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This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Sorting through the alphabet soup of Hollywood’s ever-expanding Agency World can be a daunting task. Who’s up and who’s down can change at any given moment with the successful poaching of a client or rep, or through an M&A transaction that only time will prove to be fortuitous or disastrous. In this hotbed of competition, the truth is that each of the town’s current majors has pursued a slightly different strategy of growth, which has resulted in a diverse lineup of agencies, each with its own strengths:
Size: 3,400 clients; 325 employees (210 agents, 15 managing partners); offices in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville
Origin story: Founded in 1962 by former MCA agents David Baumgarten, Roger Vorce and Harvey Litwin.
Ownership: Privately owned
Leadership: President and CEO Jim Gosnell
Signature clients: Gary Oldman, Gina Rodriguez and Wesley Snipes. In comedy touring: Louis C.K., Amy Schumer and Kevin Hart
Recent moves: It’s come a long way from Ari Gold’s “Who invited APA?” joke on Entourage to become one of the town’s largest agencies. Without A-list film stars, the Beverly Hills-based firm has carved a specialty in stand-up comedy touring (Aziz Ansari, Kate McKinnon and Bill Burr) and the increasingly lucrative licensing and endorsements space under the agency’s youngest partner, Brian Dow — the Kardashians and Bethenny Frankel made their considerable fortunes there before jumping to WME and CAA, respectively. Television stars (Jane the Virgin‘s Rodriguez, Uzo Aduba of Orange Is the New Black) pepper the client list, but most up-and-comers leave for the bigger shops when they taste fame. Looking for another way to distinguish itself, in August 2013, the agency created a physical production department by importing agents Jay Gilbert and Gil Harari from Paradigm (which shuttered that agency’s unit) and hiring nearly the entire staff of below-the-line specialist Montana Artists Agency (which subsequently closed) three months later.
Size: About 5,000 clients; 1,500+ employees; 11 offices worldwide, including in China
Origin story: Founded in 1975 by William Morris agents Mike Rosenfeld, Michael Ovitz, Ron Meyer, Bill Haber and Rowland Perkins.
Majority owner: TPG Capital, which upped its stake to 52 percent in October 2014
Leadership: Managing partners Kevin Huvane, Steve Lafferty, Rob Light, Bryan Lourd, Richard Lovett (president), David O’Connor and Michael Rubel
Signature clients: Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Lawrence, Matthew McConaughey, Melissa McCarthy and Peyton Manning
Recent moves: The home of the A-list movie star increasingly has become diversified. In 2006, CAA launched CAA Sports, luring a quartet of agents who brought MLB’s Derek Jeter and the NHL’s Sidney Crosby to a division that now reps more than 1,000 athletes (though a partnership with Jay Z‘s sports division recently ended). In 2008, CAA became the largest minority shareholder in Evolution Media Capital, whose investment arm has backed Fred Segal, Fender and startup Scopely. But CAA’s most transformative move was aligning with private-equity firm TPG Capital. In 2010, TPG took a 35 percent stake in CAA for $166 million, according to an internal document, and in October it became majority owner for an additional $75 million. It’s an open secret that TPG would like to go public, which would make CAA top brass — but not its rank-and-file agents — very rich. That fact likely contributed to the recent exit of a dozen comedy agents to UTA.
Size: About 2,000 clients; 175 employees (75 agents, 16 partners); offices in L.A. and New York
Origin story: Founded in 1949 by Phil Gersh.
Ownership: Co-presidents Bob and David Gersh, senior managing partner Leslie Siebert
Leadership: Bob and David Gersh, Siebert
Signature clients: Kristen Stewart, Kyle Chandler, Patricia Arquette, Adam Driver, J.K. Simmons and Taylor Schilling
Recent moves: True to the spirit of its late founder, one of the last agents from Hollywood’s golden age, Gersh largely has stuck to the core talent agency practice, housing a roster of steadily working actors whose faces might be more recognizable than their names. Still, the agency has both reigning Oscar supporting actor winners (Arquette, Simmons) and has held on to Young Hollywood luminaries Stewart, Driver and Elizabeth Olsen despite heavy courtship from the biggies. Compared to the larger agencies, Gersh has demonstrated little interest in diversification — it’s the only one of the seven without even an in-house corporate communications department — but under the leadership of Phil’s sons Bob and David, the agency gradually has broadened its business. In 2009, it tapped producer Jay Cohen to start Gersh’s first film financing and packaging division, and in March it brought in Marie Perry from Skouras Agency to head up a commercial production division that will rep below-the-line talent for ads and music videos.
Size: 4,500+ clients; 400+ employees (200+ agents and execs, 40 partners); four offices
Origin story: Formed in 1975 with the merger of Creative Management Associates and International Famous Agency.
Ownership: The partnership, which bought out majority owner Rizvi Traverse Management in 2012
Board of directors: Ted Chervin, Kevin Crotty, Dan Donahue, Sloan Harris, Jennifer Joel, Steve Levine, Rick Levy, Greg Lipstone, Esther Newberg, Adam Schweitzer, Chris Silbermann, Chris von Goetz, Eddy Yablans
Signature clients: Shonda Rhimes, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Christoph Waltz, and Beyonce
Recent moves: Two moves a decade ago were key to making ICM what it is today. In 2005, it sold a controlling stake to private equity firm Rizvi Traverse, which enabled it to buy boutique lit agency BWCS a year later. That brought in clients with much-needed TV packaging power like Rhimes and Vince Gilligan, plus Silbermann, who in 2012 pushed out CEO Jeff Berg and orchestrated an agent-owned partnership. The rebranded ICM Partners lacks movie stars (it recently lost Josh Gad, Gal Gadot, and Bryce Dallas Howard), but it remains a leader in TV writer-producers (Modern Family’s Christopher Lloyd) and publishing (it reps more than 100 New York Times best-sellers each year) and has a strong concert division, with UTA music head Rob Prinz joining in April with Celine Dion and Jerry Seinfeld in tow.
Size: 2,500 clients; 370+ employees (160 agents); six offices
Origin story: Founded in 1992 by Sam Gores through the mergers and acquisitions of several boutiques
Ownership: Gores, along with agent partners
Leadership: Chairman and CEO Gores; Talent and lit: Debbee Klein, Andrew Ruf, Rand Holston, Adam Kanter; Music: Chip Hooper, Marty Diamond
Signature clients: Shailene Woodley, James Wan, Stephen King, Mark Harmon, Ava DuVernay and Ed Sheeran
Recent moves: Paradigm has grown through strategic additions. Hiring veteran reps including Ken Stovitz, Martin Spencer and Bob Bookman over the years brought in writers and directors, and it boasts a roster of mostly television actors (including NCIS‘ Harmon, among TV’s highest paid). But it’s the music space that sets Paradigm apart: Between 2005 and 2009, it added Monterey Peninsula Artists, Little Big Man, Ellis Industries and Nashville’s Christian music specialist Third Coast Artists, which together beefed up the roster with A-list acts including Coldplay, Toby Keith and Dave Matthews Band. In 2013, APA’s Corrie Christopher brought 15 bands (including Imagine Dragons) to Paradigm, which in recent years also has formed joint ventures with leading EDM agency AM Only (Tiesto, Skrillex) and London’s Coda Music (Charli XCX, Bastille).
Size: 3,000+ clients; 500 employees (200 agents, 46 partners); offices in L.A. and New York
Origin story: Founded in 1991 with the merger of Bauer-Benedek and Leading Artists.
Board of directors: Managing directors David Kramer, Jay Sures and Jeremy Zimmer (CEO); chairman Jim Berkus; co-founder Peter Benedek; Tracey Jacobs and Matt Rice; special adviser Jason Heyman
Signature clients: Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, Channing Tatum, Joel and Ethan Coen, Chris Pratt and Judd Apatow
Recent moves: UTA steadily has grown via the traditional emphasis on talent representation and film/TV packaging. While it has no outside financial backer or pricey sports division, it does engage in outside-the-box ventures, such as United Entertainment Group, the marketing agency it co-owns with Jarrod Moses and DJE Holdings; UTA Venture Fund, through which it continues to be at the forefront of Hollywood’s digital initiatives; and the in-house UTA Brand Studio. But the agency has cultivated stars ever since Jacobs arrived from ICM in 1998, bringing Depp with her. The 2014 pickup of New York-based N.S. Bienstock has made UTA the top broadcast news agency, with such talents as Bill O’Reilly and Robin Roberts, and in February it launched a fine arts division. However, it’s the CAA Exodus that has shaken up the status quo. The April addition of a dozen comedy agents, two coordinators and hundreds of clients, including Pratt, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis — plus, separately, Chuck Lorre in May — could have UTA laughing all the way to the bank.
WME | IMG
Size: 4,000+ clients; nearly 5,000 employees (200 agents) in 25+ countries
Origin story: WME | IMG was founded in 2014 with the merger of IMG and WME, which was founded in 2009 with the takeover of William Morris by upstart Endeavor.
Majority owner: Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, which took a 51 percent stake in 2014 to finance WME’s IMG acquisition
Leadership: Co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell
Signature clients: Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Tina Fey, Rihanna, Maria Sharapova and Gisele Bundchen
Recent moves: Ever since Endeavor took over William Morris six years ago, WME has expanded rapidly by linking up with other companies, such as its strategic partnership with ad agency Droga5 in 2013. This year, it already has acquired Dixon Talent (home to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), MADE Fashion Week, Global eSports Management, ICON Sports Management, Artist Voice and Professional Bull Riders Inc. Of course, its biggest meal has been IMG, which quadrupled the agency’s size and scope (and increased its debt) as it gained lucrative sports rights contracts, a models business and an enormous events management division. WME has used its PE money to make strategic investments in media and technology (including a small stake in Uber) and is said to want an IPO.
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