30 Questions for a Rep | Q & A

The following questions were presented by Luc Latulippe on Illustration Age and I wanted to take some time to answer on each point. I can not speak for other agents, this is my personal view and thoughts on how we work with the illustrators participating in our group. A quick background, I’ve worked professionally as an illustrator for twenty six years and fourteen of those years I was represented by Jan Collier. Jan was an excellent agent, mentor and friend. Jan worked as an agent for over twenty years and retired in 2009. Travis Foster Reps began in January of 2015, currently we have twelve artists on our roster.

Here are Luc’s questions and my answers:

Q: Does the contract include a trial period (usually 3-6 months) so you can see if this is a good fit. (Following this trial period, if you wish to discontinue working together, can there be a clean, no-strings break.)

A: We do not work with a rep/talent contract, instead we work with an agreed upon written outline that provides specifics on our understanding and working relationship. The outline is not a binding contract. My opinion is that if the illustrator (or rep) chooses it is no longer a beneficial relationship, either party should be able to discontinue at any time with no strings attached.

Q: How much commission does the rep take? It’s usually 25% (which for the record I believe is too high; 10-15% seems more reasonable to me), but I’ve heard some artists give up to 30% to their reps. Ouch! That’s 1/3 of your revenue!

A: Most agents request 30%, this is the industry standard. Our agency asks for 25%. I found that my agent was able to garner higher paying assignments than I secured on my own. Art buyers are typically prepared to pay more when approaching an established agent working with high caliber artists. If you take into consideration what an agent actually does for an artist, 25% is equitable and can prove to be a sound  investment to further one’s career.

Q: What does the rep provide in return for that commission? How much of his own overhead is spent on marketing (A) the agency, and (B) you?

A: As your agent I'm a vested partner in the success of your business with the focused goal of seeing each artist in the group succeed. I'm a sounding board to help with questions you may have and provide direction throughout the process. An agent fields calls, freeing the artist to create and focus on the art, a buffer from the email and phone, securing the assignment and also filtering through the not so desirable calls. With a strong group there is a synergy created with the collective that can prove to be more beneficial than an individual effort. Your work will  be seen frequently due to the association. Advertising and marketing is the heart and soul of a strong agency, continually building relationships and reaching out consistently to existing and potential art buyers, art directors and creative directors is paramount. An agent cultivates established relationships and is consistently working towards finding and  building new and lasting relationships. Once a project is in play, the agent negotiates terms, creates estimates, reviews and often edits contracts, provides job confirmations, invoicing, accounts receivables and then pays artist once payment is received from client. We also help artist stay current on art competition deadlines, consulting on directories and marketing strategies. Each artist evaluates their own resources annually, each at different points in their career, therefore budgets vary. With that in mind, each marketing strategy is tailored for each individual artist, the artist has the freedom to map out their on marketing plan with the agent as a resource. As an agency we do not have a set budget given to marketing, it will be decided year by year based on the previous years revenue, which will understandably fluctuate.

Q: Does the rep want you to hand over your existing client list? Why? What happens to clients you’ve worked with prior to signing up with the rep?

A: We allow the artist to provide a written house account list. Any client that the artist has worked for in the past that they would like to retain as a house account, we allow for that, they can continue to work with them directly for 100%. If the artist chooses to bring us in on future contracts or negotiations, with a client on the house account list, we work that account for 25%. With that said, if the client calls the agency directly, requesting to work the artist, we run it by the illustrator and we discuss options with the illustrator. Also if a magazine changes art directors and calls the agency directly for an artist, that is discussed and agreed upon at the time of the call. We are flexible and more importantly reasonable.

Q: Does the rep take a reduced commission (or none at all) when clients wish to go through you, rather than them? If no, why not? Does your contract allow this?

A: A client on occasion will seek to go around the agent and work directly with the illustrator in hopes that they will receive a discounted fee for the assignment. We frown upon this practice. Our illustrators are people of integrity and understand the bigger picture and also see the value the agent brings to the process. If it is a client relationship that is already established with the illustrator (house account) and the illustrator wishes to tackle it on their own, that is permitted. If it is a new client, we ask that the illustrator send the call back to the agent. Each situation is unique, we trust our illustrators to make decisions for themselves that they feel are best for their business. At the end of the day we want our illustrators to be happy and satisfied.

Q:  Does the rep expect you to pay an additional fee simply to be represented?

A: Nope, no fee. The only arrangement is 25% commission on assignments where we act as agent.

Q: Will the rep actively contact new clients you’ve declared you’d like to work with?

A: Good question. This decision is left up to the the agent. Each situation is unique. If the work is of the caliber needed to solicit and the potential client is receptive to the artist, I think this is a good idea. It’s important that each illustrator is patient with the process. I will not hassle a potential client by being overly eager. It is a delicate dance. Marketing is not a sprint, or even a marathon. Effective marketing is similar to a daily walk and if the agent is doing their job correctly you will be working together twenty years from now. It’s a long term relationship. With that said, hustle is the name of the game and we get your image out there and showcase what you are creating and share new pieces that warrant circulation. I’m open to hear artists ideas and will go to bat for them when they have an avenue they would like to pursue.

Equally as important is the role the illustrator plays in promoting themselves. Our most successful artists promote themselves in addition to working with the agency. This is the best practice, working in tandem, both parties working consistently to get the word out on what new works you are creating.

Q: Are you allowed to experiment with new styles and change your artistic direction as you see fit?

A: We support the artist first and the art second. We trust an illustrator to move and have freedom to make choices about their own work and what they create. It is the agent's choice on what is placed in the agent’s portfolio. Agent acts as curator. We are always open to hear the from the illustrator and discuss stylistic strategy. It is possible and sometimes viable for illustrators to work in multiple styles and showcase them separately and distinctly.

Q: Does the rep insist on you spending a fixed sum of money for advertising and marketing?  

A: No.

Q: Does the rep let you choose where you’ll spend your marketing budget?

A: Yes. I’ll have suggestions, but ultimately the decision is 100% yours.

Q: Does the rep insist you get listed in any illustration directories? (They’re quite expensive.)

A: We do not insist. In some cases, when it is in the illustrator’s budget, we recommend it as a strategy. We make sure that the artist is ready and that the images are viable and the investment is a sound call. We have had great success with many of the directory relationships.

Q: Does the rep expect you to pay to be on their website? — If the answer is “Yes,” you should seriously question this. A rep’s website is part of THEIR overhead. Not yours. You (and probably another 30-40 artists) already give them 25% of your revenue. If 30 artists each earn $25,000/year, that amounts to $187,500 going to the rep. If $40,000, that’s $300,000 for the rep. Plenty there for them to hire a good web designer.

A: No, artist does not pay to be on the group website. In response to the size of a group and income. I prefer to keep our group to a boutique size, between 25 and 35 illustrators as I would like to maintain personal contact with each artist on a regular basis. 

Q: Can you quickly and easily edit your own listing on his website?

A: Artist does not have access to the agent’s website interface, artist submits new images directly to the agent, the agent uploads image(s) to the portfolio page within a week or two of submission. It is important that the image has run in the publication or campaign for which it was created and it is appropriate to release the image to the general public for viewing.

Q: Does the rep include a link to your website from their website? If no, why not?

A:  Yes, we do provide and link to the artist’s website.. We ask that the illustrator in return put our agency contact information on their website, informing potential clients of their working relationship with agent. Some international illustrators we represent worldwide, some we represent only in the United States. This is outlined on the front end and is negotiable throughout the relationship.

Q: What are things the rep does to increase business and actively reach out to new clients? The word “actively” is key here; I’m talking cold-calling, and meeting art directors in person. Not just passive stuff like sending out emails or taking out ads in Communication Arts magazine.

A: Excellent question. This is the heart of what happens behind the scenes giving the illustrator confidence we are doing our part. We subscribe to agency access and we cull out specific names we know are viable. We then build a custom list using Mail Chimp email marketing service. We are consistently and methodically reaching out to existing and potential clients showcasing our latest and strongest images. We ask our email participants to give us the ideal number of emails they would like to receive and how often. (Once a week, once a month, four times a year, etc.) and we respect their request by not filling their inbox to frequently. We also encourage our artists to submit timely entries to the notable competitions, albeit this is on the artist to follow through. Hustling is an art in of itself, the key is to consistently stay in contact with those who appreciate the work and seek out new art buyers who are illustration advocates. Art buyers are out there and most would like to see new work. However art directors are very busy and face to face meetings happen infrequently. Email is king. Phone is runner up. Face time or a skype call on occasion, but it’s rare. Print marketing and direct mail is another animal and can be quite effective, if we chose do a campaign it is not required for the artist to participate, it is optional.  Direct mail is expensive, time consuming and is typically born out of a surplus of cash that was unexpected.

Q: Are you free to express yourself however you wish on your own blog? Facebook? Twitter? If no, then what are the rules?

A: Yes, on your own domain and social media feeds you are free to express yourself.

Q: Does the rep also want to act as an art director for your work?

A: I prefer to work with illustrators that demonstrate confidence in their own abilities. It’s important for illustrators to learn to look at their own work objectively and act as their own Art Director. Other than saying I love it, you will not hear much from me on direction. If I feel neutral about an image, I won’t showcase it on the site. With that said, I am very supportive and would not consider taking on an artist that I was not a huge fan in the first place. We are careful and selective on each artist that we invite to come on board.

Q: Does the rep have any accreditation in art or design?

A: Twenty six years experience as an illustrator. Fourteen years represented by Jan Collier. Graduate from Ringling College of Art and Design in 1989, illustration major.

Q: Does the rep insist that all communications between you and a client go only through him?

A: Typically the initial email/call comes to the agent. The agent communicates  and updates artist with each correspondence with client as potential assignment is being considered. Often the artist is cc’d on the vital progressions. Once the contract is secure and the client has signed off on the job confirmation or estimate the artist then steps in to start the process of sketches. The agent steps out of the picture until the job is completed. In an ideal relationship the illustrator will rest in the fact that the agent has their best interest in mind and will trust the agent to bring home the best possible fee and terms for each assignment. Clear communication between the agent and artist is an integral part of a successful relationship.

Q: Does the rep intervene between you and the client (in rare cases when there’s a problem)?

A: As the agent, I’m available to help if a hiccup occurs. In our profession I have found that typically both sides are both professional, courteous and considerate. Art directors and Creative Directors are a smart sophisticated group. They give clear briefs and the illustrator should be trained to ask enough questions on the front end to have a full scope and understanding of what is needed before proceeding to rough sketches.

Q: What happens when a job drags out longer than planned, and the client refuses to increase payment to reflect this?

A: Typically we negotiate for the usage or licensing of the image. Fees are not based on how long it takes an illustrator to complete an assignment. Illustrators typically do not work by the hour. With that said, we do establish how many rounds of sketches are included with the fee and we also come back to the table if the illustrator is unable to capture the project in the first three to five rounds of sketches. If illustrator produces a final, and revisions are requested, the artist will be compensated for additional variations or modifications to final.

Q: How does the rep handle unpaid invoices from a client?

A: Good question. It happens, rarely, but it happens, in my fourteen years with Jan, it happened to us twice. Normally we see payment from editorial clients within 30 to 90 days. From ad agencies it’s typically 30 to 120 days we receive payment. In an ideal world, everyone would pay in 30, but often things get hung up. If a client ends up being a deadbeat and does not pay, we make note of it. We do not work with client again. Secondly, we aggressively call every week up until a certain point, say six months. At the point we realize the client is not going to pay, we give the illustrator the option to pursue it, if they wish. With that said, any advertising job greater than $3,000, we typically ask for 50% upfront before starting assignment. We do not pursue unpaid invoices legally, it’s not worth the energy. We operate in good faith.

Q: Does the rep (A) let you bill the client directly or (B) do they bill on your behalf? (There are advantages to both.)

A: Rep invoices client, we send artist 75% payment with copies of both invoice and a copy of the check received from client. At the end of the year artist receives a 1099-misc form from agency. Artist is responsible for their own taxes.

Q: How soon does the rep pay you after a client has sent him the payment?

A: We cut checks to artist usually within three to five business days after receiving the check from client. With our international artists we are able to set up online methods of payment.

Q: Does the rep insist clients pay a late-fee if they’re behind? How does he/she enforce that?

A: No, we do not enforce a late fee. We operate in good faith. We do however carefully vet our clients before accepting an assignment.

Q: Is the rep open to asking for more money on a job, if you feel that job isn’t paying enough? Is he/she willing to negotiate with the client for more money? (You both benefit after all.)

A: We will ask enough questions on the front end and have a good understanding of what we are accepting before we agree to the assignment. The fee is not based on time, but usage of the image, not an hourly rate. If client comes back and asks for major changes or changes direction, illustrator will receive compensation for the directional change. But typically, illustrator will be compensated fairly for the assignment. If illustrator is uncomfortable with terms, that should be discussed before accepting an assignment. I think it is best practice for an illustrator to go beyond the call and give their best work and work towards surpassing the client's expectations. On occasion we run across a difficult situation, we keep our cool and act respectfully towards our client. We will work it out. But to answer the question, yes, I am willing to step in and speak for the illustrator if client is being unjust.

Q: Are you able to turn down work without fear of ramifications?

A: Artist can turn down an assignment for any reason, no questions asked. We can communicate to client that we are declining assignment due to scheduling.

Q: How does the rep feel about work-for-hire and spec jobs?

A: We do not do work for hire and we do not do spec jobs. Simple.

Q: What’s expected of YOU, the artist, in this relationship?

A: Continue to create high caliber work, this is typically what opened the door to our relationship in the first place. Have a goal to continually master, improve and grow in your craft. Work on personal pieces consistently in addition to your commissioned work. Provide six to twelve new images a year to add to your portfolio, preferably more. Trust the process, consider this a field and we are planting seeds, it takes time to yield a harvest. Be patient with yourself and the process. There will be busy months and slow months, save for a rainy day, I do not like artists crying on my shoulder during the slow months, plan for it. Journal the good times, have a place you keep record of the nice jobs, high paying commissions. Have a grateful attitude. Understand that I am very particular in who I chose to invest my time. If I say yes to working together, consider it an unique relationship. Understand I have a life and family outside of work. Sarah and I have four beautiful kids and I turn the phone off in the evenings, you can catch me during business hours. Most importantly, enjoy your work, love what you do and show me you love your work by being prolific at producing your art.

Travis Foster is an illustration rep based in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also an illustrator with twenty six years experience. www.travisfoster.com

Illustrations by Agata Krolak