William Morris Endeavor (WME) is an example of effective alignment between an operating model and business model. One of WME’s advantages in the agency landscape is that it is a large and diversified, representing talent across film/TV, literary, commercial, scripted television, unscripted television, music, and branded lifestyle. By focusing on supporting growth with technological developments, WME has made its business model more effective by ensuring that the core components of the traditional operating model has stayed aligned become more, not less, efficient in the new era of representation.
Hollywood and Talent Agencies: A brief introduction
In the 1930s and 40s, Hollywood and the film business was dominated by eight major film studios. Actors and actress operated as
individuals, signing long-term contracts directly with the studio with little to no bargaining power over their salary, roles, and contract details. Actors were forced to enter these disadvantageous situations because there was no alternative.
Enter the talent agent. Talent agents work on behalf of their clients to identify opportunities, help them get those opportunities, and to negotiate a favorable deal. In modern Hollywood, agents navigate a more fragmented and complicated ecosystem of stakeholders and decision makers, including studios, producers, casting agents, creative executives, writers, and directors, while simultaneously serving as a liaison for those entities and the talent they represent.
By leveraging relationships, information, scale, and expertise, WME provides value to clients by securing jobs and favorable business deals and letting them focus on their craft. WME provides value to other players in the ecosystem by acting as a conduit and point of access to a pool of talent.
Proprietary Technology & Systems
The business model of an agency depends on information flow and sharing. To identify casting opportunities and which people to call for auditions, influence, etc., each agent needs accurate and timely knowledge about what is going on with film and television projects. Due to sheer volume of data, organizing and disseminating this information is very challenging.
The standard operating model entails junior agents “covering” projects, exchanging phone calls and hundreds of e-mails per day to find out information and share it with colleagues. This process enables the department to work together on behalf of their clients with more information than any one person could amass.
WME differentiates by emphasizing developing technology and infrastructure to make this information accessible and digestible. Three of the most relevant software projects endeavors resulted in “Projects” (a place that holds information about any film, television, theater project), Contacts (shares all the agency’s contact information) and Phone Log (a system for keeping track of all phone calls). These applications allow agents to share, access, and act upon information that is continuously collected throughout the day over phone and e-mail.
In 2013, introduced WME iConnect, a internal and proprietary app designed and built by in-house by a product and development specialists (that no other agency has), which provides WME agents access to all of these platforms through their iPhone and iPad. Through iConnect, agents can access the most up to date information at any time from anywhere.
Prior to this innovation, the common practice was to distribute “grids”, or project information, once a day via PDF e-mail delivery or print. PDFs distributed at the end of the day may have contained information that was inputted much earlier and could have been vital on a call or meeting before distribution.
Before this application was developed, an agent out of the office received her phone log periodically via e-mail or verbally over the phone. WME iConnect allows agents to access contacts, phone log, and make calls all directly through the app, eliminating the inefficient need to “hub” through the assistant to connect to the individual and find out who called. (Example of old model: see https://wikileaks.org/sony/emails/emailid/123473, https://wikileaks.org/sony/emails/emailid/23152, https://wikileaks.org/sony/emails/emailid/6533).
Alignment and Support
In all the ways that the agency business has changed, it has also stayed the same. Business is still driven by obtaining information and using relationships to service clients. Now, with the proliferation of content producers and distributors, it is more important for agents to have their processes streamlined and efficient so can reach more people in a day.
Furthermore, the operating model allows agents to take advantage of the size and multiple competencies of WME’s business model to bring in more revenue. Making processes more efficient creates more time to work across departments and cross-functionally. For example, an agent can now make deals for an actress through doing a commercial or endorsement or by lending her name to produce a reality television show in addition to a film or television career. Not only does the operating model support the traditional aspects of a talent agency, it supports the future synergy goals of having multiple cross-department revenue streams for each client and therefore maximizing profits for the agency.