This may surprise you, but I partly became one because I did not like how most agents represent people. So when writing this article, I am going to be blunt. You should have expectations for your agent, and you need to go into the relationship with those clearly defined.
Why You Need An Agent:
Best Shot At Jobs
Most people get an agent to get a job. You probably know that we know where the jobs are, often before they are posted. You've probably heard that agents help get you more money. It’s all true. We know what markets and even individual stations pay. We also build relationships with companies and stations to make sure our clients are compensated well. But this can and should entail more than money.
Many agents just chase the money train and do not focus on where your talents will be best suited. The best shot at jobs means more than just the money. It means jobs you can not only succeed at but thrive in. It means ideally your agent has a relationship where they can find out if you are struggling with a job and help you get through the struggle or get you out before your reputation is damaged. It also means if there’s a great opportunity you need to take, helping you navigate out of your current situation in a way that doesn’t damage your relationship with your current company. Face it, this business is getting smaller with so many mergers. It was never a good idea to burn bridges, but it’s even more true now. The term, “it’s just business”, often doesn’t apply when you leave a company unless you handle the situation exactly right.
Agents can and should mentor you once you are in a job. If your agent is an attorney, you are hiring a negotiator. That’s OK, but that’s not an agent. A true agent will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, help you grow and perhaps most importantly, help you navigate the politics in your newsroom and company. So, that person should have actually worked in TV news. We deal with all kinds of touchy subjects; clients being hazed, clients being sexually harassed, clients having job descriptions changed on the fly and suddenly being warned they are on the way out because of it, clients being told to change their delivery, wardrobe, and writing style. Whether you have 2 years or 20 of experience in this biz, you can always use someone to help guide you. Someone who cares about your best interest. This is something you need to clearly ask for and ask specifics about when vetting possible agents. Many will not risk relationships with companies and stations to truly protect their clients, but a good agent will advocate for you and will navigate those dicey politics. If you are a producer or manager (which I represent) you get access to the latest trends in the biz you may not be aware of, strategy sessions to increase your ratings and mentoring to help grow your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
Lastly, agents are great insurance. We tend to know what’s coming down the pike, and the signs that you could be in trouble or, on the flip side, on your way to a promotion. This business is known for being tough. You need an edge to keep yourself not just afloat, but ahead of the next wave. If you are being “promoted,” is it really in your best interest or is there another reason behind it that could actually hurt your career? Without an agent, you make decisions in a vacuum. With an agent, you get extra knowledge to really make sound decisions on when to get in and when to get out of a job. If you are forced out, you have someone with a lot of ties to industry leaders who can explain what happened to help you get back in, with less damage to your reputation. I cannot tell you how many times I have had clients being pushed to move up in a company and when I push on why that job, I get “no one else will take that job because…” or “I decided that will toughen (name) up” or “I don’t care if (the person) will make $$$ more money at the job at sister station X… I need to fill Y.” Or a fantastic employee suddenly starts getting bad reviews. When I push, I get “we want to put someone else there, why can’t so and so just leave?” Or someone gets turned down for a promotion and I’m told “I decide when the person is ready. So and so can just wait.”
If you trust these groups to be thinking of your best interests all the time, you are taking serious risks. If your station is suddenly sold you need to know if it’s OK to stay put or get out before being shown the door? There are companies that treat their employees well. There are companies that mentor well too, but all of them have the goal of improving the company, not the individual. At one time or another, you will be caught between a rock and a hard place. Agents can lessen the damage. Agents can also keep companies more honest, by questioning moves in a way you just cannot do on your own. Everyone hopes they never have to cash in their insurance policy, but when you do, you are grateful for the help. The same applies if you are about to be bounced or put in a very dicey situation. Agents are worth every penny. We can really protect your career path.
A final thought about agents. When interviewing one for possible representation ask for specifics. How will you market me? How will you watch out for me when I have that great new job? How do you handle it if I suddenly fear my job could be in trouble? How often will you coach me? Set up your expectations. You are trusting this person with a lot. Be clear what you want and let the agent clearly state what can realistically be delivered. If you are on the same page, this could be one of the most influential and beneficial relationships of your career.