Industry Insights with Le Book: Has the role of the creative agent changed?

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Success takes “focus, determination, tenacity and talent,” says Steven Pranica. But does it take an agent too? The founder of Creative Exchange Agency, discusses the value of an agent in today’s market

Securing an agent can feel like an acknowledgement of your potential, and the addition of a trusted ally when work demands outstrip capacity. But in a world where personal brands are launched from bedrooms, the role of a creative agent is changing. Are tenacity and talent enough to succeed?

Steven Pranica is the founder and president of Creative Exchange Agency (CXA), in New York – one of the industry’s most prestigious agencies – managing renowned artists such as David LaChapelle, Coco Capitán and François Halard. Pranica started in the industry at 16, as a photographer assisting greats including Victor Skrebreski and Norman Parkinson. At 19, he moved into artist management working for photo agencies in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – representing Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton. By the age of 27, he started his own agency – quickly building the stellar roster that we see today.

“We represent multidisciplinary artists at the intersection of art, culture, design, photography and film, and orchestrate their productions,” Pranica explains. Unlike other photography agencies, CXA represents a diverse range of artists in various disciplines, and are “actively involved in their day-to-day management”. They simultaneously develop their art practices, while also orchestrating brand collaborations such as Kehinde Wiley with MTV and Amex; and avant-garde artist Robert Wilson with Nike. CXA artists, including David LaChapelle, were among the first to demonstrate how it’s possible to cross between photography, commercials, fine-art, and film with artistic integrity. “Our role is to support and guide the photographer’s vision, while providing them unparalleled access to other collaborators in our network, who embrace their vision,” explains Pranica.

Steven Pranica
Travis Scott x The Face magazine. © David LaChapelle, Courtesy of Creative Exchange Agency (CXA)

The value of an agent in 2021

The growing demand for content and boom for brand collaborations has created ample opportunity for work, but long passed are the simple negotiations of print publications. Contractual complexities associated with digital platforms and publishing can leave creatives craving the support of an agent, who’ll take on the task of negotiating terms. 

“The value of the agent has expanded exponentially,” agrees Pranica. “While the core attributes of an agent remain, their role in navigating the vast media landscape has radically changed what we do. In the current marketplace, there is a much broader expanse of opportunities in new media and mediums, so we embrace and navigate this new terrain.”

The digital evolution has been fast, and it’s still moving – agents need to consider what’s coming next, he insists. “We must now envision and understand the utilisations which may occur within the lifespan of the photograph, including the timeline, territory, and media, and then negotiate favourable terms to protect those usage rights.” Forecasts must predict how content may be used in the future, in what territories, in which mediums, with the conclusions correlating to a price that will protect a creative’s potential to earn.

Bottega Veneta featuring Naomi Campbell. © David LaChapelle, Courtesy of Creative Exchange Agency (CXA)

The role extends beyond that of contract negotiator. An agent is an advocate for the artists’, a collaborator to support them in the practical path to realising their creative vision: “The agent is responsible for amplifying your voice, articulating and communicating your story, and securing platforms to expose your work,” explains Pranica. Is the support emotional too?Absolutely,” he assures. “Our relationship with our artists is very intimate and there is a constant cross-over between their personal and business life.”

However, Pranica, who will be one of a number of agents attending the Le Book Connections event on 30 September, explains that although often seen as a marker of success, having an agent may not be right for everyone. “I would recommend that young and emerging photographers initially act as their own representatives,” advises the agent. “You will gain first-hand knowledge and feedback by interacting directly with your clients.”

Francois Halard x Architectural Digest. © Francois Halard, Courtesy of Creative Exchange Agency (CXA)
© Jeff Burton, Courtesy of Creative Exchange Agency (CXA)

But not many people embark on a creative career with the skillset to negotiate the best deals, to manage relationships while delivering the creative and technical excellence required. For them, Pranica has some practical advice for navigating the market.

Maintain an interest in contemporary culture 

Steven can be found at fashion events, art exhibitions, photography and film festivals – and it’s where the inspiration and relationships behind many of his partnerships are formed. “As the marketplace changes and expands,” he explains. “You should have an interest in and dialogue with contemporary culture, and explore the vast opportunities for artists.”

Target clients aligned with your interests and visual direction 

“For photographers who are representing themselves, it’s important to define and target a list of prospective editorial and advertising clients based on your interests and specific visual direction of your work.”

Develop a ‘script’

Develop a ’script’ to describe the core spirit of your work, and create a list of questions for new briefs. “For assignments, create a set of questions to ensure you estimate the project accurately and understand the mission. Some examples might be – What is the creative brief? How many visuals are required? What is the usage for the photographs (including licensed time, territory, media platforms and any planned paid promotion)?

Protect your brand, and your future rights 

There are practical details you should pay special attention to, Pranica says: “Ensure you are properly credited,” he advises. “And, that the resale merchandise and NFT rights are negotiated separately.”

© Coco Capitan, Courtesy of Creative Exchange Agency (CXA)

“I would recommend that you spend time researching and locating an agent whose philosophy and roster of artists inspires you. Then, contact them over email or social media to arrange an appointment to review your work.”

“While there are more opportunities for young photographers than ever before, there is also much more competition,” admits Pranica. There is a point when an agent is the natural progression. They’ll provide access to a global network of clients, negotiate optimum terms, and orchestrate seamless productions which allow you to focus on your craft. 

“We sign new talent periodically, but are constantly researching new artists globally via social media, editorial publications, books, exhibitions, and through referrals,” he explains of the process for signing new talent to CXA’s books. “I would recommend that you spend time researching and locating an agent whose philosophy and roster of artists inspires you. Then, contact them over email or social media to arrange an appointment to review your work.”

What CXA looks for in an artist is simple. “A photographer’s work is reflective of social change in their time, culture, and community. We look for photographers with an original voice who can express a cohesive perspective and narrative, and have the technical ability to execute their vision,” he says. “Our philosophy is to cultivate artistic projects which embody social and cultural values such as diversity, environmentalism, and sustainability.” In other words: they’re looking for artists whose work has a message. A photographer should study light, composition, angle of views, texture and the use of empty space, but ultimately they must develop a narrative for their photographs and career – and video is becoming more important every day.”

CXA is closely involved with the international photography and creative industry publisher LE BOOK, as well as Connections by LE BOOK, a custom-made trade show for the creative community and its digital presence, Connections Digital. 

Le Book Connections Digital Europe takes place on 30 September 2021. Click here to find our more information about the event

The Fast Track 18 will be presented to the LE BOOK Connections Europe jury by way of 1854’s ‘Meet the Unsigned’ booth.

Robert Wilson x Hermes. © Robert Wilson, Courtesy of Creative Exchange Agency (CXA)
Emma-Lily Pendleton

Emma-Lily is a writer, editor and content consultant specialising in photography and filmmaking. She's worked as Editor of Professional Photography magazine, host of Canon Europe's Shutter Stories podcast, and held the position of Content Director of Future Publishing's multi award-winning content marketing agency, Future Fusion.