Scam Straight – The Truth About Model Scout Scams

Every legitimate agency in the world will tell you that you don’t need to pay money to be a model, don’t need to pay for classes, and don’t need to pay a fee to meet them in person. If they are interested, they will work with you and guide you to get started.

It is honest because it is the truth. However, in an effort to scout and find great potential models, agencies

inadvertently support those that do charge you. Scouting is expensive and a different endeavor than managing models in a big market. It is easier for agencies in major markets to go to an event that “gathers” potential models into one place.

This is part of the scam that no one speaks about. The agencies and their scouts know the kids and parents have paid for classes, portfolios and entrance fees all just to “meet” agents from New York, Paris, London and Milan. And some of these agencies lend their logo and endorsement so that these types of “scouts” can validate their process, making them look legitimate to the average person. And there are few ways to qualify the good ones since the agencies come to these events.

It is confusing because the facts are manipulated. There are hard costs that a model must be responsible to pay. Modeling is a skill, and therefore sometimes in the beginning, you need to pay for tests with good photographers to get you started and learn how to take a great picture, consistently.  By working with a few photographers you get a variety of pictures and lots of experience, while also learning to be comfortable in front of the camera, how to work with different people and understand photography. A portfolio is not shot by one photographer, a common sales pitch, and as you improve, your pictures improve and the old are replaced with the new. There are expenses for composite cards, website promotion, messenger fees, and prints for books, travel and housing, etc. Model’s are starting a business and are not an employee of the modeling agency.

That being said, if you are in a small town, you are not going to identify your potential by paying for these things to meet an agency from a major market. Most of the time, potential models and their parents have invested too much too soon before knowing if modeling is a valuable consideration and if they have the potential. Someone has told them they have it and the only way to get an agency’s interest, or to work, is to make the investment. Usually, with the wrong guidance and at an age that is not appropriate.

And here lies the biggest corruption and confusion. You need guidance, you need experience and you need information. So, you go to the closest and most local place because you are brand new. And most modeling “businesses” in local and small markets have found a way to make money from that need, not your potential. An entire business was created years ago selling you classes, or pictures or a convention.

The skill and potential of a model is elusive. Which is why an evaluation from an agent or scout who has a bigger picture of the business is more beneficial. If you have what it takes to be a model or play on the tennis team or be an actor, there are professional scouts that can give you a few try outs, observe you and then give you an evaluation, advise you on your success rate and decide if they want to represent you or what your next step should be; sometimes it is just wait a year. Luck only takes you to a certain point, and then talent must take over at the right time to reach success. And then the management of a model’s career begins. The industry of model management in the fashion industry is quite different than the business of scouting.

With all of this in mind, I must defend the agents, the legitimate agents, in large markets who manage the top models of the world. They are always looking for new models to be their clients. The fact is, rarely the young girl who walks in the door or emails is the one with star potential. The scouting divisions and scouts for major agencies rely on sources and referrals to discover models. It is a scavenger hunt when looking in the small towns of America, which they don’t frequently visit. And where would they look? So they depend on good local and regional agents and scouts who cultivate and look for talent in small markets all the time. Sometimes, not knowing or caring the method they were found.

I have been involved in scouting for years in one way or another. Contests, model searches, mall searches, radio searches, model conventions, judging and guest speaking at conventions. Even the Oprah Winfrey models search that discovered Leslie Bibb. Once you find someone with potential, there are so many factors beyond physical genetics that strongly influence success or failure. It becomes a numbers game of great volume to find one worthy of investment. It is hard to find that special one and the process of educating them and their parents is time consuming. And it is during this process that their level of success is determined.

When scouting, we go out and look for potential in public places, events, and gathering places. Some days it is like watching paint dry waiting for someone to walk by who is a possibility. And because we are seeking them, we never know if they are interested or would be serious because it is not their drive or it hadn’t occurred to them. It just happened. A stranger approached them with a question and a compliment, and now wants to know everything about them to determine if they’ve “got it”.

So why is it so easy to convince someone that they can buy their way into this business? A Cinderella story, everything is done for you, and you don’t have to pay for anything, be responsible for much and it is easy. None of that is true. But the compliment turns into a dream and a goal without knowing much about what all it entails.

You could be a beautiful Cinderella and not a good model. Your character could not be a good match for this business. You may struggle with many, many things in an industry that is fiercely competitive and although in love with beauty, and maybe yours, has a tendency to be quite fickle and curious about what is new and what is next. Like any competitive activity or job, you have to do something special to get something special from the industry and KEEP that interest.

This mystery has created the need for “volume” in scouting in order to create a top model. It has slowly eroded the truth and the business of identifying real potential. There are more scouts and more people trying to make money on the dream, and not actually taking the proper time and dedication to develop it.

There is a great need for guidance for the young potential model from her hometown, during school, and preparing her for the business of learning how to model. There is a lot to learn for her AND her parents. This is not like any other business that I know of, and although similar to some like sports or acting when starting, the actual business is quite specific. Parents try to understand, but usually find it very frustrating. No one is “whisked” away to stardom regardless of how beautiful or how “obvious” it may seem. And it is built on subtle relationships, not like a sales job. You work your way up and you work to get there. It is competitive and clients and photographers have specific criteria that you won’t understand and difficult to explain. The character, behavior and disposition of the model AND her parents, creates the platform for the success to be built on once the physical abilities have been discovered.

This is a great business, and a fun business. It is a shame to see the “scammers” create the illusion of success. A good coach has won a few games and knows how to navigate from the minor leagues to the majors. Find a good one, and the experience will be rich.