Last week a prominent promo agent left his agency after 15 years. Three months ago another promo agent did the same after a decade. Keep in mind there were only about 20 promo agents in the entire country starting in the new year. That means that 10 percent of the work force is now gone in 2015 which begs the question… is this a trend or a historical blip?
DEVELOPING UP-AND-COMING TALENT
I lean towards a possible trend. Why? I can attest from personal experience that promo agents are often discounted within their agencies because they do not sign and develop the young and upcoming clients that commercial departments thrive on. If they do sign young talent, promo agents are immediately put into a two-tiered quandary.
1) Promo agents can’t service young talent in the area they are most apt to be successful in… commercials.
2) At the same time, there are few opportunities in promos for young talent as there are only so many networks and without commercial opportunities, young talent lack the requisite skills to be successful in promos.
THE POACHING PROBLEM
Instead of developing talent, promo agents are left to poach clients from their competitors. In fact, some of the largest promo departments have been built using poaching as their mission. As you can imagine, the idea of poaching amongst agents is incredibly sensitive, yet the technique can often be successful. The problem with poaching is that it can also produce an often times calamitous Catch-22.
1) Poaching only works when talent has ongoing work, but work tends to be cyclical and the talent is usually poached towards the end of his or her work cycles.
2) Prime targets tend to be older talents meaning they are known in the marketplace, therefore “repackaging” them doesn’t necessarily work.
3) The art of poaching and pitching is incredibly time consuming and for every success, there are a handful of failures representing enormous sunk costs of time and money.
THE GROWTH SOLUTION
So if developing up-and-coming talent is so difficult, and poaching has a different set of problems, how does a promo department grow? Every agency has their own unique set of problems but they also have their unique positive attributes as well. From the top down to the lowest position in the promo departments, every agency needs to address what their mission is and how they are going to combine sales and marketing with that philosophy.
Unfortunately, that philosophical change does not work unless there is a change of heart about how promo agents are perceived within the companies as well. Virtually every predominant principal or partner in the world of voice-over cut their eye teeth on commercials and cling to the antiquated notion and prejudice that commercials are their foundation. That foundation has eroded since the commercial strike of 2000, yet no new infrastructures have been built. A reexamination is in order for the entire voice-over business and I am confident that with a closer look and careful scrutiny, promos will be revealed to be either the lifeblood or vital organs of an overall healthy body of work.