Understanding Mother Agencies

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. What makes them different is they also train, develop and prepare their models to work not just in other markets, but with other agencies as well, typically in other cities and/or other countries. A good mother agent will understand the industry as a whole. Rather than focusing on just their own local market, they need to have excellent connections with outside agencies and a great knowledge of how the various markets around the world do business, since requirements for models can vary drastically depending on location. Some agencies are specifically run as mother agencies, while others can act as a mother agent to some models as well as a regular agency to others, so it would depend 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. 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. This is in addition to whatever the secondary agency charges (typically 20%). While regular commission rates are usually added on top of the rate a model will be getting paid, mother agency commissions are often taken directly from the model's paycheck. While there are instances where the mother agency will directly charge commission to the 'secondary' agency, it isn't unheard of for them to take money directly from the model's earnings.

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 both nationally & 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 Paris where you go on occasion for big jobs or fashion week. If your agency in NY is your main agency and is the one that helped you land the agency in Paris, your NY agency would be considered the mother agency and will take an additional 10%-15% on top of the 20% that the Paris 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 Paris. 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 (Paris), you may be losing 30%-35% off your total earnings for that one job.

Now that you have an understanding on 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 separate from each other, 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 on 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!


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