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Radio 1 Newsbeat and the facts about Models Direct

Click here to read what our working models say about us

FAO Jim Reed

Thank you for your email, which we received on Friday afternoon at 4.20pm, and for giving us the opportunity to respond.

For clarity I have numbered the points you raised and responded to them in the same sequence.

1 We have received complaints from a number of your clients who have paid up front fees of more than £100 and have not received any work from you

It is of course disappointing for individual models not to be selected for work from a selection of models offered to clients and many models take that as a personal rejection. However it is important to realise that prospective models, or parents, may approach the business with a distorted expectation of the reality of competition. We make every effort to address any distortion between reality and expectation by emphasising modelling as highly competitive and even more so, for the younger the model. The younger the model, the more competitive the modelling business.

To illustrate our efforts in this respect, we make the following bold statement in our offer of model representation; 'It is really important you have realistic expectations about your modelling career. While we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure you are put forward for any opportunity where your look is called for, it doesn't mean that you are guaranteed work. It is quite possible that you may not get shortlisted, or indeed even though you are shortlisted you may never be selected by the clients. That decision always lies with the clients and we do not make any guarantees to you as to if or how often you will be selected.'

Inevitably, as with any selection process, there are models who are disappointed at not being selected for assignments. A booking requiring one model means only one will be chosen, yet 30 may have been proposed, we make no secret of this. In fact, as part of our service in representing our models, we do quite the opposite, we tell every model they are being put forward for selection by sending a personal email, every time, irrespective as to the outcome, to the best of our knowledge we are the only agency who offers this feature.

We have many models who have been selected by clients within days, even hours of registering.

A 3 week old baby is currently featured in the Mamas and Papas catalogue who was selected for the booking the day she registered.

This is a parents response after such an assignment.

'When we got there they asked us if we could dress Oliver in a pair of khaki trousers for him to wear one of his own tops (we took a selection) Oliver was sat in a really nice wooden highchair at the end of breakfast table laid out with breakfast bowls several mini muffins....Oliver was given a muffin to eat whilst photos where being taken, he loved it he looked really happy and at ease......Darren and I stood behind the photographer every now and then waving and pulling silly faces to make him giggle and smile! The photo shoot took approx 45 mins they said they where really happy with the many photos they had taken especially a full frontal shot. We then cleaned up Oliver (the muffins where a little chocolaty) changed Oliver then said our goodbyes as they had what they needed and left to make our way home. They did mention that they needed a photo of a baby asleep in a different reclining highchair......we all agreed that Oliver was by this point wide awake and we would not be able to get him to sleep easily. Everyone was really friendly and made us feel at ease (I felt quite nervous for him before we got there) all in all I think he enjoyed it and both Darren and I felt very proud.

Oliver was 5months old and secured his first assignment within 6 weeks of registering
Olivers' Model Fee: £80.00.

2 You give the impression clients have been "specially selected" to be represented by you

I think using the word clients, you mean models.

We do operate a selection procedure for our new model applicants and do not make an offer of representation to everyone.

Each model enquiry is allocated to an individual Coordinator here in the office. That Coordinator contacts each model applicant to discuss their motivation, expectation, experience and availability. This conversation is minuted and detailed notes made by the Coordinator at the time. The Coordinator gives their name and contact number to the model applicant and on their behalf, proposes the model to our National Selection Panel for a discussion as to whether we make an Offer of represent them as a model.

3 Customers are routinely offered sharp reductions on the original cost of signing up

Each new model application we receive is unsolicited. Unlike many agencies, we do not scout for models, approach people on the street or in anyway tempt or cajole models to apply. We fully consider each individual applicants circumstances, before making an Offer of representation. Your comment 'Customers are routinely offered sharp reductions on the original cost of signing up' is simply incorrect. Occasionally we may subsidise an applicant model in difficult financial circumstances, by offering a sponsorship programme.

4 Your business model involves encouraging some clients to "upgrade" to premium services

Again, I think your word 'clients' means models. By way of distinction, 'clients' to us, hire our models.

Every model registered with MD appears in our online publication. Models registered with us are given a personal user id and password to access their account, monitor and update their e-Portfolio, photographs, information and graphs to see how often and when, they have been included in client searches.

In addition to these features and benefits which are helpful to their modelling career development, we email our models every time they are put forward for work, to our knowledge we are the only agency who offers these personalised online services to models.

Models can of their own accord choose to add more than 3 photographs to their e-Portfolio, increase the boldness of their listing and add audio and film clips of themselves and this is at additional cost. It is in no way compulsory. Just as in any directory it is usual business practice to offer levels of enhancement and prominence to those who appear in it.

5 The seven-day cooling off period required by government legislation is not clearly explained on your website, on the telephone or throughout the registration process. Instead clients are told it takes "seven days for registration to be set up and processed". The cooling off period itself is only mentioned in the small print

You wrongly claim we do not make the 7 day cooling off period clear and that it 'is only mentioned in the small print'.

Government legislation currently establishes a 7 day cooling off period, without stating who's responsible for publishing it.

However, Models Direct have voluntarily placed the following statement boldly on our Modelling Offer of Representation letter to the model, as well as, clearly on our Terms and Conditions:

'You have a 7 day cooling off period from your acceptance of this offer, to change your mind about registering as a model with us, in accordance with the provisions of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (as amended).

During this cooling off period, no payment will be processed and you can cancel or withdraw from your contract with us without suffering any detriment or penalty. Models Direct complies with the very latest employment agency legislation, see online www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20033319.htm'

There is no statutory requirement for us to do this, instead we believe it to be fair, and in the best interests of the model in line with current legislation which they might not otherwise be aware of.

Lack of direction in this respect, is currently an aspect of the Government review and the consultation process we were invited to contribute to. Here is a confidential extract from our consultation response where we have made a proposal to clarify and improve awareness by those applying to us as models:

'There could be obligatory specific wording, style and format, as with premium rate phone calls, smoking advertising etc. It would make sense that the manner in which the wording is published (and where it is published) is heavily regulated; the concern would be that agents could comply with their statutory obligations merely by 'hiding' the wording in an obscure part of their terms and conditions. The same mistake must not be made as last time around - the cooling off period needs to be made abundantly clear to all.

We are of the firm view that the expected benefits to applicants of introducing a cooling off period have not materialised, primarily because the legislation omitted to place any express responsibility on the agency to make this right well known. As things stand, neither BERR or the agents have done anything particularly forceful to inform the applicants of their rights, and thus it is therefore not surprising it has been ineffective.

However, we do believe that the mischief behind the original introduction of the cooling off period remains valid, and that the legislation should be changed so as to properly promote the right. Only then can the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the cooling off period be properly monitored; it would be quite wrong, in our view, to conclude that the cooling off period can not work simply because it has not worked to date (given the obvious reason for that).

Models Direct believes that by new legislation apportioning responsibility for public notification between Government and agents, the seven day cooling off period would be useful in offering added protection from emotive decisions based on unrealistic expectations and thereby effectively and usefully serving the purpose for which it was intended.

6 Models are told not to call in to the office but contact you through the website after they have signed up. They are actively discouraged from contacting agents by phone

This is simply incorrect, in fact quite the opposite. We suggest our models make contact every 6-8 weeks for an update. We in no way discourage models from contacting us by telephone, it would be counter productive to representing someone!

We also have explained how a Coordinator here in the office is allocated to each applicant and further more on the letter our Coordinator sends the model is the Coordinators name and telephone contact number. Difficult to see how we could be more accessible than that and the information you have is therefore wholly inaccurate.

7 Prospective clients are told Models Direct works with firms such as "House of Fraser, Easyjet, L'Oreal, Miss Selfridge and Thomas Cook Holidays". We have contacted all five of those firms and all say they have never worked directly with you.

We can substantiate each and every booking. We have never falsely claimed to have supplied models to a client.

Documentation is kept for all our assignments and as an Employment Agency, regularly inspected by BIS, the Office of Fair Trading, OFTEL and the Department of Employment.

House of Fraser - March 2000 - Edinburgh - Fashion Show and October & November 2005 - Manchester - Promotion
Easyjet - February & May 2008 - Luton - Photoshoot
L'Oreal - May 2004 - London - Product fashion show
Miss Selfridge - March 02 - Hull - Promotion
Thomas Cook Holidays - December 2000 - Aberdeen, Birmingham & Maidstone - Photographic, and September 2009 - Dean - Photographic

Our list of clients who have employed our models, is a fundamental difference between Models Direct and 'showcase' agencies who mislead models in to believing they will find work, when legally the agency is not registered and therefore not capable of doing so.

It is this confusion between real model agencies who find work and 'scammers' who simply charge models to appear with a cloud of 'maybes about work', however unlikely, that desperately needs to be clarified to unsuspecting applicants.

8 Your telephone message claims you are currently working with a number of clients including Burberry. We have contacted Burberry are they have no record of ever working with you

Burberry contacted us in both August and October 2008 for female fitting models - they are not included in our client list as the models we put forward did not have measurements that were exact enough for their requirements. The telephone message you refer to lists quotes and assignments we would have been working on at the time of recording. Fitting work is exceptionally difficult to secure as models must have the exact measurements, we are pleased to have supplied fitting models for many clients including Disney, Falke, Columbia Sportswear and Fila.

One current client (model) told us:

9a He/she was offered a three year modelling contract for him/her and his/her young son for between £600 and £900. That dropped to around £200 when he/she said he/she could not afford the amount

This model must be confusing Models Direct with another agency.

We have never charged these absurd figures and deny this unsubstantiated comment is connected in anyway to Models Direct.

We make a one off initial charge of £107.25 plus vat in respect of including our models for three years in our work seeking publication. Our team of full time professionals use this publication to work hard in promoting our models for no additional charge and any work we secure for them, we claim one third of the model fee, for doing so.

This equates to only £35 per year, after VAT or 70p a week. This a modest token of commitment toward the cost of publication, which successful models recoup over and over. From our list of 'Success stories' on our web site you will see people earning many thousands of pounds from their part time modelling with us.

9b He/she says Model Direct "sugar-coats" the applications process by claiming photographs are being referred to a model committee and casting directors

See answer to 2 above

9c He/she feels the people at Models Direct were trying to "butter me up…"

Modelling is about 'ego'. Whoever made this comment was proposing themselves as a model and it is difficult therefore to see how they could half-heartedly make an approach and then claim they were 'buttered up'. Either they have the confidence to model, or they don't. Modelling is far to competitive for anyone to hide their light under a bushel and need encouragement.

9d He/she was encouraged to upgrade and spend more money. The "free trial" of an upgrade to superstar or celebrity status involved handing over credit card details which are then debited at the end of the "free" month

See answer to 4 above

9e Since joining Models Direct he/she has never been offered any paid work for either his/herself or his/her son

See answer to 1 above

9f He/she called Models Direct and was constantly told to be patient and to wait for a phone call back

See answer to 6 above. The whole point of an interactive model e-Portfolio online service, is for the model to familiarise themselves with their progress anytime of the day or night. Registration with us, allows that.

9g He/she knows now that no "good" model agency would ask for money up front

70p a week or the equivalent of is a modest sum to appear in our Work Seeking Publication. Everybody has a choice beforehand between accepting our offer or finding a free service. Why did the person you quote, not do the latter?

9h He/she says the behaviour of Models Direct can make young people feel bad about themselves and encourage body hang-ups (as they may feel lack of work is because of their appearance)

We do not believe our agency encourages body hang ups, unlike many agencies, we do not promote the size zero debate or make any suggestion to a model that they should alter their weight or look.

We represent and find work for plus size models and disabled models and throughout our 18 year history have proudly done so.

10 You also say in your marketing that you have worked with the BBC. Please could you provide more information including contact details of the people you have dealt with at the corporation.

This is a classic case of further unwarranted suspicion as to our client list.

The BBC is another huge organisation and like big companies, it is unrealistic to expect everyone working for them, to be aware of all they do. This reality bounces back on to you, since we have supplied many models over the years to the BBC, two recent examples are listed below.

We worked with the BBC in November 2008 supplying twin baby girls for an Eastenders photoshoot and also on a separate occasion supplied other twin baby girls for Mistresses, via Ecosse Films from September - November 2008.

11 It is possible the government will say in the next few weeks that it plans to ban model agencies charging any up front fee including a fee for publishing details on a website. We would be interested to hear your response.

We believe that it is simplistic and indeed counter productive to conclude that just because not everyone gets work registration fees ought to be banned. It would be akin to saying that anyone paying a dating agency or dating website must be guaranteed to find a partner; clearly, one is paying in those circumstances for the 'opportunity'.

If fees were banned the publication could not be sustained. Without publications, opportunities would be lost, opportunities which have spawned many successful modelling careers and assignments.

I would like to put our 'fees' in perspective. I will only quote here the fees we charge and leave out the details of our service, features and benefits.

We offer three options to represent a man, woman or child in our work seeking publication. One year costs £65.22, two years £82.61 and three years £109.56. These fees are subject to V.A.T.

In the case of a three year representation with MD, the weekly cost to the work seeker, including V.A.T, of appearing in the publication equates to a little under 81 pence per week including V.A.T. The costs in producing, circulating and maintaining the publication are considerable, and without the contribution received from work seekers then the publication would cease, and the ability to offer our models' to the clients would disappear.

As far as we are aware we are the only national agency providing a low budget entry platform to modelling for 'ordinary people' alongside the professional model, and this is a point we believe needs to be considered carefully. To suggest that modelling work should only be available from those agencies who do not have any 'up front fees' is to actually state that only professional models, or those who are fortunate enough to be granted an audience by an agency who views them as having professional potential, are entitled to an opportunity. We have proved, time and time again, that 'ordinary people' can gain modelling work, no matter where they are based or what their credentials are. By banning up front fees, one is actually banning a low budget entry platform to modelling - and in so doing, ensuring that only a very privileged few (who tend to be London or large city based) will ever have access to the modelling profession.

We have consistently and long term, found thousands of ordinary people fun, part time paid work and they have enjoyed the satisfaction of the day and seeing themselves, later on film, or in print. Many have used this experience to go on to greater things.

In our 'Success stories' are sample comments from these models and from them, one detects their excitement and pleasure; it is noteworthy that pay is rarely their first consideration. You will see thousands of comments from models with us who have earned a little useful extra income and had a fun experience at the same time; a change in the law could prevent this experience happening in the future for thousands more.

Ordinary men, women and children continue to be paid to appear in front of the camera and in print and on film, much to their delight and that is a reality only because we are here, offering the service of proposing them and making it happen, when they are chosen. MD's share (or any similar agencies' share) of assignment fees are not enough to fund that opportunity - which is what they are freely choosing to buy, by registering with MD, 'a paid-for opportunity'.

It is important to realise when reviewing this fee paying area of employment legislation, that as a model agency, our business is not the same as an agency representing, secretaries, lorry drivers, cooks, or other work seeking groups. There are at least three crucial distinctions; firstly, the employment the worker secures via the traditional agency is likely to be of significant value to them and to the client, and thus there is sufficient margin for the agency to survive by making its income from the clients. Secondly, there is not the same need for an extensive and advanced publication (which for model agencies such as MD has to be as impressive as possible to promote the 'look' of a model; hardly the same as distributing the CV of a secretary). Thirdly, the model is not likely to be the 'primary earner' and is often a mother, for example, appearing in a photo shoot with her child in a nationwide 'Mothercare' poster campaign and being paid just £150, - as has happened at MD.

Our point is that people registering as a model, usually do so for a little whimsical fun, a part time 'give it a go' trial just to see what, if anything, happens, although we do also register fulltime professional models. Some are selected by clients for paid assignments as a result, some are not.

In reality, only a handful of people nationally, survive as full time professional models - there are simply too many alternative people to choose from for there to be enough work and the minimal payment fees available, reflect that. As with all outstanding skills and exceptional talents, modelling is not a viable career opportunity for the majority. It is however possible to occasionally appear in an advertisement or in a fashion show, or even in a film, or be on the T.V. as a model. It will be for the client to decide and all we offer to do is put the two together, to see if that could happen. And it does, frequently.

Here is the opportunity to develop some of those very real concerns of an outright ban on fees, in contrast to the current MD service which is conscientiously provided to models and clients.

The “Showcase' model would be entirely free to join and we would anticipate millions of people doing so worldwide and quickly. Why wouldn't they? A chance of 'fame and fortune' for free. No risk at all, and thus no reason not to join. One could invite anybody worldwide to apply online, complete a simple 'no frills' application, load up a couple of pictures and all of a sudden they are a 'model', complete with contact details showing to all and sundry.

This 'Showcase' model would not be an employment agency or business and regulated in the same way they are today. It would, instead, be similar to a dating website.

There would be no BERR regulation, employment legislation and certainly no warnings and seven day options to cancel - it would just be an online 'showcase'. Just like 'Star Now', flouting all laws and standards, signing up millions from their safe haven New Zealand base.

Suddenly MD, or an agency like it, could represent hundred of thousands of models worldwide and it's entirely free!

Any client wanting to call the models will simply give them a call or send an email, and do so direct. The agency, whether it be MD or otherwise, could no longer afford to employ staff to liaise with clients - the banning of up front fees would have long since prevented that. So the clients are left to liaise direct with the models; again, a bit like a dating website.

No worries... or are there?

What about:-

1. Unregulated postings and pictures of dubious quality?

2. Questionable client authenticity as there would be no check on client legitimacy

3. Weirdo's, perverts and paedophiles from all over the world, calling models of all ages and propositioning them to model?

4. Teenagers faking their age in their quest for stardom?

5. Websites likely to be operated from offshore havens and thus outside if UK jurisdiction

6. No co ordination for the issue of Child Performance Licenses creating pressure on Local Authorities nationwide

7. As the website likely attract vast number of hits, the 'agency' would sell advertising space and links in order to make profit, raising the very real concern that there would be exploitation and financial pressures put upon young users of the website to purchase whatever goods or services were being promoted. Thus the concern of the legislator would become far greater, as it would then be faced with an entirely different problem (but one which is unregulated and potentially vast in comparison to any problems caused by the current agency legislation).

The list goes on; this doomsday scenario is very real and in our view is the inevitable consequence of a sledge hammer being used to crack a nut. So why has no other 'agency' successfully set up such an operation already? Primarily we believe it is because whilst agencies such as MD operate, an aspiring model is far more likely to register with us given the client list we can evidence, given the support our staff can offer, even with the cost involved - people tend to know that one gets what they pay for. But without MD or other such agencies in the picture, there will be no low cost entry to the modelling profession, and thus the 'free' showcase website will be the only offering out there. And it will prosper.

We propose that it would be fundamentally detrimental to models' welfare, safety and the opportunities available to them, by us and others like us having to change and withdraw the current national service we responsibly provide. The legislator must be fully aware of the consequences that would follow from a ban of up front fees, and ensure it does not get this decision gravely wrong.

I hope this email helps to provide a balanced view of the provincial modelling industry as a whole and Models Direct in particular.

We are constantly reminded of the disastrous current economic climate and the media grapple daily for still darker adjectives emphasising our ever deepening demise into economic gloom and depression.

This shaking of confidence in our agency while we work for our clients and models bringing them together is counterproductive in the interests of both models and clients, making our job even harder.

If your intention is to investigate fairly the validity of any complaints and understanding exactly what Models Direct as an employment agent offer models, then we are pleased to co operate in that process, by helping you discern unrealistic expectation, from reality and co-operate fully in the interests of balanced journalism.

Yours sincerely

Suzy O'Connor
Director

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