In the NewsSecret Agent Man

Should I get an agent?" This is far and away the question I get asked most often in emails to F-ckedTelevision. com. It is also a hard question to answer. It’s like a woman walking up to a group of guys and asking, "Should I get a boob job?"
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Should I get an agent?" This is far and away the question I get asked most often in emails to F-ckedTelevision. com. It is also a hard question to answer. It’s like a woman walking up to a group of guys and asking, "Should I get a boob job?"

Some of the guys are quickly going to say, "Yes...great idea," while others will say, "No...you are fine how you are." When you deal with TV agents, you have to realize that many times you are dealing with the same things the guys in the above scenario are dealing with—boobs.

There is no clear-cut answer to the agent question. Agent-bashing is one of the more popular things to do on TV message boards on the Web. There is no middle ground when it comes to agents, people love ‘em or hate ‘em with a passion (sort of like this column).

Just like all lines of work, there are good and bad people in the agent business. Believe it or not, there are some good agents out there that really do care about their clients and work hard for them. There are also some money grubbing leeches that couldn’t give a squat about their clients except when it is time for them to pay up.

But the agent question is still out there. Here are a few rules to follow:
• If you are not in a Top 60 market you should not be paying an agent unless you are frontline talent. That does not mean you can’t have an agent, just that you should not be paying the person. If the agent is interested enough to sign you, then let him work for you for free until he lands you a job where you can actually afford paying an agent. Small-market people should never being paying an agent more than 1% (again, unless you are frontline talent).

• Never pay more than 8%! For years the standard had been 10% of your paycheck. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of money. Sports agents get around 3 to 4%, but then again, they are signing multimillion-dollar contracts. TV agents should not be looking for more than 5 to 8%. If yours is, move onto another agent.

• Don’t listen to a potential agent’s success stories. Who cares whom your agent represents; just make sure he does well for you. If in the first phone call to an agent, he spends more time telling you how great he is and not much time asking about you, politely hang up and move on.

• Remember, the agent works for you. You are the one paying him, not the other way around (although he may be cutting you your check). If he acts as though you are his employee, dump the bastard quick.

• Phone calls. The number one complaint I hear about agents is that they don’t return phone calls. You have to remember you are not your agent’s only client and he does spend several hours a day on the phone. But, if you call your agent at 10 a.m. and leave a message, you should expect a phone call back that same day. If you call him late in the day, you should expect a call back either that day or by noon the next day. If it is taking him a day or two days to call you back...dump him.

• Don’t hire a suck-up! You do not want an agent that news directors love. At the same time, you do not want an agent that NDs hate either. Your agent should be a tough negotiator, yet not piss off your boss so much that it will leave a bad taste in his mouth. If news directors love an agent, there is a reason for that. Many times it is because he is a pushover and won’t get you the best deal. There are a number of agents out there that NDs just LOVE. I would stay clear of hiring those people.

I am sure when you started to read this article you were hoping I would name names. This is not the place to do that; I will do so in the coming months on F-ckedTelevision.com. Agents are like boobs, some like them big and some like them small. You need to find the right fit for you. Make sure your agent listens to you and knows what you want. If you want to work in the Northeast and he pushes you to take a job in Seattle because it "would be good for your career" then maybe he is not the agent for you.

I will give you the names of two agents that I think are good ones. The first is Betsy Mueller out of Washington, DC. Betsy really does seem to care about her clients and works hard at getting them good deals.

The second is Ezra Marcus at N.S. Bienstock. Ezra comes off like a used car salesman sometimes, but the guy works hard and is not afraid to get tough in negotiations with any news director.

Just remember what I said: There are a lot of boobs out there.

Scott Jones is a former photographer, reporter, assignment editor, producer, executive producer, and Top 20 news director. He runs www.ftvlive.com and can be reached by email at sjones@uemedia.com.