If you are just starting out in your modeling career, or you are trying to expand your network and start work in bigger markets, you have probably heard the term ‘mother agent’. What are they? Do you need one to be a successful model?
If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you are not alone! When first starting out, many models aren’t familiar with this term and everything it entails. I know I had to do a few Google searches before I fully understood what being signed to a mother agency meant! Below I will outline the gist of what defines a mother agent to help you get a better grasp of what it means so you can determine if having a mother agent is the right move for your career.
So, first things first, what is a mother agency? Like regular modeling agencies, a mother agency signs models and markets them to clients in order to book paid jobs in their area. What makes them different is they also have a huge role in training, developing, and preparing their models to get signed with other agencies in other cities and/or countries. Usually, the goal for the model is to sign to bigger markets, and the Mother Agent helps them get there.
Rather than focusing on just their own local market like regular agencies, they tend to have excellent connections with agencies outside their market and great knowledge of how those markets work. Depending on where agencies are located (especially agencies overseas), requirements for models can vary drastically so it's important mother agencies have a good understanding of that. Some agencies are specifically run as mother agencies, while others can act as a mother agent to some models and as a regular agency to others, so it would depend on what type of contract you sign with them if they are your ‘mother’ agent or not.
While having a mother agent sounds like an obvious no-brainer, there is a catch to the system (remember, modeling is a business). Like all agencies, mother agencies run off commission (roughly 10% – 15%) not only on the jobs they get their models locally but also on the jobs their models get booked through their other agencies. Commission for agencies is usually 20%, but if you have a mother agent and they also get a cut of your earnings, the commission is usually split 50/50 between your mother agent and the secondary agency that got you the booking. While it's usually split evenly between the agencies, it's not unheard of for the mother agency's commission to be in addition to whatever the secondary agency charges (the standard is 20%). While regular commission rates are usually added on top of the rate a model will be getting paid, mother agency commissions are sometimes taken directly from the model's paycheck, so this is something to be aware of when you're signing a contract.
At this point, you’re probably like “Wait… what?”. Let me break it down for you in a real-life scenario: As you become more established as a model, you will most likely be signed to multiple agencies in different cities nationally and possibly internationally, so it is beneficial to have one main, or ‘mother’, agency that acts almost as your manager and coordinates with your other agencies. Say you have an agency in NY where you spend most of your time, and you also have an agency in LA where you do work on occasion. If your agency in NY is your main agency you have a mother agency contract with them, and they are also the ones that helped you land the agency in LA, your NY agency would take an additional 10%-15% on top of the 20% that the LA agency takes from your job earnings. The mother agency takes this commission basically as a “finder’s fee” for placing you with the agency in LA. So, unless the client you are working for factors any commission into what they are paying for the booking or your mother agent (NY) directly bills your secondary agent (LA), you may be losing 30%-35% off your total earnings for that one job.
Now that you have an understanding of what a mother agent is, do you have to have one to have a successful career? The answer is no, you don’t. Some models, like myself, have no mother agency and simply belong to multiple agencies on their own. I chose this route because I do not have any international agencies and it is easy for me to manage on my own. I had never signed a mother agent contract with my first agency, Voices&, so when I decided to expand my market to cities outside of Kansas City, I did my own research and set up all the meetings with other agencies myself. At one point in time, I was signed to 3 agencies at once- Voices& in KC, The Campbell Agency in Dallas, and West Model Management in St. Louis. Each of these agencies was a non-mother agent contract, so whoever got me the job got the commission from my earnings. Since they are all fairly local, management of the three on my own wasn’t difficult, so it was worth avoiding the possible extra commission fees. This process can be tedious though, and if I was going to go internationally I would prefer to have the assistance of one of my agents, in which case they then would become my mother agent.
If you decide to go the ‘motherless’ route, it is very important that all agencies you are signed with are aware of each other. Some agencies can be sensitive to you having contracts with other agencies, even if they are in a different market. You will also need to be aware of what stipulations are in your contract with your original agency. They may not be your ‘mother’ agency, but there may be a clause in the contract that you’re not able to sign to another agency within so many miles of them. There may also be a clause that will require you to sign a mother contract with them if you want to expand to other markets and still remain signed to them. The last thing you want to do is breach a contract and get into legal trouble. You also want to be respectful of all your agents, having an open & honest relationship is always best!
I hope I have helped clear up what a mother agency is, and in turn, have given you a better idea of what steps to take in your career. The decision to sign a mother contract with an agency isn’t a small one or a ‘one size fits all', and should be based on your personal situation & what your goals are for your career. As always, make sure you do your research and have full knowledge of what you’re signing up for and how it benefits YOU!