Talent agents apply expert communication and negotiation skills to represent and source work for talented people in the entertainment industry
As a talent agent, you'll secure work and fair contracts and conditions for people in the entertainment industries. For many of the people you represent, it will be essential to have an agent and they'll be dependent on you for access to suitable roles.
You'll champion, promote and sometimes defend the talent you represent in order to protect their interests and ensure they get plenty of relevant, quality work. You may also scout for new talent in the hope of representing them and raising their profile.
Types of talent agent
The main types of talent agent roles and industries are:
- acting agent
- broadcast agent
- literary agent
- model agent
- music agent
- sports agent
- voiceover and commercial agent.
The purpose and general responsibilities of an agent are largely the same across all industries, however the 'buyer' (person or company hiring the talent) that the talent agent is promoting to will differ. For example, a literary agent will typically represent writers and the aim will be to get them a publisher/publishing deal, while a voiceover and commercial agent will represent talent with the aim of securing them advertising roles.
Each industry area has its own processes and protocols, but the key skills are the same for all types of talent agent role.
As a talent agent, you'll need to:
- build and maintain a strong network of industry contacts
- possess an in-depth and up-to-date knowledge of your industry area
- be confident in negotiating terms and pay for your clients
- mentor and advise talent on personal and professional decisions that impact their career
- keep track of your client roster and their activities
- be comfortable working in a competitive and sometimes pressured environment
- thrive on working with a diverse range of people
- use your judgement to decide which talent to take on
- be happy reading long scripts/manuscripts or contracts on a frequent basis.
- Starting salaries for entry level or talent agent assistant roles are between £16,000 and £26,000.
- As an experienced talent agent, you can earn between £28,000 and £35,000.
- Talent agents with 10 years' experience or more usually earn £37,000+.
Across all talent agent industries, you can expect to earn commission on top of your salary. The amount of commission you gain varies between different industries, employers and will also depend on your seniority.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Full-time working hours are the most common way of working across all talent agent roles. Part-time roles are available, but rarely and usually only at larger organisations. Short-term contracts are occasionally offered, but freelance work opportunities are not common in the industry. You can work for yourself if you own your own agency, but typically this is only possible with long-term industry experience.
You'll regularly be expected to work outside of normal office hours, including evenings and weekends, to attend events, shows and other key promotional and networking activities in support of your clients. It's not common to be compensated for long hours, however you'll often receive generous expenses to cover food, drink, event tickets, travel and accommodation.
What to expect
- You'll get to work with interesting and talented people, but ensuring they have quality work and advising them on professional decisions could feel pressured and stressful at times.
- You'll be expected to attend events and travel regularly, which can be fun and exciting, but will also require you to work evenings, weekends and might involve overnight travel.
- It's likely that you'll be based in an office and will spend a lot of time on the phone and at a desk. Although, you'll also be frequently expected to go out to meet clients and attend promotional and networking industry events. Professional and appropriate dress will be needed for the event or venue you're attending.
- London is the hub for most talent agent roles, especially for acting and literary agents, however roles are increasingly available in and around larger cities in the UK - especially where media and publishing companies operate.
- Job security is usually high as agents are in demand due to new and expanding forms of media and entertainment consumption. Talent agents have one of the few roles within the creative industries where full time and permanent contracts are the norm.
Although a degree is not essential to gain work in any area of talent agent work, it is increasingly a requirement and can make you a more competitive candidate.
A degree in a subject relevant to your industry area will help demonstrate your passion and understanding of the field. A foundation degree or HND in a relevant area would also help show your interest but may provide fewer on-course opportunities for networking and industry experience.
Networks are crucial to finding work as an agent and qualifications alone are unlikely to help you gain a role. Roles can be competitive, so a combination of contacts, industry knowledge and qualifications will be most beneficial in entering this field.
Having a degree in law, or a business area such as marketing or PR, provides useful transferable skills for agent roles. However, if your degree is not related, you'll also need work experience and extracurricular interests to prove your passion for your intended area of agent work and to gain contacts.
For certain agent roles, a less academic qualification from an arts school would also help you make good contacts and understand the industry.
Postgraduate study is not required, however courses that provide useful skills and industry links could be useful to help you enter the industry.
You'll need to be:
- a highly skilled and confident communicator - in order to build and maintain a strong network
- an assured decision maker - to confidently support and advise clients
- determined and resilient - to secure roles, talent and buyers
- persuasive and a good salesperson - to ensure your talent is frequently hired
- a great multitasker - to stay on top of many competing needs and demands
- a creative thinker and good problem solver - to cope with frequently shifting priorities and unexpected tasks
- exceptionally organised and efficient to keep on top of your workload
- someone with good concentration and attention to detail to read over contracts and other long documents.
It's almost essential to start out in an internship or similarly structured work experience position. Most talent agencies offer internship schemes, but paid internships are particularly competitive, and the length of the opportunity will differ between companies and industry areas. Internships can last anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months or more.
Internships may be advertised on the company's website or industry job pages, alternatively you may hear about openings through your contacts. You can also try applying speculatively to agencies, to see if they can offer you some form of work experience.
Any knowledge and experience you can gain in your intended industry will be helpful and will enable you to start building contacts. This will make you a competitive candidate when looking for internships or entry-level positions in your field.
Talent agents are employed almost exclusively in the private sector with nearly all companies being a small or medium-sized business.
The type of organisation you're employed by will differ depending on which area of talent agent work you're looking for. Commonly this will be an agency of some kind, and you may work across various creative and media industries, although specialisation in one entertainment field is also possible.
Look for vacancies at:
For all talent agent areas, networking is essential to find and gain roles. Building your network and keeping in regular contact with them is very important to demonstrate your reliability, commitment and interest in the field.
Use email and social networking sites to stay in contact and offer to support events and projects where possible, as this will help build and demonstrate your skills, as well as keeping you informed about opportunities.
There are few formalised training opportunities once in a talent agent role, as you will largely learn on the job. However, there are various unions and guilds for different industry areas that exist and offer useful advice, resources, conferences and occasional training opportunities.
Some of the main ones are:
- The Association of Author's Agents
- The PMA
- The British Fashion Model Association
- The Association of Professional Sports Agents
- ScreenSkills Continuing Professional Development
Additional training on contracts/law, managing budgets and leadership may be available, but isn't essential.
You'll commonly enter talent agent roles through internships, which can last up to six months. Typically, once you've gained initial experience, you'll work as an agent's assistant for between two to six years, at which stage you'll have acquired the skills, experience and contacts to progress to a talent agent position.
Some talent agent assistants take the extra step of working as a junior or associate talent agent before moving into a full talent agent position. It's mainly larger organisations that offer this level position. As a talent agent, you'd be expected to continue taking on additional responsibilities and leading on projects to develop your skills and client portfolio for around three to six years. At this stage, you'd be eligible for senior talent agent or management/leadership roles.
After working in a senior or management position for many years, some agents decide to start an agency of their own.
Entry level positions are most commonly the most competitive to secure, but talent agent work is readily available at all levels after this stage - for those who have a strong track-record and quality experience. If you're based in London, roles and progression opportunities will come up far more frequently, in other locations you may need to wait longer for promotion opportunities to come up.
Find out how Ryan became Lewis Capaldi's manager at BBC Bitesize.