Modeling Conventions

In the book, The Wilhelmina Guide to Modeling, under a section entitled "Model Beware," Sean Patterson, an agent in the Men's Division of Wilhelmina, one of the top modeling agencies, warned against modeling conventions:

If there was one thing I could change about the industry it would be to institute a more rigid policing of the model conventions that are being held all over the country.
You see, the people who run these hotel conventions charge registration and attendance fees anywhere from $300 to $1,500 to young guys and girls who want to be models.
And what they do is, they invite one agent from this agency and one agent from that agency, and they offer these agents an all-expenses-paid trip to the host city -- give them a stipend of $150-$200 for the day. It's a free trip for these agents.
Now the advertisements go up -- ads luring aspiring models by saying that there will be in attendance agents from Wilhelmina, Elite, Ford -- European agencies too.
So these young people, mostly girls, pay these fees to the conventioneers, who clean up.
And there is usually no process of preselection. Anybody, regardless of ability or potential, can attend, if they pay the fee.

Natasha Esch, then president of Wilhelmina, and author of the book, The Wilhelmina Guide to Modeling, followed the agent's warning with her own comments:

As somebody who grew up not having a lot of money, I know what it feels like to put pressure on your parents to come up with the money for something that they really can't afford.
So I bet that at most of these conventions at least a segment of the group attending are spending money they don't have to spend, money that could be invested, say, in school tuition.
At the same time, many of these young people don't have a chance of ever becoming a successful model or a model at all. So it becomes a total waste.
Furthermore, contacts made at conventions can lead to further rip-offs -- out-of-work photographers flock to these conventions and approach young hopefuls:
"Let's do a test on you. Let's spend $300 to $500 to start you off with a portfolio of professional pictures!"
And it is generating huge amounts of cash for people who aren't going to do anything for these young women's and men's careers.
This sort of setup does not belong in the modeling industry. It serves no purpose to the industry.
Rather, it is an industry unto itself, one that preys on teenagers hoping to become models and parents who want to please them.
I guess I'm asking for a little more care, a little more honesty.
If you really want to be a model and give it a shot, contact an agency in your hometown, or a major agency in a larger city, and send snapshots.

Modeling conventions can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. They can be very expensive. Modeling conventions, indeed, can be the most expensive way of getting discovered.

The highest prices lead some to conclude modeling conventions are the biggest modeling scams.


Basic modeling scams such as modeling photo scams typically set consumers back $500 - $1,000, whereas modeling conventions can cost $5,000 - $10,000. Despite the fact the financial risk of modeling conventions can be as high as 10 to 20 times greater than other modeling options for beginners, the media has done little reporting and even less investigating.

One short report by the New York Post, however, "Wannabe Stars Pay The Price," sheds light on one of the most significant issues about modeling conventions which most people do not know: modeling agencies make a commission from models and aspiring models whom they encourage to attend.

The NY Post reported insider information about IMTA, the most expensive convention: "One former IMTA employee said the Phoenix-based business offers commissions for modeling-school agents, encouraging them to bring in candidates."

The Better Business Bureau in New York has also lifted the lid and exposed the industry secret of split fees in the case of Tomorrow Talent:

This company has stated that it works solely on commission and does not charge its clients any advance fees, as disreputable firms do. However, this firm advertises and collects thousands of dollars in advance fees for a modeling-acting convention in California. The cost of this convention is $5,000 per person and Tommorrow Talent does receive a commission from each attendee.

It is the same racket at modeling schools as it is at modeling agencies. Modeling school "agents" talk students into signing up for modeling conventions, again, because they get a commission.

Many students or their parents who know little about the modeling industry are talked into spending thousands of dollars to fly to and attend conventions without ever suspecting the true motivation of the school leaders.

Unfortunately, the modeling agencies do not disclose what is in it for them. The models and their parents misplace their trust in the agencies and assume they are being advised to spend thousands of dollars to attend a modeling convention because it is just a "good idea," it will be "good for their career," their chances of being "discovered" are high.

Obviously, when so clear a financial conflict of interest exists, agencies are encouraged to deceive potential models to shell out for the expensive convention. The deception can take various forms, including the claim the person has been "selected" to attend the convention.

Views of Leaders

Supermodel Cindy Crawford said this about one modeling convention: "I never attended a modeling convention so I wouldn't know. Just be careful -- those groups are definitely trying to make money first and foremost. Yes, there are some agents there, but the name of the game is to get as many young hopefuls there so they can cash in!"

Katie Ford, President of Ford Models, said: "I don't believe that a scouting service should cost thousands of dollars and ask that you travel long distance in order to meet with them."

Rhonda Hudson, President of The Models Guild, has said modeling conventions can be fun and a way to meet new people, but they are probably not the best use of finances.

She preceded her caution by saying: "Modeling conventions often advertise as the best way to get exposure to the modeling industry and the best way into the modeling business."

Referring specifically to IMTA, she said: "All of these kids go there and are convinced that they'll be the next superstar, and they come back with nothing."

The Modeling Convention Sales Pitch

Modeling convention advertising typically uses the following sales pitch.

The cost of traveling to and staying in major cities in order to meet top modeling agents is thousands of dollars. Instead of paying thousands of dollars on travel and accommodations, going to see the agents, we will bring the agents to you. This will save you money.

Modeling conventions have been called modeling scams. But it may not be the conventions themselves that are the scams or where the scam happens.

Modeling conventions, after all, usually deliver what they promise. The modeling scouts and modeling agents whom the convention organizers said would be present do actually show up. The convention does include everything on the published convention schedule.

Where scams happen it is usually before the convention, often long before it starts. It is in the scouting.

One criticism of modeling conventions by those who believe they are scams is the organizers select people to pay and attend whom they know will never get selected by top agencies. How is that not a scam?

Conflict of Interest

The basic problem with organizers of modeling conventions is a significant conflict of interest. They are paid by the number of people they recruit, not by the number of models who get work or the amount of work models get.

No Show

There are modeling conventions which advertise agents from top agencies will attend, but they never show.

This can be because they were never going to show up and had in fact never been invited, or they had travel problems.

The mother of a young aspiring model who attended a modeling convention after paying $3,000 wrote and said: "Only half the agents showed (supposedly because of travel problems)."

Huge Gamble, Instant Loss

Expensive modeling conventions are like huge gambling casinos. Once the game is over and you lost, it was a huge, instant loss. You leave with nothing. After going to a convention you can leave with nothing to show for all your money.

This can leave people very upset. The mother who paid $3,000 for a modeling convention went on to say: "After the runway shows most of the mothers were yelling and screaming, because their girls only got two callbacks."

Liberal Scouting

Tear Sheet magazine has warned aspiring models of liberal scouting:

Beware: An invitation to the event does not necessarily mean you have what it takes; it just means you might have what it takes. These companies aren't going to parade a bunch of dogs in front of the agency scouts, but they're also not going to make any money if they only invite people who look like they walked straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad.

Brian Marcus, President of Proscout, said: "People who don't have potential should be told that before their parents mortgage their homes to spend money on events that will lead nowhere."

The problem is there is so much money involved and no police to monitor the screening.

Hidden Costs

Did you ever wonder why modeling conventions do not tell you the total cost up front? In person or on their websites?

The total cost of a convention can be 3x the convention itself. This website received a letter from someone who attended a $1,795 convention, and reported after adding up all the expenses (travel, food, accommodation, etc.), the total cost was $5,000 or more.

Success Rate

The success rate of modeling conventions is evidently nothing to boast about. Do they publish the numbers in their advertising? Do they include it on their website? Is it in their FAQ?

Model Search America, for example, warns consumers through its BBB record their failure rate was as high as 80-90%.

The President of AMTC (Millie Lewis) warned consumers in a letter to this website the Millie Lewis convention failure rate (the last time they checked) was about 70%.

Why can't organizers of modeling conventions announce who is discovered at a modeling convention after it is over?

Is it because so few people are discovered?

Why don't they post the name(s) of the model(s) who received an offer of representation from a top New York modeling agency?

Is there any loss to the New York agencies by posting the names and faces? Is there any benefit to the model? Is there any benefit to the convention company?

There is no loss to the agencies. In fact it could boost the advertising of the model for them. The model clearly benefits from the advertising. And the convention company will obviously benefit from the advertising because it shows prospective models the convention reached its objective of helping models get offered representation from a top agency.

Modeling conventions are like beauty contests. Except with the conventions the models are competing to win a contract instead of a crown.

Imagine having a beauty contest where they did not announce the winner. Why don't the conventions announce the winner? Who was offered representation by a NY agency?

Modeling conventions talk about call backs. Parents, however, do not pay $5,000 for call backs. Call backs are not the standard or definition of success.

Is the definition of a modeling convention's success not the number of people who sign with, or who are offered representation by, a modeling agency?

You can't let a modeling convention define success on its own terms. If you are the one who is paying, success must be defined on your terms.

Once you have decided the acceptable definition of success for $5,000 or whatever, demand information about previous success on those terms.

Make your decision about a modeling convention with the information you need, not the information the money-makers want to give you.

The two most basic things you need to know are often somehow left out of the modeling convention advertising: the total cost and the success rate.

Don't seriously consider being discovered at a modeling convention until you discover how much it will cost and your chances of success.

One of the biggest problems with modeling convention advertising is not what they tell you: it is what they do not tell you.

And the problem is not just what they don't tell you: it is what they don't do.

What They Don't Do

People who are scouted by modeling convention scouts are not screened by modeling agencies BEFORE the convention. This, frankly, is totally ridiculous. It is also incredible that the parents would accept it.

One of the national scouting companies boasts about its experience in the modeling industry. One of the company's leaders was a modeling agent with more than eight years of experience. But modeling agents know DAMN WELL their clients ask for comp cards before they ask to see the model.

Why are the pictures of aspiring models whom convention scouts recruit not sent to and screened by top New York agencies whose agents are going to attend the convention BEFORE they go to the modeling convention?!

What's wrong with this picture?

Are the pictures not sent to the agencies IN ADVANCE because the agencies would tell the convention organizers they did not want to see the aspiring models, and then the aspiring models would NOT PAY to attend the convention?

The basic concept of a modeling convention is not inherently wrong.

The idea of bringing agents of top agencies to aspiring models who live in remote parts of the country, and cannot easily get to top agencies and attend their free open calls, is not a totally unreasonable idea -- IF and ONLY IF -- the aspiring models are first screened by the top agencies.

Top agencies let aspiring models mail in their pictures. This is how it works. If the agency is then interested in the model's pictures, they will ask to see the model. The model can then fly to NY and meet the agency, or visit the office of the agency in another state, or visit the office in their state, even their city. (Top agencies have offices in several states, basically all the major modeling markets.)

It is the same as it was earlier noted with clients of the modeling agencies. They ask to see the picture of the model (comp card) BEFORE they ask to see the model in PERSON (go-see).

Why? It should be pretty obvious. If they are not interested in the photo of the model, they are not going to be interested in the model. If they are not going to be interested in the model, they are not going to waste their time or the model's time overlooking the comp card and scheduling a go see.

The stupidity/corruption of the current modeling convention system was effectively hammered home by two letters sent to this website.

The first letter was the story of a mother who wanted to take her daughter to a modeling convention. Due to the extreme expense, she wanted to make sure the agencies who were advertised as going to attend the convention would in fact attend. So she called Elite in New York.

Elite in New York said they would attend, but they also told the mother she could mail the picture of her daughter directly to them.

Aha! Moment

Why not send the picture of the daughter to New York, and ask them if they want to see her (in person)?

If they want to see her, go to the convention. If they don't want to see her in person, don't go to the convention.

The second letter which uprooted the modeling conventions was also sent by a mother. Except in this case, she had already attended the convention.

Near the end of the convention, due to a scheduling conflict, the mother was forced to leave early. Because she left early, her daughter did not get to attend the convention's call back event at which she would be seen by top agents.

However, the mother had the presence of mind to leave pictures of her daughter with another mother to give to the top agents.

Since the photos were going to be handed over in person, you had to wonder how different this would have been if they were sent by Fedex or regular mail.

It turns out all of the aspiring models gave pictures to the agents -- even those who attended the call back event. They all had comp cards taken beforehand, and they were ready to hand deliver their pictures to the agents.

Which begged the question: Why were these comp cards not sent to the top agents who were going to attend the convention BEFORE the convention, so they could be VIEWED, so most mothers would not waste hundreds or thousands of dollars plus their time!?

Modeling agencies would not put up with this sort of thing. If their own scouts noticed a girl and wanted to submit her as a potential model, the agency owner would not automatically fly her into town at the agency's expense, or even at her parents' expense.

The owner would first ask to see a picture, or several pictures. If they approved of the picture(s) and saw great potential, then they would ask to see the model in person. The potential model would first be screened by photographs.

Call Backs

Modeling convention advertising has previously noted call back rates. You can see high numbers for their low success standards. The number of call backs is a self-made performance yardstick.

A call back is basically a second "audition." In the context of modeling, it means the aspiring model has created interest. When an agent or agency expresses an interest, they ask to see the potential model a second time, and there you have a "call back."

If modeling conventions were screened by modeling agencies, everyone who attended would be getting call backs. In fact the modeling convention itself would be the Call Back Day!

If you are thinking of taking your son or daughter to a modeling convention, first demand the convention organizers submit decent (but not professional) photos of your child to the top agencies.


When the screeners are themselves screened, the conflict of interest will be checked and balanced, and you are much less likely to waste your money by going to, as one model scouting firm leader called them, "events that will lead nowhere."

Select Model Agent Review Technique (SMART)

Wannabe Stars Pay The Price