Many years ago, before I directed more than 500 television commercials and before Mark Androw and I created Chicago Story, I spent a good number of years on the street as a directors rep. This was a serious “boots on the ground” operation – no drones.
The landscape was significantly different for people with sales skills and knowledge of our complex business who represented production companies and directors. In many ways it was better.
Sales reps were the ONLY effective way for producers and creatives to see work, discover new directors and view fresh work and emerging trends. A professional rep spent his time on the street. He had intimate knowledge about the lives and behaviors of receptionists and secretaries who were the ultimate gatekeepers.
We prided ourselves by reaching lofty goals of 100 calls and three screenings a day. Heavy bags over our shoulders were stuffed with beefy three-quarter inch cassettes gave us welts and aching feet, seriously. Many of us (like me) wore suits and ties.
Often we were disrespected, belittled and treated poorly by creatives and sometimes by our own production companies but we were essential, persevered and were paid nicely.
A company isn’t credible without a rep
Reps today carry different burdens and face different challenges. Reps have multiple companies, requiring them to spend so much of their precious selling time on the phone with anxious executive producers instead of decision-making producers and creatives.
They either struggle to get boards, even for quality directors, or can’t get A-listers to accept a board or make themselves available for Midwestern clients.
Face-to-face screenings are difficult-to-almost-obsolete. Producers can see directors’ work from their smart phones anywhere in the world. So rarely is there a chance for stressed creatives to screen the reps’ portfolio of directors and glean pertinent information about the directorial candidate.
Now more than ever, it’s difficult for a production company to be credible without quality representation. A good rep is a curator, resource, facilitator, storehouse of industry knowledge, often a connector and a trusted partner of agency producers and creatives. They are essential to company and client.
They help clients make informed decisions. A good rep identifies potential work and boards for the prodco and validates the production companies and directors they represent to agencies through their reputations and relationships.
Equitable compensation is called for
As such, rep compensation should be higher, not lower than pre-internet days.
Markups are challenged, but shouldn’t be. Inexpensive technology and a wider range of content creation allows for a potentially higher profit percentage. Volume from the increasing number of small content pieces more than compensates for those atrophying commercial budgets.
A typical compensation is often now less than 20% markup. I propose a new formula: combining a piece of A to K, a piece of markup and a fee per board. That would be more equitable as the rep has no input on bid formulation after the board has been delivered.
A little more respect for the professionalism and diligence of a good rep wouldn’t hurt, either.