When talking about agents, a question that often comes up is, “what’s the difference between agents and managers?” It’s incredibly important for actors to make the right decision when choosing an agent or manager and in order to do that you must first understand what each has to offer.
Talent agents find auditions and negotiate contracts for the talent they represent, while talent managers focus on career strategy and branding. Both take a commission, but agents negotiate contracts while managers don’t. An agent is more vital to an actor’s career, but many actors choose to work with both.
In this blog post, I’ll be going over the main differences between agents and managers, the benefits of each, the costs associated, and whether you need both.
Table of Contents
What is a Talent Agent?
A talent agent is a person that represents actors and other industry professionals. A talent agent’s main responsibility is to find auditions or meetings for their talent. They do this by utilising industry contacts with casting directors, producers and directors.
As well as this, a talent agency will manage and negotiate contracts, send out invoices and collect earnings on the actor’s behalf. Some agents, depending on the agency, may even offer advice on headshots, demo reels and other things that can impact auditions.
It’s important to note that agents will never take payment upfront as they take a commission from an actor’s earnings. This is usually between 10-20% depending on your area, your experience and the type of work you do. We’ll go into this more later.
Talent agents are an essential part of an experienced actor’s team. Whilst you can find auditions without an agent, you’ll usually get more auditions for bigger roles by utilising the contacts of an experienced agent.
Benefits of Working with a (Good) Talent Agent
Whilst actors can get by without an agent when starting out; once they have a bit of experience, getting an agent can provide immense benefits and help them get to the next level. Here are some of the benefits a great talent agent can provide:
- Access to more (and better) auditions: The best talent agents have well-established contacts with casting directors, producers and directors. They have built these connections over years and are trusted sources of talent, meaning casting directors often trust their suggestions.
- Professional Support: Having someone behind you to support and back you cannot be understated. Not only does it help to have someone that believes in your ability; someone that works hard to help you succeed, but you’ll also have someone to support you and give advice if you ever experience trouble with an employer.
- Career Guidance: Talent agents can provide guidance and advice on important career decisions, and things that impact the number of auditions you receive such as headshots and demo reels. Advice from a talent agent that has years of experience and a proven track record is priceless and can help boost your career growth significantly.
Costs of Having a Talent Agent
Talent agents definitely aren’t free, but you don’t have to worry too much as a genuine talent agent will NEVER ask for payment upfront. In fact, SAG-AFTRA states that “an agent may only receive a commission when and if you receive compensation for your employment. Agents may not charge up-front fees of any kind.” To translate; they only get paid if you get paid.
The amount of commission they earn may vary depending on a number of factors. Most agencies will charge between 10-20%. This means that if you earn $10,000, your agent will take between a $1,000 – $2,000 commission. This may seem a lot, but if it weren’t for the agent you probably wouldn’t have the job in the first place.
It’s important to note that US agencies franchised by SAG-AFTRA cannot take more than 10%. And the standard rate varies around the world. For example, many UK talent agencies take 15% or even up to 20% for lesser experienced performers.
Things to Look out for
Many actors settle for the first agent they find, but it’s important to know what to look out for. Whilst having an agent can help your career, having a bad agent can hurt you in the long run. So here are a few things to be aware of when searching for an agent:
- Scams: They may not come around often, but there are definitely more than a few scams in this industry. It’s important to do your research into an agent before signing with them, read their contract and NEVER pay an agent upfront.
- How does the agent work: Not all agents are equal. All agents work differently, and you may or may not like that. It’s important to write down the things that are important to you within an agent and keep to those values. Don’t just accept the first offer you get. Some people would say otherwise, but I promise you that being self-represented is better than having a bad agent.
For specific examples of how to find the right agent as well as more things to look out for, I’d suggest reading my other blog post on how to get an agent. I go in-depth into every step of the process including how to prepare for a meeting with an agent.
What is a Talent Manager?
A talent manager is a person that works closely with an actor to help guide their career in alignment with their goals. They provide guidance and support for their clients, help them build a memorable brand and ensure they’re making the right choices throughout their careers.
Some managers may work for an agency, but often they are their own entity. A manager is a person you can talk to whenever you need assistance. For example, if you need advice on headshot photographers, or help to ensure your demo reel truly represents you and your ability. It allows you to have someone with an outside perspective that can look at your career objectively.
Whilst an agent can help guide you, they will often have a larger client base, meaning it can be harder to have as much of a personable relationship. Since managers have a smaller client base, they’re able to dedicate more time to helping you thrive.
A talent manager may also help with branding and marketing. Helping you create a unique image that resonates with audiences and helps you be remembered and brought into the audition room more often.
Most managers don’t submit actors for auditions, although they may be involved in the process to some degree. This may be a good or a bad thing, depending on what’s important to you. If your manager does submit you to auditions, you’ll want to ensure they’re not stepping on your agent’s toes.
Benefits of Working with a (Good) Talent Manager
You definitely don’t need a talent manager as an actor; an agent is much more important. But once you get to a certain point in your career, working with a talent manager may be beneficial. Here are some of the benefits a good talent manager can provide:
- Smaller Client Base: Since talent managers have fewer clients, they can offer more personalised help. This is one of the biggest benefits of having a talent manager. Since your agent is busy finding work for their entire client base, they probably don’t have time to help you as much.
- Professional Advice and Guidance: Talent managers can offer advice on headshots & demo reels, they can insist that you attend certain events or classes that may be beneficial to your career, they can refer you to a coach before big auditions to help you have a better chance at landing the role. A talent manager is there for you when you need help at any point in your career. Having a good talent manager will ensure you feel supported.
- An Objective Eye: Whilst you can probably do some of the things that managers do, it’s often hard to look at yourself and your career objectively. A talent manager will help you make the right decisions for your career and ensure you’re on the path most likely for success. Allowing a manager to help you will also ensure you have a better work/life balance.
Costs of Having a Talent Manager
Talent managers, like agents, will take a commission from your earnings. Since they usually have fewer clients than an agent, this is usually around 10-20%. Just like with agents, be aware of managers that ask you to pay an upfront fee as these are most likely scams.
Some more established actors may choose to hire friends or family as managers and in these cases, they may be paid a salary instead of a commission. This is usually because the actor feels that 10-20% of their income is too much for what their manager provides.
Things to Look out for
You have to be really careful when signing with a talent manager as you don’t want to get screwed over. Here are some things to look out for before signing that contract:
- Ensure they’re providing value: Before signing with the manager, ensure that you will get your money’s worth. Imagine you land a job and sign a $100,000 contract, you may have to give $10,000 – $20,000 to your manager for that job, are they providing that much value?
- Fixed-Term Contracts: Many managers will sign actors onto fixed-term contracts, meaning they’re unable to terminate the contract for a certain period, this may be a year or more. This is fairly common, but you must know what you’re getting into.
- The benefits aren’t as obvious: Whilst the benefits of having a talent agent are fairly obvious; they get you auditions. The benefits of a manager aren’t as clear cut, as they depend on the manager themselves. Make sure you vet the manager thoroughly before signing, you don’t want to be screwed over.
Do I Need Both a Talent Agent and Manager?
After discussing the differences between talent agents and talent managers, you may be thinking that you need both in order to achieve success, but is that true? Do actors need to have a talent agent and a talent manager?
The short answer is no. A talent agent is much more important to an actor’s career. Whilst some actors decide to work with both an agent and a manager, this is ultimately down to the individual actor. If you can get value from a manager and can afford to pay the extra commission then having both may be beneficial, but it’s definitely not needed.
It’s important to acknowledge that having both an agent and manager can be extremely costly. With each taking between 10% – 20%, you could easily be paying anywhere between 20% – 40% on all your income, and that’s excluding tax! That extra few percent could be the difference between being a full time actor and having to get a side job.
If you’re just starting out, I wouldn’t worry about getting an agent or a manager just yet. There’s so much that you can do and learn on your own. Any agent or manager you can get before getting to grips with the industry and getting some initial experience is probably not worth it. But once you’ve trained, gained some experience, put together your portfolio and you feel ready, it may be time to think about getting an agent.
Once you have an agent, and you feel like you could benefit from getting a manager, it’s there as an option. But you must ensure that your agent and your manager are providing different connections, opportunities and benefits rather than getting both because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do.
There are many very successful actors that still don’t have managers. It’s all down to your personal needs. Weigh up the pro’s and con’s, vet the manager well and ensure you’re getting your money’s worth.
If you liked this article and would like more information on agents, why not read my comprehensive guide on how to get an agent.