If you are just starting out in the speaking or entertainment industry, I don’t recommend you try to get an agent right away. The reason being is that most of the time it’s not affordable, and it’s more valuable for you to learn how to get work yourself, as it will serve you your entire career.
Once you get to a level where you need an agent, or someone booking you and taking a percentage, the question often arises as to what they should take from the gross. This blog post is merely a response to the questions as to how I’ve seen this done, so it’s not the end all, just my experience. If yours differs, please share with the community in the comments below.
Q: When should I get an Agent?
A: As soon as you have so many bookings you can no longer handle everything yourself and you don’t want to bring on any extra assistance.
Q: What does an Agent do?
A: An Agent helps you land events and gigs that you couldn’t get otherwise, as well as negotiate whatever you send their way, often able to drive the client’s lack of budget much higher than you could (because degrees of separation allow them to see events for you differently than you’d see them for you).
Q: What is the difference between an Agent, a Manager, Talent Management, Bookers/Referrals, & Bureaus?
A: Lots of distinctions, and this may vary, but here is the general definition:
- AGENT is someone who gets you events and bookings you can’t, is able to drive your pricing higher and get more money out of clients, and handles everything from contracting to invoices. Some agents are outbound and work on a higher commission level, others are more inbound, receiving and taking calls, and may take a lower percentage.
- MANAGER is the person with vision who can see the landscape of where you want your career to go, meets with you extensively to create those pathways, open doors with connections, and manages your career, and often life, along with day to day operations so you don’t have to. Very few people have Managers in the business, as they are often seen as Mentors or a Coach-type, but when you are committed to your Manager you are in it for the long haul as they help you create your success. Usually they only take on a few people at a time in order to devote the amount of effort to making you a success. Managers utilize expertise of Agents and Bureaus to land you gigs, and they may also negotiate everything from TV and film appearances, to books and album deals, and receive a piece of all they secure.
- TALENT MANAGEMENT is an exclusive roster you will find yourself on, generally of about 10 artists, where you have a team working for you on a commission level (sometimes plus a monthly flat fee), who does all negotiations, contracting, takes calls, sends out blasts looking for work, spins work that doesn’t make sense for one on their roster and sends to you, and handles every detail of your business so you can spend time creating, performing, practicing your craft. The right one could be a godsend, the wrong one could ruin your career and lead to bankruptcy. Luckily I’ve found the best one in the world in CMI Speaker Management. These companies also have major long term relationships with bureaus worldwide, which helps a lot.
- BOOKERS is simply another word for Agent. REFERRALS are usually from friends, other performers, and some won’t take a fee while others may only refer you if you pay up.
- BUREAUS are amazing if they know who you are and you have delivered for their clients in the past. Certain organizations only work with bureaus, as the bureau deals with the talent so the company doesn’t have to sift through all options. Bureaus have their favorites, and rightly so, they always want to one-up themselves with clients returning year after year assuming they will send the latest and greatest unknowns, or celebrities. Bureaus handle every aspect of the event, to the point that sometimes you hardly know who you’re speaking to until the conference call the week before.
Q: What percentage do these people take?
A: What needs to change with that question is the word “take”. When we look at it that way, it sounds like they’re stealing from you. So the better question is, “How much can I give to these incredible people who land me gigs I could never get?” That’s better. Remember, they are in business too, and deserve what they receive, oftentimes should get more for the amount of work compared to you just showing up and doing 45 minutes on stage. But since you’re the talent that’s why you make the big bucks!
- Agents who are non-exclusive may take anywhere from 10-20%
- Exclusive agents may work with you on what they receive, such as depending on whether there is a full fee involved or not, and will discount their fee as well, but this is rare. You need to negotiate the rates on a per agent basis, but if you’re exclusive know that 10% is low, where 15-20% is normal.
- Managers receive 25% as a starting point and go up from there. In other words, if you have an agent AND a manager, you may be looking at a 50% split. This is not uncommon, as established by Elvis Presley with his original manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who famously agreed upon a 50% split of Elvis’ earnings for his entire career. Retire rich boys!
- Bookers and Referrals are similar to non-exclusive agents in that they may send you something out of the goodness of their hearts, or will only refer you if you will send them a check. Most Referrals between friends in the business are as little as 5%, some as high as 20%, but most land around 10%.
- Bureaus receive 25-30%.
- Talent Management gets a monthly fee (administrative fee in the $1,000-2,000 level)), plus commission on bookings anywhere from 10%-20%, depending on what you negotiate with them and the work that either comes from your past appearances vs their ability to go out and garner work on your behalf.
In conclusion, all of these people do great work if you find the right fit. Where problems arise is when an artist or speaker becomes greedy as to the amount of money “taken” by an agent, or when an agent doesn’t work to land gigs and just waits for the phone to ring. Be careful in whom you choose, it could make or break your career.
Jason Hewlett, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame, is a Keynote Speaker for the largest corporate events in the world. His primary message, The Promise, is essential for Leadership, Management, Sales, Marketing, Direct-Sales Companies, and is a combination of engagement and entertainment meets inspiration. Jason has even received standing ovations from IT guys. He has been acknowledged as life-changing by Conference Attendees, C-Level Executives and Hollywood Elite. jasonhewlett.com
Please click here to learn about how Jason Hewlett, Speaker Hall of Fame, introduces the opportunity for you, or someone you love, to have the gift of learning how to create a Career From the Stage and begin moving toward fulfilling a lifelong dream as a full-time speaker, performer, or entertainer.