How to make it as a celebrity talent manager

For some it's a dream job, but talent management isn't all poolside cocktails and awards ceremonies.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2017

Making it as a well-known sports star, musician or TV personality may sound glamorous, but it comes with its downsides: the lack of privacy, not knowing if you can trust your friends, fear of falling out of fame. But even if you’re tone deaf, are useless with a tennis racquet and don’t want the press pouring over your private life, it doesn’t mean you can’t work in showbiz.

Enter the talent management agency. They’re primarily responsible for helping their clients develop their personal brand and land work. And not just any old work – the kind of work that’s going to improve or at least maintain their reputation, as well as making them some cash (you don’t want to be the manager that pitches Viagra adverts to Idris Elba – no matter how much Pfizer is willing to stump up).

Of course there are only so many slebs to go around, so it’s a seriously tough industry to get into. Here’s how you can maximise your chances.

The qualities you need

It’s all about attitude, says Richard Thompson, the founder and chairman of M&C Saatchi Merlin, a top talent management company that represents the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Andrew Flintoff and David Gandy.

‘They’ve got to be great people people, they’ve got to be able to get on with a variety of personalities, and be very personable. If you haven’t got that basic ability to get on and be likable then you won’t get past first base.’

‘Tenacity is very important,’ he adds. ‘It’s about spotting an opportunity and thinking god, that’s brilliant. Seeing that thing that David Gandy could do and working out that little piece of yin and yang where 1+1 can equal 3.’

How to break in

‘It’s not really an industry where you can just go, "I’m going into talent management,"’ says Thompson. A decent network and knowledge of your particular field are vital.

‘I would start with PR and use that as a way in. You will meet talent that way because most brands will use talent some way in a launch or a PR campaign.’ Alternatively you could go and work for a media production company or a governing body like the FA. ‘Once you’ve done that for a couple of years it means you’ve really got to understand that sector well, what makes it tick and who the contacts are.’

Who to work for

Top celebrities don’t want to feel like just any other customer of some big corporate machine, so talent management agencies tend to have a boutique feel. There are hundreds of agencies out there but aside from M&C Saatchi Merlin, some of the most notable names are: Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment (which manages the likes of Andy Murray, the Beckhams and Geri Halliwell), James Grant Group (Ant & Dec, Tom Daley, Richard & Judy) and Kruger Cowne (John Cleese, Bob Geldof and Michael McIntyre). Then there are specialists in sports or music – such as Modest! (One Direction, Olly Murs). Most are based in London.

What you’ll earn

Pay varies massively depending on the company you work for and the calibre of its clients. According to the National Careers Service, starter salaries can be as low as £15,000, rising to £30,000+ for those with experience and £100,000+ for veterans with very high profile clients. If you start your own agency then the sky’s the limit. But be warned you will need great negotiation skills, and a pretty thick skin to cope with all those high-maintenance clients.

Finally, if you want to know how not to behave, just take a look at Darren Lamb, Stephen Merchant’s hapless character in Extras: 

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