Do your research
There are a lot of agents out there, so the first step is to work out which agency or individual might be a good fit for you. Think about your specialisms and theirs; there’s no point in approaching someone who only represents musical theatre performers if your ambitions lie in new writing or film. Amanda Fisher, who runs Royce Management, suggests that those seeking representation should “look in Contacts to see a list of actors’ agents. Do some research – look at agents’ websites, talk to other actors”.
For Nicki van Gelder, a director at Conway van Gelder Grant, the personal side of things is important. “[Actors] should look for an agent they can trust,” she says. You don’t have to best buddies – this is a professional relationship after all – but it’s hard to hand control over your career to someone you dislike. This makes sense on a practical level too: if all goes to plan, you and your agent will be in frequent contact and you want those interactions to be as pleasant as possible.
Once you’ve put together a list of agents you think might be right for you, it’s time to approach them. Be professional, says Justine Hodgkinson, a senior assistant at The Artists Partnership: “Remember that applying to an agency is the same as applying to any job. Agencies want to see that you are committed, passionate and professional. Give the agent the material they need to consider you – most will post details on their website, but usually a CV, headshot and letter is enough.”
If you have a particular reason why you’re interested in that person or agency, tell the agent about it, and mention any personal connection that might be pertinent – past dealings with a member of the team for example – but don’t make a nuisance of yourself, stresses Amanda. You want to get the agent’s attention, but not for the wrong reasons. “Don’t hound agents – there is no need to email, call and post your CV and photo,” she says.
Other common mistakes are sending emails with attachments so large that they crash the recipient’s inbox, sending CVs through the post with insufficient postage and supplying inappropriate photographs. "I don’t want to see photos of [actors] on holiday, with their cat or dressed as a priest (and yes, I’ve received all of them!)” says Amanda. And be subtle about the fact that you’re writing to more than one agent – no one looks kindly on receiving an email meant for someone at another agency.
Timing can be crucial. "About two years ago,” says Nicki, "someone wrote to me and I read his email because he'd had the most incredible reviews I'd ever seen for a play at the Southwark Playhouse. They were so good that I said to [my assistant], ‘I can't go, but you should’. And she did and we took him on." Nicki wasn’t looking to take on new clients at the time, but did so in that case because the actor in question was canny about his approach. His email made him impossible to ignore.
Develop a thick skin
Competition for representation is fierce, and the reality is that you’re going to receive a fair few rejections before you eventually find an agent. Almost all Nicki’s new clients are taken on following drama school showcases or as a result of a personal recommendation – she says no to almost every unsolicited application she receives.
The trick is to not take it personally – just because one agent doesn’t want to take you on, it doesn’t mean the next person you write to won’t. “Everyone has different tastes but also agents are often careful not to have conflicting clients,” says Justine. "It’s harder to convince a casting director to see your amazing new client if you have 20 others you’re trying to get through the door. Don’t be put off by rejection.”
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Image: Old office equipment by Matti Mattila under a Creative Commons license