Purging Talent

I couldsubtitle this piece “How to Make Voice-Over Talent Hate You” because I know this is a painful and controversial perspective.   Next week I’m going to offer somewhat of an alternative… “How to Make Agents Hate You” but let me dive right in and say union voice-over agents need to perform a talent purge.   Not a small purge of those various clients that no one really knows or really likes but a dramatic purge… anywhere between 25-50% of their current rosters.


Today, there is an enormous gap between the supply (high) and demand (low) for union voice-over talent at the talent agencies. 25 years ago, there was an opposite gap—only a couple hundred men and women throughout the country were capable of performing at the highest level, so talent agencies were all clamoring for the same small group of performers. At the same time, the 80/20 rule (80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients) held firm so that “small group” was more valuable to the agents and more valued in the marketplace.

This is where things get complicated, so stay with me and hopefully I can explain. Over the last 10-20 years, as rosters have expanded, the 80/20 rule has still held firm. The difference is that 25 years ago, between 25-50 performers per agency were responsible for 80% of the earnings. Today those numbers have expanded across the board whereby 100 performers at some agencies now comprise the 80% and five times more total clients are represented over all.


While rosters have expanded there hasn’t necessarily been a corresponding change in demand and, in many cases, agency revenues haven’t expanded at all.   Even worse, with so much added talent per roster there is a market perception that the added performers are equally talented. What does that do? The roster expansions have created the idea that the top tier talent is no longer as valuable as they once were. The end result is that the elite 20% has consistently seen their earnings wane over the last several years.


Anyone who follows me knows I’m a sports fan, and in team sports there is the sometimes controversial concept known as “addition by subtraction” (BTW… if you are really interested, check out the “Ewing Theory” for a very humorous take).   The thought goes that sometimes you have to get rid of some players to let others flourish to their potential, and that that potential is significantly greater than the production of those you eliminated. Usually “addition by subtraction” is applied to “bad apples” or “negative influences,” but that does not have to be the case. Sometimes there is just better talent waiting in the wings that need to be set free.

I experienced this myself years ago when I lost a woman at the top of her game from my roster at ICM. Initially, I didn’t think her money could be replaced. But almost instantly, I had three or four other women swoop in and not only replace her lost earnings, but surpass them by over 25%. Is it possible that if that specific talent hadn’t left those other women would have still done just as well? Of course, but what I observed is that the “other” women suddenly had opportunities they obtained only because I needed to sell someone else. Inevitably, the collective not only rose to the occasion, but surpassed the expected production of a single star.


Obviously every agency is different, but instead of looking at percentages, I think the agencies need to just decide on what number is right for them and then make cuts to get to that cap. Once the process begins, what I think the agents will discover is twofold: First, they represent many more people than they think they do, and second, they service several “shadow clients” who they only quasi represent. Of course, some very difficult decisions will then need to be made but unfortunately, that is the nature of business.

What do I think the results of the hard cap would be?   I see 25-35% of the talent pool culled from the union agents roster. Is that too harsh? It might be, but all I can think of is an over grown garden. In order for the garden to survive, the plot will need to both be “weeded out” and other plants eliminated so the remaining plants can get the sunlight, nutrients and water that they need to flourish. In the end there is a healthier more productive garden for both agents and clients alike.