ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us about Agent Inc., when it started, why you wanted to create it and who is able to use it?
MARK WILLINGHAM: Agent is a technology-driven platform which is the result of our focus to completely re-imagine the modeling industry.
The modeling industry, at its core, has pretty much remained the same for the past 70 years with modeling agencies representing models, often on an exclusive basis, and connecting them with companies that want to book models. The traditional modeling agencies take a commission of up to 20% from both the model and the company. And, the process of booking a model can be quite time consuming as the companies need to search through an agency’s
book of models, either online or in print, identify which models are of interest to them and then communicate this to the agency – via phone or email - who then need to determine the model’s availability for the proposed job. Depending on the complexity of the job and a variety of other factors, this process can take from a few hours to a week or more. Then, there are issues of safety (does the person hiring the model have a criminal/sex offender background?),
payment (will it take weeks or even months for the model to be paid?), lack of transparency (how much is the modeling agency actually getting paid by the client) and career control
(exclusivity agreements between models and agencies tie the model's hands, preventing them controlling their own destiny).
Now, with the Agent platform, things are much different. Agent offers companies more diversity and overall options than a traditional modeling agency. Agent provides real value to both sides of the marketplace, empowering companies to efficiently find and book highly-vetted models in minutes by utilizing powerful, granular search filers. The Agent platform is free to use and a small fee of 5% is only charged to companies once they have completed the
job and electronically paid the model. Further, for companies which book models, Agent provides a guarantee of 100% satisfaction and offers 24/7 customer support.
For models, the Agent platform is focused on empowering them and providing the tools and guidance to control and grow their careers. We have created a much safer work environment
for models by running a criminal/sex offender background check on every person who wants to use the platform to book them. In addition, the models set their own rates on the platform and they are electronically paid immediately (direct deposit in to their bank accounts) when the job is completed. Further, Agent is non-exclusive, free for models to apply and be listed and only charges a 10% booking fee when they are paid for a job (as opposed to the 20% fee charged by traditional agencies).
In addition, the Agent provides for total transparency, giving both the power to rate each other at the completion of each job.
The company was actually formed in December 2015 (Wow! 2 years ago already!). My two business partners, Dustin Diaz and Ashley St. Clair, originally conceptualized Agent when
Dustin was named photographer of the year on Flickr and was awarded a book deal on photography and lighting. He was trying to hire 20 models to shoot for the book and, not knowing where to find them, he ultimately ended up reaching out to models on Instagram
and Model Mayhem. Well, his experience was less-than-desirable with more than half of the booked models not showing up for the job and, of those that did, there was a range of issues
from not being experienced and not looking like their online photos to not being able to accept payment by credit card. He ended up having to go to the bank to get cash and one model
even asked if she could give him marijuana as change for a $100 bill!
All of this got Dustin thinking that if he had such a bad experience trying to book models for one job there must be a much bigger overall problem in the industry. It turns out he was right.
Our goal at Agent is not to replace traditional agencies but to re-imagine the entire industry where all the players – models, companies that hire models and traditional modeling agencies
themselves – benefit from the efficiencies and safeguards which are core to the agent platform.
We currently offer our service in 4 cities: New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami with plans to expand to other major US cities during 2018 and then across the entire country and then into Europe and Asia.
The initial focus is on models and companies (brands, marketing agencies, photographers, etc.) that book models for a broad range of needs including photo shoots (fashion, commercial,
online), trade shows, runway shows, events, promotions, etc.
AM: Although the Agent platform is meant for models, are others who are in the industry (photographers, stylists, makeup artists etc.) able to use this as well?
MW: While the talent side of the Agent platform is currently focused models, during 2018 we will also open it up to photographers, stylists and makeup artists. That being said, we have
thousands of photographers already signed up on the platform as clients so that they can hire models. It is super exciting how responsive photographers have been to our service.
AM: Although the Agent platform allows you to book talent, how is it beneficial in keeping models and other hired talents safe or aware of the people that they are working with?
MW: With the Agent platform we have created a much safer work environment for models by running a verification and criminal/sex offender background check on every person who wants to use the platform to book them. In addition, with our rating system, where the models rate the clients after every job, models can make informed decisions regarding the clients with whom they want to work. We also have many other safeguards in place including educational tools for models which lets them know that they are empowered to say, "no" and can leave a job at any time if the situation is uncomfortable. We are also implementing a “safety” button in
the platform which, in the event of an emergency, allows models to get immediate help without requiring them to make a physical phone call.
Also, by requiring that all clients provide the information necessary for us to run identity verification and background checks they know that the Agent platform is certainly not a place
for them to attempt anything shady. There are many places for predators to go such as Instagram, Model Mayhem, etc. where nobody is sure who they are or what illegal or unsavory
deeds they may have committed in the past . . . Agent certainly would not be a first choice for these characters as we know too much about them.