How To Run A Successful Fashion Creative Representation Firm
By Roxanne Robinson
In December a story about a former high-powered fashion agent and print magazine photography director sent shockwaves through New York’s creative and editorial community – especially those whose careers have taken a nose-dive since digital came into the picture. The exec, Olga Liriano once held positions at Ford Models, Harper’s Bazaar, Mirabella, Self and Nordstrom’s creative department among others, today finds herself folding sweaters at J.Crew – something that she takes no shame in – and living in her parent’s home at 50-something.
The tale is cautionary to anyone working in the creative fields. There have been seismic shifts in media in the last decade rippling through every corner of industry involved in its creation, the least of not is the artists whose skills help the visions of art directors, editors, and marketing teams, come to life. The Impression sat down with two leading creative representation agencies – Steven Pranica of CXA and Massimiliano di Battista of M&A Creative and to hear what shifts in their business have taken place to ensure viability in the next decade.
Have a diverse artist line up
Across the board, creatives are expanding their repertoires. CXA President Steven Pranica has always had multi-faceted talent in his roster. “I was always attracted to multi-disciplinary artists who crossed over to other areas so I became a conduit to help my artists explore alternative mediums” His agency was ahead of the curve when they helped Louis Vuitton create a bag with artist Robert Wilson in 2002, pre-dating the infamous Vuitton Murakami collaboration. “Our artists are ‘ideators’ who curate ideas and content as storytellers. Their narrative is conceptual in nature and often they want to express themselves in other mediums. Pranica’s talent roster includes Photography, Film, Style (Fashion Designers, Fashion Editors/Stylists & Casting Directors), Design (Curators, Art Directors, Sound, Light), Fine Art (Painters, Sculptors, Immersive, Video, Photography & Installation) & Digital (activations).
Massimiliano Di Battista has also opened the stable up. “Our agency quickly evolved its business model in the last 2 to 3 years,” he said by upping the creative offering from photography and style to creative direction, strategy, and digital art. The brand name changed from M+A to M+A Group to digital solution artists to distinguish the change, “We sought out the best web/app designers or coders who use coding as creativity and create incredible digital experiential videos, to the best CGI studio as well as A/R and V/R solutions.” Executing these artisans according to di Battista “are the best digital strategists, who implement guidelines to execute the content.”
The agency provides them with strong production teams to execute visions in a different medium. Says di Battista, “If a photographer can be as strong at directing as he is still photography, he has the opportunity to work on many more projects.” Both agree that the production teams see to it they can produce the same level of work in a different medium.
Understand the New Media Channels and use to your advantage
Both Pranica and di Battista have been proactive with their talents in learning to navigate the new media channels and use them to their benefit to monetize them in one form or another. This is easier for some than others. “Of course, we have seen some of our younger talents use the medium to their advantage.” said di Battista. Stylists, make-up artists and hairstylists have parlayed the tool into lucrative deals such as consulting and/or making their Instagram into a personal magazine or through YouTube tutorials for the latter. “Often the BTS and personal images tend to get the better response than the photos from the shoot” added di Battista. He especially has noticed that hair and make-up artists who were the most behind the scene before digital are using platforms like YouTube to gain a wider audience.
But not all have embraced the medium and di Battista has seen the price they pay.
The older talent feels the new pace of creating social media content feels like “factory” work and they don’t all survive this new environment.
– Massimiliano Di Battista
Pranica cites Pat McGrath’s struggle to create a brand until Instagram took off and now, she is practically a household name. “Pat tried to get her business off the ground for 15 years and it wasn’t until her Instagram took off that the business really excelled. Make-up artists in the social sphere like Pat have changed the way make-up is sold to the customer,” said Pranica.
Become a partner versus a vendor
A significant change at M&A Creative is a shift from being vendor-based to partner-based focused on creative solutions. “This was a direct result of our clients asking us to provide ideas more than just talent,” said di Battista which helped them become creative curators. Deep knowledge of their client honed over the years helps them curate the best solution for a project – whether it’s one photographer or a team made up of a photographer, creative director, and digital artist. “We have now become a partner to our clients for their creative needs. What stands out in the competitive media field is three things: the idea, the creativity, and the execution. We helped them achieve all three.” For example, Moncler is a big client; we work on the Genius initiative whether digital or social media. Because we know the client well and how to coordinate the teams differently. The messages need to stay the same through digital, retail and OOH which is easier said than done but helps to have a long-standing relationship. di Battista maintains though “We are not a creative agency. We are creating a new kind of concept of creative curation tailoring needs to the project, we even have a digital strategist that works just on the tone of voice for China. “
Master the deal of collaborations and activations
Once a novelty, brand collaborations are a huge part of a success for talent and agencies today. Being on top of this curve garnered CXA a skill set acquired through years of trial and error as collaborations took off and moved from tools of brand exposure to profitability. “If an artist was asked to create a limited-edition bag for instance with a brand, the specifics of the project are really complex, especially with an immersive experience or launch event to support it. We help them structure the deals so that both sides are happy,” noted Pranica.
Pranica has also seen a rise in the demand for immersive environmental curators as brands look to take a digital presence into a physical experience in the post-magazine era. Whether related to a product launch or collaboration, he places a variety of talent from fine artists to set stylists on retail and brand activations projects which become another component of brand storytelling.
Adapt or Die
With all the new media and need for content, the photoshoot industry of yore is over and no amount of pining for the good ol’ days will bring it back. Both di Battista and Pranica have embraced the changes and encouraged their artists to get on board too. One area that has both changed and stayed the same is budgets and fees. But it’s the distribution of these funds that have changed. “Marketing budgets have grown but not enough to satisfy all the content that is needed so budgets are distributed with more less-expensive shoots,” said di Battista adding “Each artist had felt the effect of lower fees but at the same time, brands are ready to pay a premium for really big talent. The difference is creators that are developing more than just shoot work and make more money to consult with brands.”
Pranica said fees have remained relatively consistent for traditional print media projects but quantity and diversity of deliverables have increased. But concurs fees with nontraditional projects such as design and immersive environment collaborations has drastically increased because brands understand the value.
Keeping the artist up on the speed at which media is changing and the effect on their paycheck is something both agencies strive to do. But adaptation is key and not always possible especially for those who were part of said good ol’ days and hefty rates. But Pranica and di Battista heartedly agree those days are gone but this new world is really exciting. “It’s exciting and interesting if you are willing to adapt,” said Pranica while di Battista agreed adding, “It’s very invigorating and opened up a lot of opportunities to work with a lot of different creatives beyond the traditional talent which is exciting.”
Header Photo | Hugo Boss Kino by Marco Brambilla @ CXA