Talent Agents and Your Media Career

A photo of a talent agent looking at money through a pair of binoculars.
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A talent agent may bring to mind an aggressive, chain-smoking, cell-phone addict whose priority is to protect his clients and boost their media career. While a talent agent is a valuable partner for some people who work in media, decide if this person is worth the money you'll spend in the hopes of reaching your specific career goals.

Talent Agent: Ready to Do Your Dirty Work

If you don't understand the basics of a typical media contract, a talent agent can walk you through each clause.

Even better, a talent agent is usually a master at negotiating a media contract, so that you'll get a higher-paying deal.

Handling contract negotiations on your own can be difficult. It's hard to stand up to your boss and demand more, without risking long-term personal damage. A talent agent lets you be the nice, hardworking employee, while he screams that you'll walk if you don't get a bigger pay raise.

A talent agent also comes in handy if you hate your media job and wish to break your contract. Normally, that would damage your career. But a talent agent can negotiate an exit strategy that hopefully would let you leave without burning bridges that could haunt you later.

Be Prepared to Pay

A talent agent doesn't work for free. You can expect to pay a portion of your salary to him for the length of your contract.

The amount varies, but 5% to 10% of your salary is common. Factors that come into play are whether the talent agent found the job for you, or is just handling contract negotiations.

If you work in broadcasting, the size of the DMA also comes into play. If you work in a small market on the Nielsen DMA list, it's possible that the talent agent would be willing to take a smaller percentage of your pay. If you're making $30,000 a year, think about the impact of losing 10%, which is $3,000, of your salary.

Getting a $28,000 contract without having to pay a talent agent will pay off in this stage of your career.

Make sure you understand the deal you sign with a talent agent. If you find your own job and negotiate your own contract while you are a client, make sure you know whether you will still have to give up part of your salary. Even if your agent doesn't do any work on your behalf, you may still have to pay him. Those details need to be in writing so there's never a misunderstanding which could lead to legal action.

Opening Some Doors, Closing Others

For people working at the top of the ladder, like a TV news anchor in one of the country's largest cities, having a talent agent is normal. The talent agent will work out salary, vacation time, fringe benefits like clothing and hair allowances, and even guarantees on which newscasts his client will anchor.

In smaller cities, a talent agent can be a turnoff to a news director or general manager. It can be an indication that you grossly overestimate your abilities and will be a problem employee. A station's management can decide to give the opportunity to someone else.

Bragging that you have a talent agent may make you feel as though you've made it in your media career.

Plenty of media pros, even those with decades of experience, decide against hiring a talent agent. Make the decision carefully, and if you choose to get a talent agent, know how to hire the best talent agent to represent you.