Following a quick discussion with an agency owner, you hesistantly transfer a large sum of lindens to their account. Now it is their turn to come up with the goods, but exactly what can you expect and will this really be a positive return on your investment? The age-old discussion about whether or not to pay for the promotion of your business and professional model training has reared its ugly head again. I was just on an SL blog, which made inaccurate statements about the industry, its professionals and less than accurate statements about the agency and its operations. The agency has also received a large number of queries from people about the value a fashion agency adds to their business and careers, so we wanted to open the door on the world of SL fashion marketing and promotion to help people understand a bit more about agencies and their contribution to the industry.

Before delving into any depth, I felt it appropriate to make the distinction between a modeling agency and a fashion agency – This is a question we get asked a lot and that people who do not really know the business struggle with. A modeling agency is an enterprise that scouts, grooms, markets, books and earns a % of the models fees in return for their hard work. Generally modeling agencies do not organise events – they identify and assign resources to jobs – models/actors and so on. They are the Kelly or the Adecco or the Manpower of the fashion industry.

A fashion (promotion) agency on the other hand should be thought of as a PR and promotions agency focusing on fashion as a tool and an outlet – think PR, think promotion, marketing, brand recognition and sales. A fashion PR agency represents its clients – models, fashion designers and other corporations who either use PR to promote fashion or use fashion to get PR. A fashion agency exists to promote your work and every action they perform on a client’s behalf must be in line with that notion. In return for the promotion of fashion or your brand through fashion, they charge a fee.

The Ewing Fashion Agency is a fashion PR & Promotions agency, consisting of a number of departments and disciplines.

This above screen shot is taken from the agency’s organisation chart on our staff HR database. What it doesn’t show is the section on internal events – please see the next screen shot.

Concept Creation – The agency creates opportunities and then invites people to take part. This notion seemed perplexing to some individuals who are not familiar with marketing and event planning, but it actually makes a lot of business sense. We create the concept, initially put out much of the funding and then invite others to join in to recoup some of the initial costs. Think of it as the Grand Prix – a world famous event that invites sponsors and other such third parties to buy a stake for a certain amount of money and representation in return for PR and promotion. For the invited parties, this is generally a hassle-free and cost-effective way of promoting, because the participants time and effort contribution is pretty much 0%, the financial contribution is about 25% less than it would be to put on a custom event, there is the additional benefit of cross-segment marketing and the buzz is greater. The agency was started on this business model with the FIRST IMPRESSIONS shows and it continues to be a effective way of rallying people together and leveraging their various resources. This method has some advantages (see above) and some disadvantages for designers. Some agencies through in 8 – 10 designers and charge each of them the premium fee, which is unfair, because the “stage” is over-saturated. It is up to the designer to understand the type of publicity they need and to ensure the agency does not lose sight of the objective. Technically speaking, four is more than enough for this type of event – two works better for the designer. 

One such concept show we did was the EFA First Fusion RL/SL Event, which was covered in the dutch TV news and by at least six major printed publications in the Netherlands and referenced on over 25 websites during the first week of its occurrence – naming all four designers that took part, including our sponsors and partners. Considering the potential reach and PR opportunities, an agency inviting stake-holders to participate in their events is a perfectly valid move. Demanding payment? Of course. Any real business person with a goal to promote their products and or services understands the value of promotion – there are many traders in the real world and in Second Life. The real movers and shakers know how to promote and differentiate themselves.  

Custom Shows – These are shows requested specifically by a designer to promote their products. A well-organised show should provide exclusive coverage for a designer, unless third parties are contracted-in for sponsorship deals. Promotion should start at least a week before the event’s schedule date – the latest being 72 hours prior. These shows tend to be more effective for well-established designers. Effort and contribution could be a bit more, pricing is a bit more flexible – meaning that if costs escalate, the designer picks up the tab. The fee to the organising agency is separate, so such shows can be expensive, but they offer excellent opportunities for showcasing alliance partner’s complementary items. However generally, they tend to offer less cross-segment marketing opportunities.

An organised agency should actively promote the show, including all participants and stake-holders before, during and after. The is a key part of the agency you select, because some have more resources than others. Putting on a fashion show is not a case of models turning up 30 minutes before the event and walking up and down the runway. A lot goes into the preparation of a professionally organised show – and without setting any standards for others, we spend an average of three hours a day, ten days before the event practising the routines, positions and timings (circa 30 hours) – styling excluded. Styling & warddrobe can take anything from four to twelve hours to do. It is a lot of hard word. The comments made by the blog owner are obviously not based on any real understanding of what goes into planning a show.

Incidentally, the agency also has a small internal modeling agency, so we do not often look outside for models. Having said that, every agency works differently. We like working with hand-picked professionals with a good track record for reliability, punctuality, professionalism and experience in dealing with the challenges SL throws up in the course of a fashion show; such as rezzing fast, quick changes, as well as the more fashion-specific demands, such as styling and matching clothes, walking, posing and stopping at appropriate times and working complex multi-person routines. This select group is one of the ways in which we [the agency] keep up our part of the bargain to designers that if for any reason your model doesn’t show, it is really because she cannot, otherwise she would be here. When we cost shows, we also add the cost for paying models. Some people believe that models should be content with getting clothes and I think that this again shows no real understanding of the demands the industry makes on the models. It shows a lack of understanding and respect for the hard work, time, dedication and commitment that models show to the job – right from the training they paid for and under took, passed, the castings, continuous self-development, preparation for each show and also the crowds that some models can attract to shows.

Models are an integral part of the industry and must be protected and rewarded accordingly. Some models are truly super in the way that they get involved and assist in the actual execution of the shows. I noted a comment on the blog by a model saying that clothes do not suffice as payment, because firstly they are assigned (the models do not choose them), secondly a great number of which she would never wear again – I totally agree.  Apart from the money issue, most seasoned designers know that having models wearing your clothes are is a fantastic promotional tool – clothes on an attractive avatar (as seen on the red carpet) makes the clothes look good and has the potential to generate a buzz – models are usually fun and popular, most blog and they love sharing their knowledge and secrets. Giving free clothes to a model is not doing the model a favour. The model wearing your clothes is the model doing you the favour. After all, a working model can get on average about 10 – 30 new outfits a week based on shows and blog reviews, so no! Models need to get paid and should be paid well. The going rate currently at the agency is 1000 per show – although some show models have been given more in bonuses also – to a tune of 2000 a show and they have deserved every cent.

Besides the hands-on production element of the show and the quality of models, there is the communications side. This is really why you select an agency. Great clothes, great choreography, great models, no blog, no communication channels – no – turn out! So you, yourself and yours sitting alone at your show, means no return on investment and a big egg yoke on your face. You want a packed out show and preferably one full of current and new potential clients and some press. An agency should leverage on all its resources to maximise exposure. When promoting shows, we tend use all our resources and announce shows simultaneous in a number of places, including the agency blog (which averages about 500 hits per day), a number of third party press-release engines and across our in-world and out-of-world groups. Our events VIP group alone has circa 600 members and growing each day. Additionally, we have the model training groups, models groups, residents groups and EFA out-of-world (Subscrib-O-Matic) news group which has over 400 members. In all, each event advertised in this way receives something in the region of 2500 – 4000 views a week before the event. Invites are sent out, the show location has sponsors and participant logos and collateral clearly placed and marked out with inventory givers. During the event, the host clearly identifies the key stakeholders and a post-event review is published on the blog accompanied by a slide show of the event featuring all event highlights by a commissioned photographer. Statistics for the whole process could at this point could be be running well into the 7000+. Some promotions agencies offer an event brochure or catalogue. We offer this as an optional service that allows guests to take away pictures of the clothes and items they have seen of the event and designer and participant profiles. Some shows also come with a video, which beautifully immortalises the event for all to see – another great promotional tool for the designers. Some events offer the video and brochure as an additional service for payment and at times, the agency bears the cost – a number of factors determine the conditions offered. Unfortunately, most designers opt out of the show brochure and video options – which is unfortunate as they are can be a great extension for promotion.

When people ask why they should pay for shows, this above paragraphs give a small insight into what actually takes place at a professional agency. A number of services are priced based, because they are outsourced to third parties and so therefore, we are simply collecting the cost for the service provider. Coul dthe designer save money by procuring that services directly? Possible, but unlikely, because the prices negotiated are based on a discount we can negotiate because of the frequency with which we procure the services, so we generally offer a competitive price. I was amused to read that some people offer show planning and promotion for free and I think that is great – it takes all sorts. I cannot comment directly in relation to anyone case, but if I were a designer who invested a lot of time and hard-work into creating items for sale, I would better choose people who would charge me money in return for some form of service level agreement, than put my name and hard work in the hands of someone doing it for “fun”. It is really a matter of where one is in the game and what one hopes to attain. Second Life can sometimes teach us somethings about real life. However this is definitely a case in which real-life sets the standard. I don’t really see Armani, Versace, Gucci, Tiffanys or even Walmart putting their brand name in the hands of a PR agency that would render services for free. Perhaps that is why these are names that are what they are.

Fashion Events – Fashion agencies also organise many non-show fashion events for fun. Currently, the agency is running a number of shows called Runway Divas, which is a runway skills demonstration and audience participation event, followed by a models question time panel discussion for models wanting to learn the trade. The event is free to join and the winner gets a cash prize. It is fun-focused and a great mixer for industry professionals. Again, the agency would invite sponsors to join in for payment.

Another event we do is Runway-Robics, which is aimed at models and fashion professionals who want to have fun, while mastering the runway – featuring a number of challenging runway exercises and stunts. Think of it as the weekly yoga class, but this time its on the runway. Sponsors again would be charged for the exposure they get. These events however have targeted sponsor reach in the sense that the sponsors chosen are limited to the target audience, which are models and fashion professionals, typically, we would focus on creators of model and modeling tools – skins, AOs, body attachments, and so on, as opposed to financial services etc.

Train Models – The Ewing Fashion Agency trains models. This is a key part of the agency’s activities and is an excellent way of working with some of the most exciting newcomers. Why pay for model training? Well, it’s easy! Have you ever heard of the television programs “Make me a Supermodel”, “America’s  Next  Top  Model”, “Models NYC”, or “A Model Life”? There are many more variations on the theme I dare say, but these shows say enough. Being a model is a tough job and no one is born a model. If that were true, there would be no need for agencies. So if models need training in real-life for the walking and posing and timing and grooming, why not in Second Life, where even how you stand is something that has to be mastered in the first month of playing. The saddest thing about the argument that model training in Second Life is futile is because it is dismisses the holistic view of “the career”. Like any career, going to a reputable institution – be it an agency or school, you gain a one-stop-shop pool of knowledge, the benefit of experience and most importantly, contacts and references. Contacts are very important – it is a foot in the door and it is also the confidence and “stamp of approval” that many people need to continue looking for work, or just to know that what they are doing is actually the right thing – it also serves a corrective purpose for those who just dont “get it”, or are weak at marketing themselves. It provides a body of support and point of reference. It is a key part of the industry.

Unlike the promotion of clothes, where Second Life designers can make a lot of money and some have even been reported to have made circa 250,000 real world dollars per annum, modeling in Second Life is not at all lucrative and no I do not believe in Super Models in any sense of the word with respect to commanding large sums of money. However, for those who truly enjoy the work and have always dreamed of doing it – but for some reason are unable to fulfill that dream in real life, why not pay for something that they feel can help them attain their goals. Again, there are assertions that some people train for free and again, I would rather save ten years and pay my hard earned cash to an institution like Yale or Central Saint Martins (grades permitting), than get a freebie on the corner of my road, with potentially no service level agreement or expectation and worst of all, no remedy should expectations not be met. Yes, training is important.

Free Shows – The agency has organised shows in which we have invited a number of designers to participate for free. We handle everything from the concept, to stage design, invites and publicity, styling, pre-show press, post show coverage, pictures and videos. These tend to be special agency events. For these shows, we tend to exclude sponsors and so exposure is not over-saturated, but they participants typically recieve the same level of exposure open to paying participants.

There was one more grave inaccuracy on the the SL blog that I would like to correct, which is that the Ewing Fashion Agency approaches designers to sponsor their model graduation shows. This is an inaccurate statement and based on … (your guess is mine). The model graduation ceremonies are purely about the new models and their rights of passage into the world of professional modeling. It just goes to show that one must not believe everything they read.

Many a blog attempts to make waves for the sake of a few hits and some scandals – I call it the Ooo, Ahh, sensation effect. I love a bit of investigative writing, but writing, or at least purporting to write as a know-it-all on an issue that one clearly is clueless about is frankly irresponsible.

The fashion industry in Second Life is a thriving one and for every great and successful agency out there, there is a less credible one and almost always a sensation seeker looking to shoot down others. Your role as a designer when you pay your hard-earned lindens is to know and understand what you want, communicate it clearly and establish a way of measuring the success of your investment. I hope this post has been helpful in helping you understand just what you should be getting for your top dollar when you hear that cha-ching sound.

If you have any questions you would like to have addressed, we would be happy to take them via our contacts page.