Greg Chan on Demystifying The Mother Agency Route

Starting off in the modeling industry as a budding model can be bewildering and often challenging to navigate without the right guidance and mother agent rooting for your ascendance. Longtime top male model agent, Greg Chan sought out to demystify the mother agency route for up-and-coming models with his new platform, The Mother Agents. After a dwindling, tumultuous past year, and a wake-up call conversation with a friend, he began to seek a long-lasting legacy to pay it forward for others in the industry. What started as an Instagram post asking aspiring models to email him their questions and challenges, generated into a resource for model talents to find legitimate and high-level industry verified mother agents. Models.com spoke to Greg Chan about red flags to look out for when signing with a mother agency, the increased exposure of talents in lesser-known markets from the Midwest to the Middle East, and advice/questions on how to vet a mother agency.

Edited by Betty Sze and Anire Ikomi

With 25 years of experience as an agent, what are the top mistakes that you’ve seen models make when hiring a new mother agency?
I don’t know if models make a mistake per se choosing a mother agent because most models just say yes to the one that finds them but maybe not knowing enough to ask the right questions or checking them out. Most kids today don’t know what a mother agent is which is why a lot of kids end up at modeling schools first. It’s important to ask questions like “what does this mean, do I have to pay anything, do I have to sign anything, is the contract negotiable, what kind of models do you represent, what kind of work do they do, where can I see them, where can I find out more about you?” These are all relevant and legitimate questions to ask because while there are a lot of great mother agents out there, there are still some that operate within a control, fear-based relationship which isn’t right. The kids have no idea what the concept is so they don’t know how to vet properly.

What should aspiring models be on the lookout for when hiring a mother agent?
They should be looking at mother agents that have a quality experience with other young talents like themselves, ties to big-name agencies and markets that they place their models with, and be able to provide referrals from those agencies. The agencies should have a consistent brand across multiple social media platforms to show a professional acumen and ideally a reputable reputation that is publicly researchable. Most of all the talent should feel comfortable with them. At the of the day, the mother agent will be your manager. So when your agencies in different markets are arguing over bookings you want to be able to confide in your mother agent on how you feel and know that your mother agent is putting your best interest first in the final decision. If you are intimidated or uncomfortable speaking with your mother agent, then it creates a disservice to you.

Are there any red flags that one should look out for in a Mother Agent?
Yes but the hard thing is often a model won’t see these things until after agreements or contracts are signed. A model should choose a smaller, local mother agent for the intimate manager relationship but if they don’t feel backed up, listened to, or protected then what’s the point? You can also be successfully mother agented by a big agency as well. As a New York agent, we mother agent a large number of our models. I hear stories of smaller management firms mismanaging their talent, using abusive fear-based tactics of control, or even pressuring talent to go out to parties. Some send their models overseas to larger markets without supervision or chaperones and expose them to potentially dangerous situations. Anything that makes you feel uncomfortable with the relationship is a red flag. A mother agent can be tied to legitimate work but not necessarily a good reputation. Any relationship that they are making money off of you other than the commission they take from you for work they procure for you needs to be looked at.

What are the common misconceptions of Mother Agents?
I think the only misconception is that a mother agent isn’t really an agent as much of a manager. They aren’t booking jobs on a day-to-day basis. Some do here and there locally or in between jobs that come in but it’s predominantly scouting, developing, placing, and managing. They identify the best markets for the models then sign and place them there. The agencies book them in those markets while the mother agent oversees and manages all of it, as well as the wellbeing of the talent in relationship to their agencies, work, and career.

In smaller markets like the Midwest, why are mother agents vital for a model’s success?
The average kid that wants to model has a 90%+ chance of ending up at a modeling school. There are some fantastic school directors with great eyes out there but there’s a still higher chance that they could end up at a school where the kid may get lost in expensive courses, in a school unable to discern their true potential, losing a lot of time and money. A great mother agent can identify potential more efficiently and get them to the right place, at less cost. Every agency, school, and mother agency is unique and has its own situation but a mother agent’s agenda tends to be more focused on placing them in the right markets rather than making money off of classes as an end game.

I just love the idea of more scouts and mother agents worldwide with great, developed eyes and high characters that are introducing extraordinary faces from places in the middle of nowhere whether it’s the Midwest to the Middle East to the frontlines of Paris, Milan, London, and New York. Cara Taylor was found in Huntsville, AL by Onyx. Brigette Mitchell of Finesse found Lily Nova and Akiima in Adelaide, Australia! These are small towns! Small countries under the radar are making a huge fashion impact. Look at the Latvian models coming from The Bro models putting Latvia on the map! What about countries where it’s harder to make a decent living? Look at what Saint International is doing with the Jamaican models. Look at all the beautiful models coming out of Senegal and Nigeria right now, but you have to navigate through a lot of corruption and even sex trafficking. It’s really important for these young kids to be able to know who they can trust.

What led you to create ‘The Mother Agents’ platform?
In my 25 years as an agent, I had never seen the business slow down as it has in the past 9 months due to COVID-19 so I had extra time on my hands. I had a really heartbreaking personal year in 2020 so, to be honest, I was pretty raw and needed a different lens to look through. One of my dearest friends in the world, an agent in Australia said something to me one day that pissed me off, “…as great of an agent that you are Greg Chan you will be forgotten one day.” I was so mad at her at first, but then a week later I realized she was right. We all will be and I realized that there is still so much more to give that doesn’t have to do with your own success. So I started to think of creative ways to give back that had less to do with me and more to do with others and what I could possibly give to the business that might survive after I’m no longer an agent. One day I created an Instagram post giving my personal email address asking kids, models, and aspiring models to email me with their questions, struggles, and challenges so I could hear what was going on out there, see what kids were looking for, and give them advice. It said “ASK ME ANYTHING” and it was wild, as I’ve been getting more emails than Santa Claus getting toy lists.

Ask A Model Agent has grown tremendously into an educational giveback program and consulting service for models of all levels. I have spoken to almost 600 models on the phone now and have discovered 9/10 kids who want to model that are either doing it wrong or getting scammed. I continued to think about the disconnect and it occurred to me not only have mother agents become such an integral part of our business but that most kids out there don’t even know what a mother agent is. We in the fashion community do, and we know all the names like Jeff and Mary at Mother Models or what Ginny Maxwell did at AMAX but the average kid doesn’t. Even if they do, they have no idea how to find them because mother agents are not household names. As a top agent in New York, I know the difference between a mother agent that just wants to collect commission and one that works their ass off, taking calls in the middle of the night to get their talent to the right place.

What do you hope aspiring models can take away from ‘The Mother Agents’?
I hope we can begin to educate the kids and teach them how things are evolving so they can achieve their goals without all the muck. The Mother Agents is a place with credible mother agents and has become such an important piece of the process. Twenty years from now, I truly hope The Mother Agents will end up being another measure of credibility for legitimate mother agencies that produce great work, and I will do everything I can to uphold it with the highest image.

What advice would you give to newer talents starting off in the industry?
It’s not in young kids’ nature to ask questions because they get so excited about the idea of fame but you have to. Asking questions like “Who are you? Who do you work with? Who are you associated with? Can I speak to them?” Especially ask questions in regards to paying any sort of money because paying upfront is always a red flag. You should never have to pay money to be part of an agency or to be promoted to brands. Finally, models tend to get categorized in this business. They get rejected and they don’t know why. The question isn’t “can I model” as much as “where do I fit into the modeling space?” Take the time to ask people to help you identify where you fit into modeling.