How to Find a Reputable Modeling Agency

A photographer who has worked in the American modeling industry for 25 years estimated only 25% of modeling agencies are reputable.

Are your odds of finding a reputable modeling agency one in four? Are you going to have to look at four agencies before you find a reputable one?

It is not uncommon for aspiring models visiting this website after being scammed, or after learning how they could be scammed, to ask for the names of "reputable modeling agencies."

Just as a matter of policy, however, agency names are not given out any more, mostly because it is impossible to guarantee an agency is reputable or that it will act ethically.

Generally speaking, a reputable modeling agency stays free from legal troubles, bad press, and consumer complaints. It is clear from conflicts of interest.

How do you go about finding a reputable modeling agency?

One of the problems for aspiring models is most reputable agencies don't advertise. They don't have to. The other problem is bogus agencies do advertise.

This is why many times aspiring models find a bad agency or bogus opportunity before they find a reputable agency. Scam agencies are very aggressive in their scouting; reputable ones are not.

If the reputable agencies don't advertise, and their scouts aren't in the malls every weekend, how are you going to find them?

Who Knows?

To find a reputable modeling agency, ask, "Who knows which modeling agencies are reputable?"

The people who know are the owners of the company, the staff, former employees, the models, the clients, and possibly some photographers.

Basically anyone who has been closely involved with the business, or has an intimate knowledge of their standards and successes.

The company and its staff you obviously can't ask, because there is a conflict of interest, and you are not likely to get an unbiased opinion.

Former employees may be difficult if not impossible to find, although some post comments online.

The models you probably can't ask, either, because you don't know who they are and you can't get their names.

Thus the people you could try to contact are the clients and photographers.

Reputable Photographers

The reputable photographers in your city should know the reputable modeling agencies. They may even have worked for them.

Many people who have lived in a city for a few years have a photographer they trust. These are people who are asked if an agency is reputable. One photographer said he had received 10 calls about one agency in a few days.

As long as the photographer is not in a kickback business relationship with an agency, you could get unbiased recommendations.

Some businesses or clients hire a photographer instead of going to an agency. Then the photographer is responsible for casting models instead of the agency, but the photographer will have to contact and work with the agency to find models.

Photographers who have worked with different agencies in this manner should know which ones are reputable and which aren't.

See if you can get a second opinion by asking more than one successful local photographer for agency recommendations.

Photographers can see a lot of people during the course of their careers, and they have been known to suggest some of them consider a career in modeling.

Photographers, of course, are more qualified than many model scouts to say who is model material, because they know how people photograph, which is what modeling is all about.

Photographers have even been known to send pictures they took to modeling agencies to help their clients get discovered, not because the person asked, or even wanted to model, but because they felt they had potential.

When a boy, girl, man, or woman is photographed for family portraits or personal portraits, and the photographer is impressed by their look, the natural reaction is to suggest, "You could be a model!"

Which agencies have photographers recommended or would they recommend to aspiring models whom they think are model material?

If you don't have a photographer, and you are trying to find one, ask your friends or family for names and numbers. Photographers should be in the phone book just like the agencies.

A number of them who have been around for a long time know about modeling scams and occasionally speak out very strongly against them. (One has a huge website against them.)

Local Agencies

Instead of or as well as contacting reputable photographers, you can find the names of modeling agencies, either in your phone book, online, or from another source, such as a published directory of modeling and talent agencies.

There is at least one directory for the entire United States, and there is also one for just the modeling capital, New York City. They are published annually and for sale by phone and online.

Local newspapers sometimes include the name of the modeling agency beside the name of the photographer below a picture.

Agencies should be listed in the yellow pages, but just because an agency is in the phone book does not mean it is reputable. Never assume a published list, either in the phone book, a book, online, or anywhere else guarantees an agency is legitimate.

Agency License

Once you have found the name of or been told about an agency, the first thing to do is determine if the "agency" is in fact an agency. Does it have a talent agency license? Is the license valid?

Don't assume just because a company has the word "model," "talent," or even "agency" in its name, that it is in fact a talent agency, or that it has a talent agency license.

Aspiring models, their parents, students and even reporters have all made the false assumption a company which had the word "talent" in its name was a talent agency. It was not a talent agency and it did not have a talent agency license.

Some firms may offer to "represent" you, but if they don't have a valid license, they cannot represent you in the true sense of the word, as in getting you work and being paid a commission.

Other firms attempt to make it look as if they are an agency, but they have no legal rights, because they have no talent agency license.

There are also modeling schools which students or their parents assume are modeling agencies. Often these schools are not modeling agencies, however, and they don't have a talent agency license.

There are also websites which are only websites and nothing more. They are not talent agencies, they have no license, and they may not even have a business license.

A website may look as sharp as the website of a modeling agency, or even better, but in the real world it is neither a business nor an agency. It does not exist outside cyberspace.

There is added confusion with the new terms "virtual modeling agency" or "internet modeling agency."

Don't be misled by these terms into believing they have a real-world agency license. Real agencies include the agency license number on their website or they can provide it when asked.

State Regulations

The first and most basic state regulation you should know is if a talent agency license is required. But this is not necessarily enough. In some states there are more regulations which are very specific and designed to protect talent, including prohibiting upfront fees.

Upfront Fees

Many states ban at least some upfront fees or limit them to a few dollars, but whether the state regulations prohibit upfront fees or not, it is widely established in the modeling industry that reputable agencies do not charge upfront fees.

There are different kinds of upfront fees, the most basic of which are registration fees. Others include advertising, modeling classes, and even photos.


Reputable agencies make no money until a model works. All their income is from commissions taken after the models work.

Modeling Classes

"How can you become a model if you don't attend modeling classes?" is a fair question. There are modeling schools, but reputable agencies teach their models free, assuming the responsibility, and avoiding a conflict of interest.

Modeling Photos

"How can you become a model if you don't get photos?" you may ask. "If you are supposed to avoid upfront fees, but you need photos or comp cards..."

You need photos, but you do not need to and you should not pay an agency. There is supposed to be a separation of agency and photographer. You pay the photographer, dealing directly with him or her. Several photographers may be recommended to you, but you don't pay the agency to pay the photographer.

New models who pay the agency instead of the photographer may find out, much to their surprise, the agency marked up the prices.

Reputable modeling agencies make no money from photos, and they do not demand, require, manipulate, or strongly suggest one photographer.

Newspaper and Magazine Advertisements

Katie, an aspiring model, said: "I answered an advert in a local newspaper for a model casting in a hotel."

Sarah Doukas, Managing Director, Storm Model Management, said: "Never, ever respond to an advert you see in a local newspaper or free magazine. Reputable model agencies never advertise for castings."

Hotel Castings

Reputable modeling agencies do not hold mass casting calls in hotels and select huge numbers of people for representation.

Katie, the aspiring model, said: "I queued in a hotel suite for several hours along with lots of other girls."

Sarah Doukas said: "Beware of mass castings in hotel suites. A reputable agency would never do this. Once you've sent us a couple of snapshots, if we think you have potential, we'll invite you into the office for a proper appointment. We wouldn't see you on a 'conveyor-belt' basis!"

Website Exposure

A reputable agency is not going to charge you an upfront website fee. It should be free. The cost of webhosting is next to nothing.

An agency which charges talent for advertising online is probably breaking the law and making money off it in states like New York where it is illegal for models to pay for advertising.

Modeling Conventions

Reputable agencies do not send models to modeling conventions. Modeling conventions are an excuse to avoid the work, effort, and responsibility of promoting the model as a reputable mother agent.

Conventions bribe or pay agencies a commission to send models to their convention. Telling or advising a model to go to a convention is a way for the agent to do nothing and get paid for it.

Model and Talent Scouts

The model scouts of reputable modeling agencies are also bookers. They know whom to scout. They actually work in the industry, have years of experience, and a trained eye. They know what type of models clients book.

Better Business Bureau

Perhaps the most popular way of discerning whether a modeling agency is reputable is by reviewing its BBB record. It is the default place to start checking out a company, and it is now possible to search the BBB records online.

You can also search to see if BBB leaders have been asked and quoted by news reporters. Use a search string with the name of the company (in quotes if necessary) and then BBB or "Better Business Bureau."

BBB leaders do speak out, sometimes boldly, other times conservatively. If the quoted comment is conservative, you may want to call the leader and ask him or her to elaborate. Off the record or during a private phone call you may learn more.

This can help, and in fact it can be enough research to conclude you should avoid the company, but it is not foolproof.

If the BBB record is bad, or "unsatisfactory," it is more likely to be accurate than if there are no complaints, or if it has a favorable rating.

Don't stop your research after reviewing the BBB file. Modeling scam victims have previously said, "I didn't see any complaints at the BBB."

The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to check if an agency or company has any unresolved complaints at the BBB and also the Office of the Attorney General in your state.

Attorney General

It is easy enough to check a company's complaint history at the BBB, because you can do it online, but the Office of the Attorney General, often its Consumer Protection Division, does not make its database public. You have to call or visit to inquire. The contact information for each AG office is online and easily found through a search engine.


After determining if the company has a clean record, or no unresolved complaints, or that it has not done anything bad, find out if it has done anything good. Is it successful?

Can they prove it is successful? Do they throw big names around of movies and movie stars, magazines and supermodels, or do they have the proof to back up cheap talk?

Search Engines

One way of finding agencies is to use search engines and look for a list of talent agencies in your city or state. There are more than a few websites which have listings of model and talent agencies, but these are not always reliable. Some of the websites include a disclaimer about the accuracy or ethics of the companies listed, while others don't.

Several agency listing websites posted the name of a scam talent agency before and months after it was prosecuted and shut down by the Attorney General of Texas.

In that case, consumers were not at risk of being scammed, because the company was no longer in business; the point is agency listings are not reliable. Online agency listings are a fair place to start, but they are never enough.

Client List

A reputable agency which is successful has a client list and tear sheets. They have references you can contact to verify their claims. Avoid the agency which is prepared with excuses instead of references.

Reputable Firms

Reputable firms want to work with reputable agencies. They want professional agents and reliable models. If you contact the firms you think are reputable and ask to speak with their booking agent, you could find the name of the agency or agencies from which their casting director picks talent.

(Don't try to get work directly with the company like this, but it is not unreasonable to show respect for the way things are done and to ask for the name of the agency they contact whenever they need models.)

Tear Sheets

There have been too many people scammed by an agency or company they thought was reputable because they did not ask to see tear sheets, and instead simply went on what they were told. Talk is cheap.

News Reports

The leaders of reputable agencies are contacted by reporters when they are doing a story on models. Leaders of bogus agencies, on the other hand, are targeted by the local media.

Search online for published news reports, and contact local stations to ask if they have previously done a story on the company. Some local news stations include a summary of their story on their website, but it does not always stay online, and you may need to use the Google cache.