Modeling Agencies Pivot to Stay Relevant, Freelancing Reemerges

In a changing game of an industry that is considered relatively under-developed, how does one survive. In the largest growing times of the modeling industry, modeling agencies controlled most of the labor force with stringent barriers to entry. However, it didn’t necessarily start that way. Models such as Carmen Dell’Orefice can recall a day when models were the business; not the modeling agencies. There was no Supermodel. A working model wasn’t the great divide between the modeling have and have nots. Instead, models were models and clients were clients.

Today all of that has changed, or has it? With the agency-model aging out like a dinosaur, models have been left to their own devices. I believe this is the best thing that could happen to the industry as a whole. Veteran models like Christie Gabriel (“The Self-Made Model”), myself and many others have carved out their own careers as Freelance Models, independent of modeling agencies. I am not forging a war against modeling agencies. I think modeling agencies still have their place but they definitely no longer have a strong hold on the industry like they used to. The barriers of entry have broadened in a wonderful way; allowing for niche markets to develop, models to create their own identities, specializations and have opened doors for those who would have otherwise never have been able to achieve success given their untraditional body types and looks.

Christie Gabriel ."The Self-Made Model". Image: Christie Gabriel

Christie Gabriel .”The Self-Made Model”. Credit: Christie Gabriel

So what will happen to the traditional agency? Well, they have diversified. For example, modeling agencies such as Wilhelmina, Next and Click have evolved to packaging their model rosters into high-end wait staff for event staffing brands like Runway Waiters. However, last I checked what models do you know that believe the pinnacle of a models career is serving champaign. Since models are often invited to these events, do we now have models serving models? Concepts like Runway Waiters are working because models still rather toot the name of an agency brand following the “I am represented by…” tagline rather than be “unrepresented”, freelance and therefore hustle (although I personally despise this word) to be a Model. I think marketing ploys like Runway Waiters diminishes the role of the “Model” and therefore depreciate the value contribution and prestige of the job itself. The “agency” can no longer control the barrier of entry so it decides to make the job unattractive by deliberately confusing labor forces with the hospitality industry. Glamorized Waiters! Unfortunately, it is working because concepts like Runway Waiters are marketing scheme that serves two purposes – a revenue stream and attractive labor. Modeling agencies need a revenue stream and a lot of it to pad their posh offices. Therefore they supply “above average” wait staff and create employment opportunities for a saturated inventory of workers (the models).

Yes, the models win in this to some degree. Do they win as much as they would if they moonlighted as a waiter in between real model work? Who knows. In my opinion, no. They are still largely temporary, low-wage workers. A Model is a Model and should therefore pursue employment opportunities inline with his or her job description. Freelancing serves a much better option than waiting tables but is freelance modeling sustainable? Agency models have often snobbed the freelance model but they shouldn’t and here is why. Sustainability in the modeling industry itself is like a fish living out of water, even with an agency, so there is no escaping of that. However, it is more feasible when you are free to explore the possibilities. Here are 5 reasons why freelancing may be better than signing with an agency:

1. Freelance models have more opportunity to cultivate their personal brands and leverage them into as many viable opportunities as they can possibly imagine.

2. Freelance models often carry multiple non-exclusive contracts that allow them to pivot from one agency to another.

3. Freelance models although sometimes lower than agency rates, can name their own rates.

4. Agency models are often beholden to a single exclusive contract that doesn’t allow them to freely seek outside opportunities.

5. Agency models often carry debt to their agency for marketing and travel expenses that are fronted by the agency. That debt comes with interest.

As modeling agencies pivot to stay relevant and profitable; more models attempt to find their own avenues and create their own niches through various freelancing outlets. The agency’s solution is to become more events, marketing and service orientated but as a work force, models have to begin to consider whether an agency’s roles is truly relevant to their success.