name clients and agencies.
  • The chance to travel either nationally or internationally.
However, there is a catch to this situation that isn't always 100% great. So you know how agencies make their money by charging clients a commission? Well, mother agencies not only make commission on the gigs they get their models locally, they also get a bit of commission from the gigs their models get booked through OTHER agencies. While the traditional commission agencies take is currently at 20%, the amount mother agencies get to charge agencies that use their models is somewhere between 5% to 10%.

However, while regular commission rates are typically added on top of the rate a model will be getting paid, mother agency commissions often take their cut directly from the model's paycheck. They're allowed to do this legally but that doesn't mean it's fair. While there are instances where the mother agency will directly charge commission to the agency they're loaning their models out to, it isn't uncommon for them to simply take money from the model's earnings because it's easier and the model doesn't have a say in the matter (hey, I don't support this practice and I don't make the rules so don't shoot the messenger).

An additional downside is that signing to a mother agency sometimes involves paying fees related to training and development. This includes professional photos, comp cards, runway training, etc. I'm sure you're thinking to yourself, "But Dania, you always say that upfront fees are red flags and that legit agencies train new models for free!" Yes, this is true BUT remember, mother agencies don't operate like regular agencies. And the fees related to the costs of grooming and preparing a model for work in other markets normally are not upfront fees--they come into play after a contract has been signed, which they are legally allowed to do. 

While this may seem like a total ripoff to some of you, there are times when working with a mother agency can be beneficial for a model's career and justifies investing the money. However, like I said earlier, it isn't mandatory to sign with a mother agency.

Here's when it's okay to look into a mother agency situation:
  • If you're in a small market where you know little about the industry but want to prep yourself to make the jump to a major market (and realistically know you meet the requirements to make this possible).
  • If the mother agency in your area has legit and solid connections to not just top agencies in big markets, but well paying and recognizable clients that want to hire you.
  • If the mother agency has proven experience with placing models from small and medium markets to larger ones, especially overseas.
Here's when it's not necessary to get involved with a mother agency:
  • If you already have sufficient knowledge about the modeling industry to find a regular agency on your own.
  • If you currently live in a big market where you're close to all the major traditional modeling agencies.
  • If you're signed to an agency already and are doing just fine with your career.
Think of the mother agency as your coach in a sport: You spend the time and money to hire them to give you experience, training, development of your skills and the knowledge so that you can move on from the minor league to the pros. Some people feel better having access to such a coach, while others feel confident enough to go about things on their own. Either way is fine but it has to be what works best for you and what you're comfortable with.

Do not feel pressured to try and hook up with a mother agency--again, they are not mandatory or necessary to be successful in modeling UNLESS you live somewhere that isn't known for getting much action in terms of the types of modeling assignments or agencies available. Also keep in mind that there are scammer operations that use the mother agency method to get money from people.

If you're thinking about possibly submitting to an agency that offers mother agency services, do your research and check out their site. If they have a proven track record of placing models successfully in bigger markets and getting results, then chances are you'd be working with people that know what they're doing and will be your partner in helping you reach your goals with modeling.

Otherwise, you can stick to seeking information about the industry on your own and by opting for the more affordable way of seeking traditional agency representation by attending open casting calls and sending in your pictures and info via email or snail mail.

21 comments:

trifuion said...

I am not signed to any agency. I got an offer from a mother agency. Do you advise me to sing with a mother agency? Because in this way, a mother agency takes a % from your earnins, and the modelmanagement also takes a % from your earnings. Will I get enough money for me...to cover expences, pocket money and still have some for myself?

Dania Denise said...

Hi, trifuion! You'll find the answer to your questions in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #524," which can be found on my new blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

It is often that at shoots and runway shows male and female models are expected to do their own makeup and hair? Also I'm an aspiring male model from Tallahassee, and I'm not sure how to enter the profession. There aren't any agencies around that I know of and I'm not too keen on going freelance; what should I do to start? Also I hoping to do mostly high fashion modeling.

Dania Denise said...

Hi, Anonymous! You'll find the answer to your questions in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #643," which can be found on my new blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

We just signed to take our inexperienced 8 year old son to a Launch Showcase in Chicago with a 'mother agency'. From your blog sounds like a good start in this case? We were told about the 20% for signed agencies, but they say they don't take any extra % once signed with someone outside the mother agency, but want to be present if a contract is signed during the showcase. Is this typical and can you legally sign contracts if you are called outside such a showcase without a mother agency being involved?

Dania Denise said...

Hi, Anonymous! You'll find the answer to your questions in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #734," which can be found on my other blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

ssroadking said...

Dania,

I have a 17 year old daughter who has been doing a fair amount of modeling all over the US for various designers, but I would not say she is a seasoned pro yet. She recently met with Wilhlemina in Los Angeles, (I checked and it is the real Wilhelmina.) and they want to sign her to a mother agency contract. We live in the Dallas, Texas area and they are wanting her to move to Los Angeles so she can start working for them.

After reading your blog about mother agencies, it appears that you are saying they are needed to get you in the door at larger agencies in larger markets. I don't really understand why Wilhelmina would be using a mother agency contract in Loa Angeles. They are already one of the largest agencies and they are in one of the largest markets. We haven't signed yet but they have already approached her about a job they have submitted her pictures for in New York city for a national ad campaign. What are the advantages and disadvantages to a mother contract with a top agency in a large market?

She has also met with Elite in Miami and they are talking about wanting her out there for swimsuit season in October. If she signs with Wilhelmina in LA, will that affect her ability to work for other companies?

Sorry for so many questions, I appreciate the time and energy you obviously put into this website, you are a great resource to people thrying to understand this very cunfusing business.

Dania Denise said...

Hi, ssroadkey! You'll find the answer to your questions in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #758," which can be found on my other blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Hello . I'm new . and know nothing about modeling . I go to a boarding school and I want to model at the same time at least get started before I go to college and get kid of familiar . I've been searching on how to get ahold of a mother agency . but nothing is coming up .. I need help

Dania Denise said...

Hi Anonymous!

In order for me to help you, I definitely need more information about you, such as where you are located. Where you are located is going to have a lot to do with getting results in your search for a mother agent.

You can comment on here with your location info (city/state or if you are outside the US, the country or largest city within the region you're in) or you can send that info directly to me at: daniadenise@gmail.com and we can continue the convo via email.

Looking forward to your reply!

Anjuli said...

Hello, I have a 15 year old petite female model just getting started, she has a portfolio, has walked in several local and regional shows. Recently we were contacted by Universal Modal group who says they are a mother agency. They talk the talk but I can not find much info on them. Are they a good choice? Should we even talk to them? We are ready to make the next move but are struggling to find an agent specializing in teen petite models, 5' 4". We are located in Northeastern Connecticut.

Dania Denise said...

Hi, Anjuli! You'll find the answer to your question in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #772," which can be found on my other blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

laura cottrill said...

Hello, my name is olivia and I just got 'signed' with a mother agency..the reason there are air quotes around signed is because I never signed anything..I think this is sketchy, but am I wrong? Also the owner is knowingly lying about my measurements, and they're not an inch off theyre about 5. Also her name is Sparkle and she says we'll never meet. I just want to know what I should do, personally I want out of this situation.
Help!
Olivia

Dania Denise said...

Hi, Olivia! You'll find the answer to your question in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #795," which can be found on my other blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

Bglas said...

Time sensitive question for you because I have to get back to the agency tomorrow!

I live in NC and have the opportunity to sign with a well known agency in this market. A family friend who worked for Wilhelmina for 20+ years remembers working wth them and accepting models from them. They have offered me a contract. The family friend has a small agency of her own and has offered to be my mother agent--I'm figuring she still has great contacts since she stopped working for Wilhelmina in 2008 but should I have her be my mother agent or the main agency?

Amanda Appels said...

Hi there!
I am 17 and live about 40 minutes from NYC. For months I have been trying to get signed with an agency through everything from online submissions to open calls. Some agencies expressed interest, but didn't contact me after the until meeting. A few weeks ago, I tagged some of my Instagram photos to IMGs we love your genes hashtag. Yesterday Social New York contacted me and asked for an email which I provided. After asking a few basic questions about me, they set up a visit for me to meet with them next week. The email was verified by the contact info on the website and from my research it LOOKS like a legitimate mother agency, but I can't be sure. It is even listed under models.com as a mother agency which I took as a good sign but I want to be cautious. Do you have any experience with Social or know of them? If they offer me a contract, in your opinion, would it be a good idea for me to take it?
Thank you,
Amanda

Dania Denise said...

Hi, Amanda Appels! You'll find the answer to your questions in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #844," which can be found on my other blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

ksbirish said...


I read your description of mother agencies, and it seems the way to go for me, at least for now. I was thinking this before I saw your blog. My problem is that I cannot seem to find any in my area. There don't seem to be "magic" keywords to find them on places such as Google.
Do you know how I might find mother agencies in Oregon, for example, around the Portland area? Do you know of any? I understand you might not be able to recommend any but just their name, or something about them for searching purposes, would be a great start.
Thank you for your time,
kelly

Dania Denise said...

Hi, ksbirish! You'll find the answer to your question in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #852," which can be found on my other blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Hi Diana. My 11 year was spotted at her school fair last weekend by the owner of a mother agency. They are based in America and we live in Asia. We've been told we have to wait 4-5 years and see how my daughter will grow and change but wants to sign a contract with her now. Is this wait and see period enough ? There are not many opportunity to start any experience where we are now, meaning that when she reaches 15-16 years she will have had 0 experience. Thanks for your advice.

Dania Denise said...

Hi, Anonymous! You'll find the answer to your question in its own post, titled "Answering a Reader Question #856," which can be found on my other blog: "Modeling 101 - Answering Readers Questions."

Please visit this link: http://amodelsdiary-readerquestions.blogspot.com/ and you can view your post there. Thanks for reading!