The topic of having or finding a media agent has been coming up more and more with people I talk to. I never really had any great advice because it was a subject I had never really looked into before. As SMG grows and our readers grow in their careers, I figured now would be a great time to try and find some answers of the most frequently asked questions I get about media agents. I reached out to IF Management, now The Montag Group, who connected me with Kevin Belbey. He was incredibly open and honest about what he looks for in a client and who is best suited for representation in this industry. I hope his answers help you navigate this industry a little bit better.
Taylor Shold: Tell us a little about yourself, who you are and what you do?
Kevin Belbey: I attended the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, intending to study broadcast journalism and build a career as the next great sports broadcaster.
While I did love being on camera and telling stories, I started to be drawn more and more to the business side of the industry. While trying to find a career that somehow blended my passions of the media, sports, business, and the law, I was able to network with a fellow Syracuse alum (and now co-worker) Gideon Cohen. Gideon was the Sr. VP of Sports Broadcasting at IF Management at the time. I had no idea broadcasters even had agents, so I asked him about 100 questions about his job, from the day-to-day nitty gritty to big picture topics about the field.
I loved what Gideon had to say, so I made sure to keep in touch. I graduated SU and stayed up there to get my law degree & my master’s degree in Newhouse. Soon after leaving Syracuse, Gideon and I reconnected and the timing was spot on—IF Management was looking to hire a junior agent.
Taylor: What does a media agent do for their clients?
Kevin: A good media agent will help introduce their clients to relevant decision-makers, aid in landing a job, and negotiate the contract for a job.
A great media agent will do all of those things while also building a strategic game plan for the future, working with the client to create demo reels, and giving clients performance feedback.
Our president, Steve Herz, has always prided our company on being a “full-service” agency. We are our clients’ biggest advocates while also being incredibly honest with them about where they fit in the marketplace and any feedback we get from executives (both positive and negative).
Anyone can ‘get a job’—it’s harder to build a career. This is one of the places agents can be the most helpful for a broadcaster. We challenge our clients to be the best versions of themselves every day. We push them to improve in their job, thrive in their role, and get promoted.
Taylor: What does an agent generally look for in a potential client? Is there anything a potential client should have prepared when they start looking to hire an agent? A demo and resume only go so far – is there anything they can have ready to help themselves stand out?
Kevin: The two most important characteristics we look for in a new client are: 1) high upside & 2) high character. With respect to upside, we look for broadcasters with high-level growth potential. We’ve turned down working with ‘big name’ announcers if we feel that they have peaked and have no upward mobility. We’d rather work with a 25 year old up-and-comer if we think we can help them grow to become a star in the business.
Now, with respect to the character piece, it’s even more important than having talent. We meet all of our potential clients face-to-face to get a feel for them as an individual, have them send references, and write a bio about themselves on what drives them and why they are in this business. Our process helps us learn if a client will be a good fit while also building trust (which is essential for the client-agent relationship to truly work).
You’re right that a good demo reel and a resume are just the ‘ante’ to even get you a seat at the table for a discussion. But it’s important to bring up, because some potential clients will reach out to us without even having a prepared reel to share with us. Broadcasters will also reach out and send their website to us with their links not being functional, or spelling errors on their website. Before reaching out to an agent or an executive, you want to be prepared. First impressions are lasting. While a creative subject line or email may make sure we click on the reel, that reel will stand for itself at the end of the day.
The most important thing a broadcaster should look for in an agent is someone who believes in them as much as they believe in themselves. The best agent/client relationships are true partnerships where everyone is on the same page and working towards common goals.
Taylor: How do media personalities and agents connect and start their working relationship?
Kevin: The three main ways we find new clients are: 1) reaching out to individuals when we come across work we like, 2) broadcasters reaching out to us (which happens 30+ times a month), and 3) referrals through current clients or executives. We take referrals very seriously because our clients and the executives that we deal with know what we look for.
After a typical email introduction, the next step is always to get on the phone for us to learn more about the potential client and give them an opportunity to ask any questions they may have about us or the agency business as a whole. We also want to know if they have ever worked with an agent before, and if it didn’t go well, find out why. It’s important that both sides are open and transparent about expectations right from the start.
If all goes well on that first call, we will likely follow up with a request for more on-air material, references, and have the potential client write a bio about themselves. We’ll then set up a time for the broadcaster to get to NYC to meet our team and sit down face-to-face to talk about the potential of working together.
Taylor: At what stage of your career would you recommend someone start working with an agent?
Kevin: While a basketball or football player coming out of college may have multiple agencies vying to work with them, it’s incredibly rare for a broadcaster fresh out of college to have an agent. Typically, we like to see broadcasters who have made a couple of stops, gained experience, sharpened their skills, and really committed to the profession before coming to us.
The most common question we get is asking when the “right” time is to work with an agent. The answer—it depends. There are a lot of variables and no two broadcasters are the same or share the same path or career trajectory. The majority of our relationships and connections are at the highest levels of the business—with major networks, professional teams/leagues, and production companies. So ultimately, we want to work with clients who we feel are ready for, or at least on the cusp of being ready for, high-level work.
Taylor: Finally, what is your best advice for anyone wanting a long career in front of the camera in broadcasting?
Kevin: Be versatile! Know how to write, shoot, edit. If you want to be a play-by-play announcer, also learn how to report (and vice-versa). Host a podcast. Understand virtual reality. Develop a strong social media presence. It’s critical to be well-rounded because no one truly knows where the business will be five years from now.
You can find Kevin on Twitter @KevinBelbey
MUST READ: So You Want To Be On TV?
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