Although I didn't realize it at the time, working at WME-IMG (formerly William Morris Agency) right after college gave me much more than just a job: It was a solid foundation to a nearly 2-decade career in Hollywood. No matter what industry you want to work in, working for the biggest, most reputable company when you first graduate will give you a solid footing in your industry of choice. Here, then, are the top 5 things I learned from my first job working at one of the world's largest talent agencies:
1. Think Big
When you work at a big agency, you're exposed to really impressive industry leaders, projects, and businesses. This exposure teaches you that nothing is impossible. I was one of the handful of agents who signed Ryan Seacrest when he was 26-years old and working as a DJ in Los Angeles. I remember Ryan expressing his ambitious vision in our first meeting. I was next to the most junior person in the room and wasn't sure how we could really do that. Fortunately, the more senior agents in the room knew what to do and everyone in that room played a part. It sure looks like Ryan has achieved everything he set out to do that day so many years ago! There is no idea too big that can't be achieved without clear vision, talent, and the right team to carry it out. I have witnessed the makings of stars and know anything is possible.
2. Big Bucks Can Be Found In Less Obvious Places
"Jim Carrey may be the name on the marquee, but Drew Carey keeps the lights on," was an expression I often heard. Although it's a dated reference, it still holds true. Film stars have a lot of cache and you want them as clients, but the reality was that TV stars were the ones pulling in the big dollars on a consistent basis. And they made even more money when the shows were sold into syndication! Even less obvious were the TV personalities like Regis Philbin, Montel Williams, Kelly Ripa, Emeril Legasse, Judge Judy, Rosie O'Donnell, and Oprah, who were/are major money makers and didn't get their cash from the film business. Nobody really thinks of a daytime talk show as a place to make money, but it is possible because when you hit, you hit BIG!
3. Your Strength Is In Your Relationships
If content is king, then his queen is your personal network. The art of making meaningful connections will serve you for an entire career. When you start in a big pond you are introduced to influential people before they are influential. Big companies hire the best and the brightest right out of school. When you are just starting out, you can get access to the next crop of successful executives in the mailroom or on other assistant desks when the playing field is level. Get to know people you genuinely like and respect. Some of my past colleagues/peers have gone on to be network presidents, studio heads, presidents of production companies, digital moguls, showrunners, CEOs, etc. All of us were assistants at one time or another. We have a shared history and I know those people can count on me when they need me and vice versa. It's nice to know people "way back when." It's less intimidating to make a call to a VIP when you have known her for a decade or more.
4. Instinct Matters
Many people forget the big show that put the Bravo network on the map was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I was an agent when that show became a cultural phenomenon. I'll never forget wanting to sign a client (we'll call him Marcus) who was asked to be one of the Five "queer eye" experts for the show when it was in development. He turned down the job, they cast someone else, and the show went on to be a BIG hit without "Marcus." I figured if he was good enough to be chosen he'd be great for our roster and we could easily get him another show.
During our staff meeting, I pitched "Marcus" to the group as someone we should sign. My boss shot it down immediately. Puzzled, I asked why. His answer was succinct: "Marcus has bad instincts; he turned down a show that could have made his career." My boss had made hundreds of millions of dollars for his clients over the years and I would most certainly trust his judgement. He didn't want to waste time with someone who couldn't seize an opportunity when it was right in front of him.
5. There Is No "I" In Team
I realized that we all have a part to play on a team. Whether it's a coach, quarterback, on-field, or on the bench supporting, nobody ever makes it entirely on his or her own. A big agency consists of lots of teams, and if you are there for a decent amount of time you can play in a variety of positions. Learn from the best so that one day you can lead the best. Not one single person can take credit for a star, hit TV show, film or digital series: it is a team that ultimately gets the job done.