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by SixFigureStart | February 06, 2009

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Every industry is being effected differently by the economic downturn. Yesterday, Tom Petner, editor of Vault's sister site TVSpy, addressed a question from a reader on his ShopTalk blog who asks if tv news talent agencies are becoming a thing of the past, with tv news stations hiring less and less. While it's quite specific to one industry, this question provides quality food for thought. What assets or services, previously viewed as necessities for a given business sector or lifestyle, may be rendered unnecessary by the recession? Which of these still retain their purpose? How can something like an agent help your job search? How do you make that call? Below, in full, is Tom's TVSpy post.

Agents - Do They Still Have a Purpose?

Before I give my take, some full disclosure, agents do advertise in ShopTalk and TVSPY. But so do search firms and headhunters that cross-over platforms from broadcast into the digital space. You have to decide which one - if any agent - will work for you.

Talent agencies and agents are not a thing of the past. Unless group owners & operators shutdown news operations and turn out the lights, stations will always hire. Always. There's always turnover. People quit - get fired - retire - you name it. The question is the speed of that turnover.

Any extra edge that gets you in the door - it absolutely helps. Access is crucial in this environment. Who can get your tape/DVD seen, and does that agent have access to the manager who can say yes. This is where your reporting and research skills need to kick-in. Does the agent/agency have good access to corporate managers. Face it, and like it or not, most of today's newsroom hires have to be signed-off on a corporate level.

You need to know how your skills will be represented - how will the agent 'sell' you, as a reporter with multimedia skills - someone who is VJ ready. You need to be realistic about the requirements in today's newsrooms, and the expectations. So when you talk to an agent, do you get a sense they're realistic about the expectations in today's digital newsrooms. Newsrooms are quickly morphing into multimedia worlds where you have to walk-talk-chew gum - while posting it all online. That also means you shouldn't think just analog - traditional TV News - when you're looking for representation. It's important to know which agent - what agency - which search firm has contacts and their business also firmly planted in the digital space. Remember, as news operations move online, news is served-up outsize the traditional tube. In 1999 and 2000, I had the good fortunate of being part of an all online news gathering operation, APB News. It was made up by more than a 100 journalists from both sides of the media universe, newspapers and television. Unfortunately, the economy - the stock market - took a quick and ugly turn in 2000. Investors ran for the hills. The operation went under. APB was ahead of its time. But I fully expect to see someone ramp-up, sooner than later, another online-only news gathering operation. Look what's happening with publications that have shifted strategies of serving up news primarily online (i.e. the Christian Science Monitor). You can see the shift working its way now through broadcast newsrooms, so you need to be prepared, and be prepared with the right kind of representation.

Not all agents are created equal. Over my career as a news director, I've dealt with the full gambit of agents and agencies. I've dealt with tough negotiators, and the difficult ones who will nitpick to the point of absurdity. The 'difficult' agents can ultimately do damage to your relationship with the managers and the station. Business is business, but news and newsrooms are a business of people, so a bad negotiation can carry over into your day-to-day dealings with management. In short, you don't need a Freddy Krueger to cut your deal.

If I were looking for an agent, I'd try to get a couple client names AND NOT CALL THEM. I would call non-clients and find out why they didn't sign with the agent you're checking out. I would focus on people represented in the smaller markets and see how they were treated. Do they have a pattern of disappearing after you sign-on with them? How often do clients hear from them? Do they pay attention to you and your work after the deal is made? Are they digitally savvy. The agents's website is your first clue in knowing just how digitally savvy they are.

Agents - just like any manager or station group - can run the spectrum from tough negotiators to ones who I wouldn't trust with the church collection box.

I think it's also important to know how the agent gets involved, and what happens if you get caught in the squeeze of a layoff. Do they - can they help with severance issues, and how it's built into a contract. What's a station obligated to do on your behalf. Everyone wants to fantasize about their career climb, and too few of us think about the potential for a quick fall, and how you're protected on the way out the door. Most of us know people who have been fired, or laid-off, so it's pretty easy to find out an agent's track record.

Okay, so that's my initial take on agents. What do ShopTalk readers think. I'd also like to hear from the agents and what they think. Why are they relevant in today tough economic environment. Why should we hire one? Drop me a note and share your thoughts. Email me at Tom@TVSpy.com.

Feel free to get in touch with Tom, but we want to know what you think right here and now. As always, fire away below.

--Posted by Steven Schiff, Vault News & Commentary

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