Many years ago I started writing about my experiences with editorial,models, editorial and commercial agencies, and
agents. Most of these articles were in response to questions people asked me, and while they gave a limited overview of the
business in general, one area which I never addressed was the contract used by most of the major editorial agencies.
Recently someone asked why I had never written about it, so........
I thought I'd take a few minutes to discuss the so called "Standard Contract", which is the one used by editorial fashion
agencies when they "sign" a new model. This is not meant to be a legal discussion (I'm not a lawyer), but rather a layman's
journey through the high points of the contract. My bona fides for writing this is that I first assisted a model who
signed with IMG almost 20 years ago, and have worked with and reviewed the "Standard Contract" with virtually every major
agency in the business.
A quick sidebar here, editorial agencies often "sign" models they represent (although not always). Commercial agencies rarely
"sign" models (the correct term is the model is "listed", and the model may sign a document which outlines the agencies commission
rates and terms of representation), although it is possible under very unusual circumstances for a commercial agency to use a
standard contract with a model.
The first paragraph or paragraphs of the standard contract basically outlines that you (as the model) appoint the agency as
your personal manager and they (the agency) consents to act as your personal manager for the term of the contact. Most often
(although not always) the words "exclusive world wide manager" will appear, sometimes (rarely) the scope of the
contract may be limited to a geographical area such as the city or state the agency is located in. World wide? Yup, exclusive
world wide manager. You may work with other agencies in other cities or countries (and often do), but only with the consent of
your original ("mother") agency. The next thing you will see in these opening paragraphs is the agency only agrees to advise
you, that they will offer "advice and counsel" on a whole range of issues. What they don't agree to do (this will be
repeated and stated explicitly) is to find you work or offers of employment. And they (the agency) will collect a percentage
(typically 20%) of all the gross money you make.
Whaaa, whaaa, whaaa? They won't find you work, and you agree they won't be responsible for finding you work, they will only
"advise" you, and they still want 20% of everything you make??? Exactly. Strange as it seems, this has to do with tax law and
getting around the restrictions typically placed on "Employment Agencies" in many places, New York in particular. The next
unusual thing about the standard contract is that you agree that the agency can sign your name to documents (like checks!), and in
many circumstances act as if they were you legally. They (the agency) will bill your clients, collect the money, put it
into their accounts, and eventually pay you (minus their commission and any other money you might owe the agency at this
point). Are we having fun yet?? It gets better! Remember the part about "any other money you might owe the agency"? Know this,
you pay for everything. You pay for your book (with the agency name on it!), you pay for your comp cards, you pay for
testing, you pay for being on the agency website, you pay when your comps are Fed Ex's to prospective clients. Now, the agency
might advance these expenses and hold them against your account, but you pay. If you're lucky when you are getting
started the agency might arrange for a free test, but that's only because they talked the photographer into shooting for free. If
they (the photographer,makeup artist, stylist) charge, you pay. Woof!
And now for the coup de grāce, "you understand and are aware that the agency may collect from some or all of your clients a
service charge which will be considered an additional inducement for the agency to act on your behalf". Huh??? What
additional service charge? How much is that? "May collect from some or all...."??? Ohhh they will, and from all your clients if
they can get away with it. How much? The service charge is typically an additional 20% of your billing rate to the client.
Doing the math on an imaginary job, your rate to the client is $1,000. The agency collects 20% ($200) from you, and bills the
client (typically) an additional 20% ($200) as a service charge. So on our imaginary $1,000 booking you would receive a
(net) $800, and the agency would receive a (net) $400.
Finally the term of the contract is (typically) is two to three years. And the contract will (again, typically) automatically
renew for one year unless either you or the agency gives notice of non renewal (typically) 60 days prior to the expiry
date of the contract. This is just a heads up on what to expect when you sign with a major editorial fashion agency.
In truth (regardless of my editorial comments) this is a good contract, it has allowed the agencies to function properly for
many, many years now, and to provide an excellent environment for models to make a good living (and for some, a very good
living!). There are small variations agency to agency, and there are models who have slightly different commission rates for
various reasons, but this is the language you can expect to see when you are offered the opportunity to sign with an editorial
One thing I always caution models about is when you finally sign with an agency, remember, this is not the finish line, it is the
starting line. However hard you had to work to get there, you must work ten times harder to stay there. You will not try
modeling, modeling will try you, and most will be found lacking.
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