The Primary Differences
I regularly field calls, emails, and direct messages that ask me about becoming a manager or agent by talent or a young talent’s parent. The reality is that these are two very distinct roles that differ in responsibility. Understanding how they differ is critical to your success. Here are the differences.
Manager: A manager is concerned about a talent’s employment with a broad focus. We guide a talent’s overall career path. We are very hands-on in all areas of a talent’s career, even their personal lives. We make sure talent has a defined brand, marketing resources, and secures reputable agents that meet the career pursuits of the talent. Our focus is on where an artist’s career is going to be in a few years. Management is typically the first role that is filled as we work to understand the talent’s direction and advise on strategy. Depending on the talent’s career goals, management may be needed with a specialty in one area, say acting, or an understanding and ability to help navigate talent that wants to work across multiple entertainment segments. As for me, I like to focus on brand building across entertainment segments. Think about it in terms of opportunity and risk diversification. Risk can be mitigated and opportunities develop as a talent expands across tv, film, stage, and music.
Agent: A talent agent is more interested in where a talent’s career is right now. Their primary responsibility is to submit talent for gigs, secure work, and negotiate contracts. Agents focus on specific industry niches. There are literary agents, sports, broadcast journalism, commercial, theatrical, modeling, music, voiceover, dance and choreography, to college and cruise ship booking agents. A primary focus on income means that agents actively work to support bookable talent. This is important to understand. An agent cannot guarantee bookings. Booking is driven by demand therefore signing talent that has demand is a priority to secure agency income. In both cases, it is important vet out the belief that management and agents have. Belief translates into management and agents actively working to build a talent’s visibility instead of waiting until demand exists.
2. SIZE OF ROSTER
Manager: Managers maintain a relatively small list of clients. This is a necessity. We get into the details of organizing a career and need to be readily accessible to communicate with our talent and our collaborators. As a team, talent and management need regular communication to execute strategy.
Agent: With a focus on generating commission and agency revenue, a talent agent may have a roster with hundreds of clients. More clients equate to more revenue potential. Be careful about joining an agency to simply become part of a roster. Gauge what the agency will do to actively advance you.
3. LEGAL REQUIREMENTS
Manager: Managers cannot carry out the functions of an agent; specifically submitting talent for gigs and negotiating contracts. We work to publicize talent and facilitate relationships that can result in bookings. As booking requests come, we work with agents and attorneys to vet opportunities against career goals and direct contract terms.
Agent: A talent agent must obtain a license to operate. Once obtained, they are legally allowed to represent and submit talent for work and negotiate contracts. The rules, regulations, and requirements vary by state. An agent must be licensed and registered in the state(s) for which they solicit and arrange for employment. Talent agents are also subject to rules established by guilds and unions necessitating agents to obtain franchise licenses to represent talent for guild and union bookings.
Manager: The longevity of a relationship with a manager is traditionally long-lasting. We know that it takes time to build a talent’s career. Over time, if growth and bookings are absent, we’ll work to understand why and develop strategies to improve booking possibilities. Is the talent signed to the right agent, is the talent gaining and retaining subscribers and music streams, do they need more training in on-camera acting? We focus on development. Managers will devote time to these areas before deciding to release a client from their roster.
Agent: Where an agent is focused primarily on securing employment for talent while earning a commission for themselves, they are less likely to retain a talent that isn’t working. If work isn’t booked after presenting talent to a sufficient amount of auditions, an agent might elect to drop a talent from their roster. In short, agents tend to focus on finding talent work, while a manager focuses on helping talent develop a lasting career.
What Do Managers Look For?
What do managers look for in talent? When managers consider talent, there are key factors that we consider. Here are seven fundamentals:
- Chemistry: Talent and manager relationships require deep collaboration based on trust, mutual understanding, and the ability to navigate intimate and personal vulnerabilities.
- Identity: Talent has a strong sense of individuality, who they are, and what they represent. Identity heavily influences direction.
- Vision: Talent knows what they want to accomplish. We can establish a roadmap and goals when talent can articulate their vision.
- Impassioned Work Ethic: It isn’t enough to have talent and passion. There’s a lot of talent vying for their shot. We look for talent with an unbreakable inner drive that consistently puts in the work despite challenges.
- Humility: Talent recognizes the need to continually learn and welcomes direction and feedback from management and industry professionals.
- Professionalism: Talent is responsive in communication, meets deadlines, and is collaborative with creative partners. Ego and disregard for the time and investment made by collaborators is the quickest way to destroy confidence.
- Growth & Retention: A talent’s understanding of identity and their ability to connect with an audience are reflected in a variety of data driven indicators: social reach, growth, retention, engagement, and sentiment; video views, streaming, ticket sales, volume of booking requests, and other analytics that we observe. We must see that a talent understands and can grow and retain an audience.
As for me, I have a few other guidelines that I consider. I need to see that talent has a purpose that goes beyond self; that the talent sees their gifts as a vehicle to improve the world around them. This extends into the type of material that they create. I do not work with creators that promote violence, substance abuse, explicit content, and all forms of hate speech. Finally, I tend to work with talent that has a belief system in a higher power. Why? It partly influences purpose but also the entertainment industry isn’t easy. When the path gets tough, it helps to know that you are not alone, that a higher power will make things right, and that your path will become clear with work and time.
The above seven points are fundamental to land and retain representation. At the end of the day, this is a business. Venues, DSPs, casting directors, A&Rs, producers, and brand sponsors place their bets on talent that can generate revenue via ticket and merch sales, streams, views, and winning the confidence of financial backers for their properties. We use platforms like Chartmetric, Viberate, and IMDb to evaluate and create strategy to advance talent and grow their business potential.
Managers, agents, and attorneys are all eventual and essential members of a talent’s team. If you seek representation, consider these points and evaluate your representation needs. Remember the different roles that managers and agents play (which are vastly different in today’s digital-first landscape) and your critical part of the equation. For questions about the dynamics of representation, email me at email@example.com.