Agent Friendly is a term used by both Speakers Bureaus and Agencies that book entertainment such as tribute bands, tribute artists and impersonators. (Let’s just refer to both distinct groups as Agents going forward.) The term Agent Friendly specifically refers to the promotional materials (i.e. web sites, one-sheets, headshots, etc.) that the speaker or tribute artist provides to the agents so that they can better promote and sell the speaker or tribute artist (hereafter both referred to simply as Talent). Agent Friendly promo materials intentionally omit the talent’s specific contact information. Rather, it has the contact information of the agent.
The reason behind this? The agent is acting as the principal dealmaker between potential clients and the many talent options. Agents have the difficult job of sending out many unique talent proposals to a single client for any single event. After the client does an initial screening, the agent may help the client select the talent that will best fit their specific needs. For example, an agent may send one particular client proposals for 5 different speakers. The client then selects the one or two they like best, then the agent may give additional advice on the specific speakers that client has selected. Now expand that task to potentially a hundred different clients with hundreds of proposals with thousands of different talent options and you can easily see a complex management task that the agent must deal with on a daily basis.
Agent Friendly promo material is an efficient way to keep the communication between the client and agent (i.e. broker) and not get the talent involved during this initial screening process, and frequently not until the specific job is booked.
Besides making an efficient process unnecessarily confusing, a client calling the talent directly and bypassing the agent raises a specific ethical dilemma. When clients and talent decide to do business directly, eliminating the agent who was the original dealmaker, a valuable link is removed and devalued. This would be similar to a manufacturer who decides to sell directly to the public after a previous agreement has been made to sell through a channel of wholesalers and retailers. How would the middlemen feel in that situation?
Fast forward to 2010 and a world where Google is king, when it’s possible for anyone to find anyone else in seconds with a simple internet search and clients can find the talent that want almost instantly; you now leave the scenario screaming for some clarification and new common sense guidelines.
Does this make agents obsolete? Unnecessary? I say, “No!” Speakers Bureaus and Agencies still have a vital role to play going forward. Understanding the role of agents and operating from a foundation of integrity will make it both practical and beneficial for agents to broker deals between clients and talent.
Here are the key issues as I see them and the principals that I believe are necessary for clients, agents and talent to work together productively and ethically in a Google dominated world.
Guidelines for the Talent
- Provide Agent Friendly websites for agents to direct their clients. Two firms specialize in providing agent friendly websites as part of their standard products. eSpeakers has an agent-friendly version for speakers and GigSalad has an agent friendly version for a whole variety of entertainers.
- Provide Agent Friendly PDFs of one-sheets, headshots and brochures. In the world of email and the internet we all should have electronic PDFs for all of our basic marketing materials. An agent friendly version simply has the contact information removed. In the old days of print literature, an agent would simply paste their contact information with a sticker. I’ve developed a simple way to electronically imprint each individual agent’s contact information and send them their own customized PDF version. They can now easily use that custom PDF to communicate with their client.
- Qualify every new call to determine how the potential client discovered you. If you learn that an agent referred the client to you, then the talent is obligated to work though that agent. Same thing if the client finds you from a previous gig that booked through an agency – that client belongs to that prior booking agent.
- Be consistent with fees. Have standard fees that clients pay whether they use an agent or book directly. This eliminates the appearance of 2 standards and encourages clients to use agents.
- Communicate this information immediately to both the client and the agent. Any delay in communicating will erode previous trust and appear to be acting without integrity.
Guidelines for the Clients
- Recognize the unique and different roles of agents and talent. Agents present many solutions to clients. Talent solves specific problems or fills unique roles. Agents earn their commission by matching clients’ problems with talent solutions. Talent earns their fees by solving specific client needs.
- Be willing to pay for any brokered services. Clients are not ethically obligated to book talent through an agent if they have independently discovered the talent. But the ethically correct procedure is to pay for any brokered services. Don’t ask an agent for help if you’re not willing to compensate them for their service.
- Recognize the added value agents bring to the process. Agents are in the business of solving your specific need and solve that need by selecting from hundreds of different talent options. Agents help you solve your problem on an ongoing basis – year after year.
Guidelines for the Agent
- Realize that any client and any talent can get linked to each other without much difficulty – a simple Google search is all it takes. Consequently, integrity of the talent one chooses to work with is more important than ever. And the integrity of the clients one chooses to work with is also paramount. For example, if you recommend Steve Weber for a speaking gig, your client only has to Google me and will find me in seconds. Only choose to do business with those clients and talent who adhere to a high ethical standard.
- Most of the good talent out there have personal websites that are far better than a secondary Agent Friendly’ website. Since you’re working with people of integrity, don’t be afraid to use this excellent selling tool at the appropriate time during the sales process. My personal website is far superior to my agent friendly sites and consequently presents many more reasons why a client may want to hire me.
- Communicate regularly with the talent, send an email notifying them that a particular client has been pitched … or sent to your personal website. Good talent will immediately reply with a confirming response. Ethical talent will treat the client-agent relationship with respect and do everything in his power to maintain and strengthen the client-agent relationship.
- Use the talent’s personal website to confirm available dates if you can. My website keeps my schedule on-line in real time.
In 2010 in the world of Google, anyone can find anyone else in a few seconds on the internet. If agents are to continue to play the very significant role of providing options, then they are going to have to accept the fact that clients and talent can find each other if they want. But those with integrity will continue to utilize the valuable service agents have provided in the past and can provide in the future. Technology has changed the way we do business – consequently, integrity in maintaining relationships is as important as ever.
Next Blog Title: Pine & Gilmore’s 2010 thinkAbout
Next Blog Date: October 5, 2010