I published a post a few weeks ago titled The Demise of the Promo Agent, and interestingly enough I have had some promo agents take offense. For sake of clarity, the point of the piece was to discourage the point of view that promos are no longer important. In fact, my title last time could have easily been “Why Promos Matter More Than Ever.” Instead I am using it here.
A Little More History
As mentioned in the prior piece, voice-over departments have always been built on the backs of advertising. Building on-air promotion departments in the 90’s was a natural progression for three reasons:
1) Promos are in fact advertising and branded entertainment
2) Every New York and LA agency at the time had talent working on-air, regardless of whether the agency focused on promos.
3) Cable and broadcast networks were expanding
Advertising Entertainment Versus Products
I have made an argument for several years that while promotion may advertise content, on-air promotion is not necessarily in the advertising business. Instead, while promos, interstitials, and trailers may serve as advertising and branding, they are direct extensions of network and studio entertainment. SAG/AFTRA recognized this a long time ago with trailers, as the union trailer rate (as well as TV spots for movies) has been negotiated under the theatrical code instead of the commercial contract for decades. Keep in mind too that promo agents as a rule have also been responsible for documentary and reality-based narrations, so they have been constantly contributing to entertainment properties.
Advertising is Contracting - Entertainment is Expanding
The last decade has seen a contraction in union scale commercial work while internet entertainment (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu), in combination with a dramatically more competitive landscape at the broadcast and cable networks, has expanded the responsibilities of promo agents. Today, there are not only more promos, but the narration market has exploded due to the maturation of reality programming as well as the documentary market growing alongside the internet platforms.
So, how have the majority of talent agencies responded to the growth in entertainment? As mentioned in the prior piece, two prominent agencies have actually contracted their promo departments despite entertainment’s growth, while the majority of agencies are taking a wait-and-see approach. The problem is they are waiting to see what is happening in commercials before committing additional resources to promos.
A New Commitment
Of course, not everyone has been so blind to the new entertainment paradigm. A small group of Hollywood based agencies have recognized the change in the voice business and their recent and enthusiastic attendance at Promax attests to that.
Everyone else has a choice. Either commit additional energy and resources to promos and narrations, or stop trying to compete. As a fellow colleague once routinely proclaimed, “you’re either in or in the way.” Right now, there are a bunch of agencies “in the way,” but not because of their staff or the voice talent. Instead, their management chooses to be non-committal as the evolution of the voice-over business transpires without their input or influence.