Career Crossroads: 5 Tips for TV Reporters on Hiring an Agent
You have the look and experience, and you’re ready to move to a larger news market. But there are hundreds — maybe thousands — vying for a limited number of reporting spots and even fewer anchor openings at television stations nationwide.
How do you get noticed? What can you do to stand out and ultimately land that job in a big city news market?
Working your way up through the “ranks” of the existing 210 TV markets takes hard work, time and attention, from researching stations to putting together resume tapes and following up with calls. The question is should you hit the pavement on your own or is it time to hire an agent?
The agent’s job is to sell you — to get you in front of as many news directors as possible. They also act as your representative in negotiating your contract.
“It’s great to have someone to bounce things off of, to be there to provide a buffer between you and the station bosses and many times to be ‘the bad guy’,” says Kemberly Richardson, general assignment reporter with WABC in New York.
During the nearly 11 years she’s reported for WABC, Richardson, a NY native, has covered huge stories, including the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf, royal wedding in London, and 9/11 terrorist attacks. She’s also covered President Obama’s inauguration, Superstorm Sandy, NY Fashion Week, and a couple of Super Bowls, and has spoken one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey and interviewed a countless number of celebrities.
But the journey back home to the country’s largest news market was a long one.
Richardson began her reporting career in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. After a few years, she jumped to San Jose, Calif.’s ABC affiliate at the time KNTV. With several years of reporting under her belt at that point, Richardson was confident she was ready to make a big career move.
“It wasn’t until I got to San Jose, that I started researching agents out there,” she says.
What she discovered was that finding the right agent with the experience to fit her needs was a frustrating endeavor. Richardson changed agents three times from small, medium, and large agencies over the course of her career.
Ultimately, every job she landed she got on her own, but overall her experience with agents was positive.
If you’re in the market for an agent, Richardson shares the following tips.
DO YOUR RESEARCH: Talk with other reporters. Ask if they have an agent and whether they’re happy with him/her. Search individual agents and agencies online. Attend journalist/media conferences. (Media conferences are a great place meet with agents, talk with them, get cards, and once back home, follow up by phone or email.)
Every year, Richardson attended the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) convention.
“NABJ was one of the biggest sources of information,” she said. “I was able to meet face-to-face with agents, show them my reel, and really get a feel for who these folks were.”
PICKING AN AGENT: The agent/client relationship is a very personal one. Don’t focus so much on the size of the agency. Concentrate on the actual agent.
There are two schools of thought, according to Richardson: Pick someone you like or pick someone who is really good and forget about liking them. It’s difficult to find both in one person. You simply need someone who is going to hustle for you. Once you sign with an agent, don’t be shy about regularly reaching out to them. After all, your professional life is in their hands.
WHAT YOU SHOULD PAY YOUR AGENT: The rates vary and can range from six percent to 10 percent or maybe more, but the amount is negotiable and should play a role in your decision. If you are currently at a station, want to move up in position there and secure an agent’s help, the percentage they take should be far less.
Also, some agencies take their cut directly from your paycheck. Be sure your contract stipulates how their percentage will be paid and whether you may cut ties with that agent with no money exchanged if you have not landed a job by a certain date. Make sure you know those dates.
AGENT vs ATTORNEY: An attorney will review the contract itself and explain some of the legal terms that you may not fully understand. You may hire an attorney; however, the agency you’re working with should have lawyers available as well. When Richardson returned to New York, she said the legal contracts were like a foreign language and found an attorney’s assistance to be extremely valuable.
“Having that expert eye to review things was priceless,” she said. “However, an attorney is not going to ‘look’ for a job for you; that’s all on you. I do not think you need both.”
DON’T GET LAZY: The biggest mistake you can make is to sit back and assume your agent is doing all of the work. Richardson often took matters into her own hands and made calls to news directors and/or assistant news directors. She continued to send out her reel and passed along information on openings to her agents.
“I often felt like I was one of many signed with an agent and didn’t get the individual attention I needed,” Richardson recalls. “I would be in a newsroom and hear of an opening someplace else and the agent would send me and several other of his clients to the same news director so basically we were competing with each other.”
Selecting an agent is a major decision in one’s television career. Choose wisely.
Richardson urges fellow reporters that no matter who you choose to help you make the next move, remember no one can sell you better than you.
“The best thing I can pass along from what I’ve experienced is believe in yourself, work hard, remind yourself YOU are damn good, even when you don’t feel like it,” she said. “Have fun, push yourself, and mix it up. This is an incredible field to work in and to experience, even with all of its ups and downs. I would not change a thing.”
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Brett Savage-Simon is PR Newswire’s former director of audience relations and was a television reporter in her former life.