The Difference Between an Agent and a Publicist

Guest article written by John Byrne

For many people who want to break into the media whether in a performing, pundit or celebrity role getting an agent and/or a PR rep can seem like the most logical first step. Since quite a few people also seem to be confused as to the difference between an agent and a publicist in the first place I will give a little clarification shortly. But the crucial thing to bear in mind whichever service you are looking for is this: the best agent/manager in the world can’t make you a success if you haven’t got the talent to be successful in the first place.  Nor can the best PR in the world get you publicity when you haven’t got anything worth publicising. In both cases you need to do a lot of groundwork first unless you want to waste your time and theirs so it is important to understand the difference between an agent and a publicist.

Broadly speaking an agent or manager tries to get you work in your particular area of expertise be that acting, presenting, public speaking, writing or whatever and protects your interests while you carry that work out. In return for those services the agent gets a percentage of your earnings from work they bring in. In other words they get paid when you get paid. A PR works to get you media coverage for the projects you are already doing so that your brand becomes more established which will hopefully lead to offers for more work. A publicist will also work to manage your public image and seek opportunities for you to raise your brand visibility across all platforms. A PR gets paid (on a retainer or fixed fee) whether a campaign about you and your work brings in publicity or not so make sure you pick a good one. As your brand grows so to does your popularity and a publicist can help to ensure that you are strategic in how you promote your work, news about your personal life and how you communicate with your fanbase. Not all publicists are created equally however so remember to take the time to compare and contrast before assigning a publicist especially since you will be paying them a fixed fee.

Now let’s look at agents in more detail. Unfortunately,  although getting a good agent IS in most cases the key to getting top end professional work, agents who can get you good professional work (as opposed to agents who will either cheat you or simply not be able to get you work you couldn’t get yourself) don’t want to take on people who aren’t getting good professional work already.

It sounds like the ultimate frustrating ‘catch 22’ but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Put yourself in an agent’s place: The only agents who charge money upfront to represent creatives are scam merchants so as a legitimate agent, the only time you are going to make money from a creative is when you get them work and then take your percentage.

In the meantime the agent is going to be using their time, their phone, their printer and all of their resources to try and bring in you more work, in other words an agent is going to be outlaying their own money. As an agent is running a business not a charity, it makes sense that the only people they will sign are people who they know have a reasonable chance to getting work for.

If they are actors for example they will already be listed on Spotlight which is the main casting website. They will already have professional quality headshots and a good showreel. They will be able to act and to provide evidence that they can act-if not on a showreel at very least by inviting the agent to a show they are in so that the agent can see them act with their own eyes. The same applies to singers, business speakers and authors (creative/business/entrepreneurship)-they may not be big time yet but they will be working hard to get themselves and their work out there. Of course none of the above guarantees that an agent will be able to get a new client  any work, but it gives the agent a fighting chance of getting their money back and maybe one day making a profit in a very competitive market.

For this reason, I always advise creatives starting out to channel the energy they might currently be using to approach agents (or indeed PRs) with almost zero chance of success in a much more useful direction. Do the groundwork to become the kind of commodity that further down the line an agent will be interested in and not only will you have a much more enthusiastic hearing but you may put yourself in the much more enviable position of having different agents vying to sell themselves to you.

John Bynre

John Byrne is the careers advisor for The Stage newspaper and one of the UK’s leading entertainment industry mentors. One to one advice sessions via Skype or in person may be booked via

Follow John on Twitter @dearjohnbyrne

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