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THE TRUTH ABOUT AGENTS!

by Dan O'Day

(from CAREER CONTROL: Radio Job-Hunting, Interviewing & Contracts)

About once a week I get a call from some disc jockey or program director who is looking for a new position and is considering using an agent or a job placement company. Both agents and job placement firms can be helpful; the overwhelming majority of them, for most jocks & PDs, are not.

Let's talk about agents first. When someone seeks my opinion about a particular agent, the first thing I ask is, "Does the agent charge the talent a fee?" If the answer is "Yes," my advice is not to affiliate with that agent. And if the agent collects a fee both from the talent and from the company that hires the talent, my advice is, "DEFINITELY avoid that agent."

Collecting fees from both ends is an obvious conflict of interest. An agent can't serve two masters. Either his loyalty goes to the radio station, or it goes to the talent.

Let's say the agent puts you and one of his client stations together. The station is interested in hiring you. A key element of your agent's duties is to negotiate on your behalf.

But how can he? He's negotiating a contract between two parties, both of whom are paying him! While the talent may have paid him a fee up-front, the radio station won't pay him anything until and unless they sign someone he has brought to their attention.

And I'm not even very keen on agents who charge only the talent. True, that avoids the conflict of interest issue. But with very few exceptions, agents do not do what most disc jockeys think they do: Agents do NOT create careers. They do not magically transform a $200 a week jock in Poughkeepsie into a $200,000 a year jock in Philadelphia.

I know a lot of disc jockeys. And I can't think of ONE top jock whose big break came through an agent. If you're good - and if you learn how and make the effort to promote yourself in the industry - people will become aware of you.

I'm sure you've heard that tired old accusation: "In radio, it's not what you know, it's who you know." The idea is the only way to get into a major market is to have a buddy get you in. Think back to the first person who told you that. I'll bet a thousand bucks to a dime that person does NOT work in a major market.

Real talent has a way of bursting through...of not only reaching a major market but staying there. And there are few major market program directors who don't react to a great aircheck - no matter where it comes from.

And that is the big secret that the agents won't tell you: Even the best agents primarily are good for negotiating contracts - NOT for finding jobs. The worst agents aren't good for either.

If you decide to sign with an agent, I suggest you sign an agreement whereby she gets paid only a percentage of the deal she negotiates. This is NOT in addition to other fees and expenses - such as duplicating tapes, mailing costs, and phone calls. That's part of the agent's overhead, and that's what her commission is for.

So if someone offers to represent you and says he'll need $500 to cover the cost of circulating your tape, I suggest you say, "No, thank you."

If the agent charges a fee for representing you, her motives automatically are suspect. Is she representing you because she thinks she can land you a good gig...or because even if she doesn't do you a damn bit of good, you're adding money to her bank account?

I know, I know: The agent you talked to assured you he turns down most prospective clients and is offering to represent you solely because he can tell what a great, undiscovered talent you are.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but they say that to EVERYBODY! (And if you're wondering if I'm onto something here or if I'm just blowing smoke, ask yourself: If I'm wrong, then how do I know that's what the agent said to YOU?)

Of all the disc jockeys I've talked to who have spoken to agents, not ONE has reported an agent who said, "Sorry, I just don't think I can help your career."

Not one.

That should tell you something.

I recommend having nothing further to do with an agent if:

He tells you over the phone that he "knows" he can get you a great job - even though he hasn't yet heard your work

She drops all kinds of big names and famous call letters...but uses oddly vague terms to describe her relationship to them. Things like, "I'm involved in that. I had something to do with so-and-so getting that job..."

He refuses to send you a written description of his services and fees.

She refuses to provide any references of jocks and/or stations that have worked with her. Sure, some clients - perhaps most - will wish to remain anonymous. But surely a successful agent will have some satisfied clients who are glad to recommend the agent's services.

He talks in grandiose terms but suddenly becomes tight-lipped when pressed for details. For example, I know a PD who responded to one job placement company's ad. To his surprise, after several minutes of conversation the guy he called suddenly said, "Now I know why your name's so familiar. I just placed a program director in Atlanta, and we were talking about good young programmers and he mentioned your name!"

Wow! What an ego boost, huh? The PD naturally asked who had spoken so highly of him...only to be told, "Oh, I can't reveal that. Our client list is confidential."

Uh-huh. How many times do you suppose that guy has used that line on would-be clients?

By the way, I might as well take this opportunity to burst another hype-filled balloon: Those job-placement companies whose highly trained staffs will tirelessly work to land you your next job usually are one-person offices. The larger ones are one person with a part-time secretary. Usually it's just a guy with a telephone and an ad in the trades.

What do most of the job-placement companies and even the so-called agents do for you? They add your aircheck to a tape containing a dozen or more other airchecks, and they "circulate it" - that is, they send it around to program directors and consultants, hoping that one of them listens and happens to like one of the jocks on the tape. Actors call this a "cattle call." The odds of succeeding are not in your favor.

VERY FEW DISC JOCKEYS NEED AGENTS.

When an agent does a disc jockey good, it's usually by negotiating the jock's contract...NOT by finding a job.

If you've already achieved a certain stature in the industry - you don't have to be a household word, but you've got impressive ratings in a good-sized market - a good agent might be able to do you some good.

But agents do NOT make careers. If you're sitting in a small market, underpaid, unknown and unloved, DON'T look to an agent to change your life for you. You'll find people eager to convince you that they can do just that...but they'll be sure to ask for some financial grease to get the wheels rolling smoothly.

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