Celebrating Super Star Agents: Apostrophe’s Kelly Montez

Thanks to the mergeSF and Community Table rep events (to be published soon!) that I have been a part of lately, I was able to connect with many different reps to talk about our industry. I was struck by how similar we are all in our approach to clients yet how differently  we all got our start and how uniquely we all structure our businesses.  I have dedicated so much time on this blog to art buyers, photographers and producers, so I thought it was time to celebrate all the agents out there that make our industry so special.

First up is Kelly Montez, of Apostrophe.  Apostrophe represents photographers and stylists and has offices in NY and SF.  I met Kelly when she was an account person at an ad agency and was considering the move to purchase Apostrophe.  I remember being excited for Kelly and sharing with her all that I could in the few short years I had been an agent.  Over the years, I have enjoyed watching her evolve and grow her business into the powerhouse rep group that she has today.  For those of you who know Kelly, you what a great agent she is, how dedicated she is as a mom and how strong she feels about justice and politics.  For those of you who don’t know, take some time to read on, she is worth every second of your time.

How did you get started as an agent and how long have you been at it?
I was working as an Account Manager in advertising at Goodby Silverstein and Partners. Funny enough, I was working for your husband! He was my Account Director. I had met you and I always thought your job sounded so glamorous. I was so intrigued by it.

During my time at Goodby, I was able to work on a lot of photography projects; it was an art-form that I found really fascinating. Through the course of the various projects, I met Apostrophe’s original owner, Jonathan Leder. We stayed in touch and two years later, he casually mentioned a desire to open a west coast office. He had just signed an amazing California-based photographer, fresh out of art school – Dwight Eschliman. I met the two of them for dinner; we drank too much wine, had great conversation, and the rest is history. I managed the San Francisco office for four years and at that point purchased the entire business from Jonathan. I’m now moving into my 15th year as an agent.

At a recent event, it was brought to my attention that of the 10 reps in the room, every one of them ran their business differently. Some represented stylists, some CGI artists.  Others had less sales people and more producers while others did the opposite.  The benefits of this career path is that you can make it whatever you want to fit your life. How do you structure your business and do you see that evolving in the future?
We have two divisions, photography/motion and styling. On the photo/motion side, we have four agents/sales reps including myself, and one producer. On the styling side, we have one agent/sales rep and one producer. Our administrative staff provides website development, social media strategy/support and accounting.

We structure our sales team to focus agency-wide promotional efforts on individual regions: West Coast, Midwest and East Coast. In addition to this, each artist has a rep team of two people who work to develop individual promotional plans for them.

Our hope is to add a third office in LA soon with an additional agent and production support.

Is there one piece of advice you received when you started your business that you are most thankful have received?
The most helpful advice I received actually came from you, Heather. When I got the offer to open Apostrophe’s West Coast office, my boss told me I had to make it profitable in three months. And that just seemed unrealistic. So I called you to talk it out and you said it was ambitious because every change in life takes a year. I have continued to see that that is true. It is one of the best pieces of life advice that someone has given me. It truly does take a year to see the benefits of your hard work. Whenever we sign an artist, we have a conversation about this. Typically you see a bit of an uptick when they join the roster, but the real change comes about a year later as you start to see sustained business growth. At the beginning of every year we identify areas for the artist to grow, and that process starts with them developing new work for us to promote, then we go out and plant the seeds, and a few months later we all reap the benefits.

Is there one thing you would like photographers to remember about the job of an agent?
The game has changed and so has the role of an agent. We used to be the gatekeepers of your work and brand, but now, thanks to the evolution of the internet and social media, clients can experience your brand first hand. It’s important for us to work together to cultivate that client experience. I need you to match my effort and my hustle. We’re in it together and the most successful photographers on my roster are the ones who are my business partners.

How about for an art buyer? Is there one thing you would want them to remember about the job of an agent?
Treatments take time and an incredible amount of effort, as do estimates. Please be mindful of that and make sure we have enough time to put something impressive together for you.

Also, I can guess at your budget but I so would rather work with you from the beginning to find a solution that meets both your creative and financial goals.

We all know that there have been so many changes in our industry over the years. From where you sit, what are the most important qualities a commercial photographer must have in order to create inspiring work, attract attention of clients and get hired?
I believe that if you challenge yourself and try to see opportunity in change, then you can create something new and exciting. If you start with this belief, this positive attitude, you can build from there.

I know that is very general but staying positive, focused, and having a seriously competitive spirit (you don’t want to have a game night with me) has served me very well in life. I could get frustrated that our industry is embracing a freelance culture. Sure, it’s hard to keep track of where clients are. But this also means that if you maintain a good relationship with someone, you have the potential of exposing your artists’ work to more creatives at different companies.

Motion has very much been integrated into our industry. It’s a whole new language and a whole new way of storytelling. But how great is it to see your artists be creative in a new way? How fun is it to learn something totally new yourself? I feel so lucky to be in an industry with so many creative people doing interesting things, I never take that for granted and try to see each new challenge as an opportunity. We can either look at the wave coming at us and wait for it to crash, or we can turn and paddle and see where the adventure takes us.

How do you explain your job to someone in family who has no idea what you do?
I tell them I’m in sales. But that I get to sell something really cool. Then I name-drop a few brands I work with to make myself seem really impressive 😀

Would you do it all over again?
Absolutely. Even the mistakes. I may wish I handled something differently in a moment but those struggles and failures are part of what have helped me grow and be a better agent and a better person.

Favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Playing with my three-year-old daughter. She shows me the world in a whole new way. Her snuggles are the best!

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