A Conflict of Interest

William Morris Agency (WMA) restructured last week because a number of older talent agents weren't aggressive enough in cross-pollinating TV and film clients into new business areas of the agency.

Traditional agents Sam Haskell, head of worldwide television, and Richard Rosenberg, who helped in heading up the agency's music division, were ousted because of a lack of these efforts. New agency businesses include 'corporate consulting,' advertising, and management businesses. The New York Times pointed this out. Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter focused more on the ascension of David Wirtschafter as the agency's new president.

It is not news that talent agencies need to grow beyond the standard 10 percent in fee that agents normally make in representing actors, musicians, and other performers. Carving up new areas of entertainment corporate marketing allows them to charge new and unrestricted fees.



But there can be conflicts.

Russell Crowe is represented by WMA. Others agents at WMA also represent General Motors and the NFL. According to chief executive James Wiatt's master plan, agents should be doing everything and when appropriate, they can work together. This includes having film agents work with TV agents.

But this can be trouble. You might do well for one client in a deal like this, but not another -- which is why agencies such as International Creative Artists haven't moved into the corporate consulting business.

New and long-time agents want to do the best for clients. But that means not restricting potential deals - even partially - to help out business partnerships, corporations, and other arrangements. On the record, no agent would ever force a client to make such a business move if mostly to help an agency.

Yet off-the-record, that's how new talent agency executives are attempting to build their businesses. Talent agencies would never say they would force-feed deals. Instead they provide inside "marketplace intelligence" to help companies and performers make decisions.

With corporate consulting, talent agencies don't really want to replace advertising agencies -- being bogged down with all the less glamorous traditional work that goes into print and TV creative as well as that of media planning and buying.

Corporate and advertising areas are viewed as a future savior of talent agency businesses that have been losing revenue to entertainment business managers.

Traditional talent agents might just say all that is needed is to work a bit harder.

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