After twelve years as a much-loved agent representing hair, make up and stylists at Koko Represents and ArtMix Beauty, Aubri Balk has launched her own agency, Aubri Balk Artist Management, and within six months built a bi-coastal agency and signed top talent in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

I was interested in talking with Aubri about the unique vision for her agency, the differences in the NY, LA and SF markets, the value of working with an agency and the changes ahead for the role of the agent. And of course in posting some amazing images of work done by some of her artists.

Wardrobe Styling: Laura Zanotti

I was referred to Aubri by Nissa Quanstrom whom is a previous POP interviewee and who is also represented by Aubri. She said Aubri was smart, very nice and exceedingly professional and had a lot of insight into the business that POP readers would find interesting. Each time her name came up in conversation as someone I was going to interview, the response was the same: that she was very nice and highly respected and would make a great interviewee. So I was quite excited when she said yes and I got to work with someone who is passionate about what they do, is breaking new ground with the way she has structured her agency and who is very committed to the artists she represents. A very big thank you to Aubri for her time and for sharing so much of her artist’s work with POP.   

POP: What is your background and what led to you becoming an artist rep?

After graduating from college with a fine art degree in Sculpture and Art History I decided to follow my love of photography.  It actually led to my first position in the industry as a studio manager.  One day the photographer’s agent called and mentioned she needed someone for her office.  Intrigued, I went in for an interview and knew right away that I had to be a part of what was happening there.

I ended up staying for eight years. I was so excited to have found a creative environment that also had a sensible business application, particularly coming from a fine arts background. I happened to have the right set of skills, interests and fortitude to make a career for myself. I felt so lucky to have stumbled upon that whole world since I wouldn’t have known how to seek it out on my own.   That was a big lesson for me, to always follow what you love as you never know what you might find along the way.

Hair & Make Up: Alisha Meek for Geo Girl/Photography: Stephanie Rausser

For full interview, please click on link below.

POP: What do you like about your job?

I love being a part of growing an artist’s career. I love connecting the dots between artists and clients and finding that perfect fit. I love going after new business for my artists and getting it. And I love creating and developing those vital relationships that help an artists career flourish.

Wardrobe Styling: Maggie Hong for New Balance/Photographer: Peter Z. Jones

POP:  You recently started your own business. What motivated you to take this step?

Yes, I started my own agency just 6 months ago. After eleven years of being an agent first for photographers and then for hair, make up and styling artists I was ready to go out on my own. I realized it was finally time for me to follow and mold my own vision for an agency. I wanted the freedom to create a company that fit my values. This industry is filled with an entrepreneurial spirit and I felt it was time I fully exercised my own.

POP: What is a typical day for you?

The typical day is long and full. I usually start with a few meetings whether it’s meeting a potential artist or catching up with a client. I then quickly move on to what I feel is my main focus, going after new business. I do a great deal of prospecting and research and development. I send e-mails, make calls, create promos, post to the blog and in between book jobs, chase down details artists need for upcoming shoots or support them in other ways necessary for their assignments and careers. Then of course there are web updates, bookkeeping, invoicing, and all the other administrative details of running a business.

Prop Styling: Nissa Quanstrom/Photography: Sherry Heck

POP: In the time you’ve been a rep, how has your role changed or the business transformed?

When I started in the business in April 2000 we used Rolodex cards and paper calendars. We had a website but barely used it for promotions and e-mail was relatively unheard of, at least at that company.  We were still sending out portfolios for every client review. In the short span of time between then and now so much of this has changed.  There are now multiple ways for a client to stay in touch via Facebook, Twitter, E-mail, Text, IM, etc.  You used to have to be strapped to a phone in a room. Now  I have the flexibility to work from San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York, wherever my presence can do the most good for my artists while still maintaining complete contact in the other markets. I love this flexibility after spending so many years in the same room at the same desk.

Hair: Song Hee

POP: How has the value of what a rep has to offer changed in light of these technological developments?

Although communication and accessibility have improved, it hasn’t changed the nature of the relationships involved. What’s of greatest value between myself and the artists I represent, is our partnership. We’re a team. I talk or e-mail with most every artist I represent every day at least once if not multiple times. We communicate, brainstorm, dream, and collaborate for the end goal of growing a great career.

For the relationship to be successful we both must give 100%. There’s no great secret to what any of us are doing, it’s all about passion, patience and persistence. The key here is being patient as it takes time to develop relationships and build a great career. And along the way, the value of having a teammate, someone on your side, someone to turn to and say “hey, what do you think?” or “Dear God you won’t believe what happened!“ or “Help!” That is huge.

Hair & Make Up : Renee Loiz/Wardrobe Styling: Laura Zanotti

POP: What’s the benefit of an artist having an agent in this day and age?

A few things come to mind immediately: collaboration, teamwork, support, encouragement, guidance, building marketability, perspective, experience, vision and most importantly, an advocate and a negotiator.  If there are billing issues or other concerns, it is usually much more comfortable for both the artist and the client to deal with an agent so they can have a successful and smooth collaboration on-set.

Styling: Yael Gitai/Hair & Make Up: Flora Kay for NEO2

POP: What’s different about what you’re doing?

I’m focused on fitting the artist with the project based on the artist’s strengths and the client’s needs regardless of geography. During the past few years the artists I’ve represented have traveled between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco for their assignments. I’ve structured my rosters to cross-pollinate the markets since there is so much fluidity between them for clients and projects and many of the artists I represent want access to opportunities beyond just the one city where they may be based.

Prop Styling: Jaimi Holker/Wardrobe Styling: Yael Gitai for NY Times Magazine

Set Design: Sonja Kroop for Flaunt Magazine

POP: What are the differences between the San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles markets that stand out most to you?

There are some obvious differences.  For instance, New York is more fashion focused while LA has tremendous celebrity opportunities and San Francisco is driven by catalog and advertising. A major benefit to the New York market is opportunity, which is definitely unmatched. In New York it is not unheard of to command high day rates for certain projects. Since San Francisco has a more mainstream clientele it’s averages tend to be lower. San Francisco definitely suffered the most during the economic collapse and still seems to be recovering from those losses. Some clients are still doing what they can to lower costs from aggressive competitive bidding to cutting out agency fees, or even combining positions so that one artist does props, wardrobe and sometimes even hair & make up without any assistance. It’s unfortunate to see this happening but in time I think we can restore things. In the meantime we are all working harder than ever.

Hair & Make up: BRYNN.DOERING for Ritz Carlton Magazine/Photographer: Emily Nathan

POP: With the economy beginning to recover after the 2008 collapse where do you see the industry heading and how do you see your role changing?

It’s tough to say as some days it seems to be a bit of a free for all. With improved accessibility this does mean that some artists are looking for different levels of partnership with an agent so I’m beginning to scale my services to match the changing landscape. For my clients I see expanding to offer a broader range of services. I’m quite often asked for resources in different cities, whether it’s for an art director, producer, casting agent, assistant, digi tech, caterer, etc.  I plan on continuously expanding my network so that I have all the necessary resources for as many client requests as possible.

One Response to “Q&A with Rep AUBRI BALK”

  1. It seems even though Ms. Balk is on the cutting edge (and she is) she is making success the old fashioned way by paying her dues and working extremely hard. She’s still “beating the pavement”, not with leather shoes but with virtual tools. She seems to be a “people first” type of business person and that is refreshing to see when so many are out to exploit in the current work environment. You can tell she really cares about the artists she works with. I hope they know how lucky the are to have her in their corner.

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