Modeling 101: Doing the Agency Dance


The Agency DanceOkay, so you made it through the maze in the last article, you’ve done your research, performed your due diligence to weed out the scammers and pretenders, and you’ve found a couple of agencies you feel pretty good about.  Congratulations, you’re ready to do the agency dance.  Now what?  What’s the best way to approach a modeling or talent agency to secure that all-important first interview?   Phone, walk-in, email, snail-mail?  If they do want to see you, what do you say when you get there?  What do you wear?  Should you bring anything?   The answers to all these questions are as variable as the people you’re trying to contact, but there are a few common expectations.

First Contact

• Open Calls Agencies often run what are known as Open Calls—basically just open invitations for you to apply by either showing up in person at a designated location at a particular time or by completing and submitting a form (usually available on their website).  Submitting the form is so easy most people will use only that application method, which is why any particular application (including yours) is unlikely to get noticed.  An invitation to attend a meet-and-greet in person, however, works in your favor because unlike everybody else, you’re going to show up with a professional comp card and portfolio book, wearing the appropriate clothes and conducting yourself according to the information we’ll talk about below.  Getting a face-to-face is the primary objective in any first contact, so the Open Call is an ideal opportunity.

• Telephone. Quite simply, don’t.  Very few businesses in any industry want to be called on the telephone with employment inquiries, and it’s unlikely that you will be able to schedule an appointment over the phone.  The only reason to call an agency on the phone is for information: the time and location of an Open Call; how to submit an application; what the agency’s requirements are; the name of the person you need to specifically contact through a more appropriate medium.  If you ask for a contact name, take careful notes and make sure you get the contact’s title and the correct spelling of his or her name.

• Regular Mail. As archaic as it may sound in the electronic age, regular (snail) mail is still the preferred method of receiving applications for most agencies.  Be sure to write an articulate letter using a standard business-letter form on sensible white letterhead paper (if you don’t know what the format looks like, do a Google search for “business letter format;” here’s a good tutorial from the Purdue Online Writing Lab).  Address the letter to the person whose name you obtained either from the phone call in the previous paragraph or from the agency’s website, using the standard Ms. or Mr. salutations and the last name (no, you don’t start a business letter with “Yo, Cuz” or “Hey, Girl”).  Keep it simple.  In the body of the letter, briefly introduce yourself, including a description of your appearance with your basic stats—bust/waist/hips, and shoe and dress size for women, jacket and waist size for men.  Both sexes need to supply their real age and height, plus hair and eye color.  Explain your modeling interests and your interest in the agency, and conclude by expressing a polite request to meet with the addressee to introduce yourself in person.

Unless you have genuine, professional modeling experience to report, anything else you’re thinking of adding is probably a mistake.  All the agency wants to know is information pertinent to your ability to model.  Your love of the beach and abiding desire for world peace are irrelevant.  The fact that you played the Virgin Mary in your 3rd grade Christmas pageant or were the head cheerleader in junior high school doesn’t matter—leave it out.  The fact that you are a trained dancer, actor, or mezzo-soprano with professional performance experience does matter if you’re hoping to be cast in television commercials.  And don’t, whatever you do, imagine that the agency will be impressed by your modeling school diploma.  In fact, it’s a good policy to avoid volunteering any extraneous information in a first-contact letter.  You’d be surprised how often those little tidbits that you think are critical to understanding your personality are actually little land mines that will blow up your application.

If you’ve taken the initiative to put a comp card together (highly recommended), enclose it with the letter.  If the agency asks for photos, the usual expectation is for three.  They should include a good commercial headshot, a full-length shot, and at least one that shows you in the genre you’re hoping to model.  Write your name and contact information on the back of each in case they get separated from your application, and if you want them back, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

If you’re an actor, enclose your resume and your 8 x 10 headshot.

• Email. Most agencies don’t want to receive applications by email, and you don’t want to send them that way.  We’re all inundated by email overload these days—messages pile up in the Inbox and occasionally get lost in the queue.  The agency isn’t going to print your application out, so if the recipient wants anyone else to look at it, s/he will probably forward it, creating yet another opportunity for it to get lost in the electronic shuffle.

If you’re sending photos as attachments and using AOL as your ISP, AOL will strip the photos out of the file.  Your recipient’s email client may routinely treat all mail with attachments as spam and route it to the Junk folder.  If you do have to use email and need to include photos, embed them in the body of the message or provide a link to them on another site.  If you embed them, make sure you compress them properly.  Any photo file over 500K in an email is annoying to receive, and you’re probably sending three of them.  Try to keep your e-photos under 800 pixels on the long side, and compress them to a data size of 150K or less.  For more information on preparing your files for electronic display, see the notes at the end of the My Card, Sir article on presentation materials.

As for the content of the message, follow the format described in the Regular Mail paragraph above.

The Interview

Whether it comes as the expected result of an Open Call or as the harvest of the seed you planted in your application letter, the agency interview is the ultimate goal of your first contact efforts.  You’ll usually get up to 20 minutes or so, and it might take the full duration for you to close the deal.  On the other hand, if you’re not ready it’ll take you less than a minute to blow it.  The following are some useful tips to keep you in the game and out of the penalty box.

• Be early. Call ahead to confirm your appointment time, and be sure you have a contact number for the person you’re meeting in case something unavoidable (no, really—actually, unavoidable—not the fifth death of your grandmother in the last six months) comes up and you have to call to notify your appointment that you’re going to be late.  Oh, and… Don’t.  Be.  Late. This is business—in the business world on-time is late and 15 minutes early is on time.

• Be prepared. Make sure you have the correct address for the interview, and familiarize yourself with the route you’re going to take to get there.  Set your clothes out the night before and check them for problems.  Get some sleep.  I once interviewed for a job wearing a brand new suit after an 18-hour marathon work session that sent me to the appointment without any sleep.  As the interview was winding down, I noticed the large price tag on the sleeve of my suit coat that I had been waving around in front of the interview committee for the past 30 minutes.  I gesture a lot when I talk.  I didn’t get the job.  You want to discover details like this before the interview, not during it.

Do some advance research to provide yourself with background on the agency.  You don’t want to ask stupid questions you could have known the answer to if you’d only shown a little interest in the agency before you got to the interview.  It’s amazing how often people blow interviews in every industry because they didn’t bother to learn anything about the organization they were applying to.

Bring your portfolio book and a comp card.  The preparation for this began back when you were meeting with your photographer to ensure that the photos you used in your presentation materials were an accurate representation of the type(s) of modeling you were interested in and suited for.  Bad or average photos or photos showing you modeling a genre you’re clearly not right for are harmful to your cause, and if you’re not ready with the right photos, you’re better off admitting that you’re just getting started and don’t have any presentation materials to show yet.  They’ll understand that.  What they won’t do is cut you any slack for a bad book.

• Come alone. Unless you’re a minor, you don’t need an escort, and if you are a minor, one parent is plenty.  If you can’t handle a simple interview with a modeling agency by yourself, how is the agency supposed to have any confidence that you’ll be able to manage the stressful environment of a high-pressure photo session?  Models who insist on bringing escorts to photo shoots are the bane of the model photographer’s existence, something we discuss elsewhere in a specific article.  Agencies know that, and if they think you’re going to be dragging your own posse along to a job, they’re not going to represent you.

• Look the part. Start with that full night of sleep we mentioned above.  You don’t want to show up for an interview for work in an image business with haggard skin and blood-shot eyes.  Your hair should be clean and styled; your nails should be neat and the color conservative.  Make-up should be basic “street” or corrective.  Think natural and classy, not fashionable, and that goes for your clothes as well.  Aim for “corporate casual,” with nice jeans or dress pants and a simple top, like a solid-colored blouse or sweater.  Wear dress shoes, even modest heels if you’re comfortable in them, but leave the 8” platforms in the closet.

This may all seem counter-intuitive, given that your instinct is probably to show how you’d look in fashionable clothing and accessories.   The problem is that while your fashion sense may be exquisite, if it clashes with the agent’s aesthetic sensibilities, s/he may spend the entire interview evaluating your taste in clothes and never get around to noticing what kind of presence you have behind the product.  Don’t give an interviewer an excuse to overlook you.  Come as you are, and leave the wild purple mascara and outrageous jewelry at home.  The only dazzling accessories you want to bring to the interview are a great attitude and a killer portfolio book, both of which are prime examples of you looking the part.

By the way, do we really need to mention that the part you’re expected to look is the person in the pictures and description you sent in with your application?  This isn’t E-Harmony, and if you misrepresented your appearance to get an interview, your interviewer’s going to be miffed.  Remember when we said it’s possible to blow an interview in under a minute?  You’ll blow this one when you walk into the room.

• Be personable. This isn’t you portraying a character on a photo shoot.  This is you in a small room making a personal connection with a fellow human sitting across the desk from you.  Smile. Be natural.  If they weren’t interested, they wouldn’t be interviewing you.  People tend to operate on the wrong perception in situations like this.  When we find ourselves having to perform in front of strangers, we tend to treat the audience like an enemy who wants us to fail.  That’s not how it is.  The audience fervently wants the counter-tenor to hit every note, the ballerina to land gracefully.  The interviewer is pulling for you to succeed.  Relax.  Have some fun.  Make the connection.

• Pay attention. Listen carefully to what the interviewer says and read anything s/he gives you carefully.  Bring your day planner and take notes.  If you don’t understand something, ask questions. You were given that information for a reason, and make sure you get it straight in your head before you leave the interview.  And for cryin’ out loud, be smart and turn the damn smart phone off.

• Follow up. After the interview, send a thank you note to the interviewer, either by email or regular mail, and include a copy of your comp card.  If you’re using email, send a JPEG version, following the guidelines described above for emailed photos.  By all means, if the interviewer gave you feedback or suggestions on how to improve your appearance or presentation and then asked you to follow up, do it.


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One Comment

  1. ModelSuze November 21, 2013 at 2:05 pm #

    VERY helpful! Thank you for this information. I’ve been freelancing for 2 years, and I’m wanting to connect with an agency. This is really going to help!