The term "Boutique Agency" certainly isn't new. A lot of agencies lay claim to the label, boasting smaller rosters and more personal environments, with agents taking on the roles of counsellor, mentor and friend. Personal and career matters are throughly discussed. Models feel welcome when they drop by.
A lot of agencies can legitimately call themselves boutique, but if one Toronto agency captures that quaint image better than any it would have to be B&M.
The all-female staff work in a bright, open office with a very relaxed feel. When a model calls in, whichever agent picks up the phone chats with them. When a client phones in, same deal.
Yet for an agency that seems so organic in the way it conducts business, a lot of planning and structure has gone into making it that way.
Owner Melanie Mateus has been around the industry for more than 20 years. Past experience with agencies large and small, and three years hiring models as a client gave Mateus a solid grounding from which to build her agency. The result: an incredibly loyal roster of models, and staff that swear they wouldn't work anywhere else.
One tenet of Mateus' philosophy is sharing the success. At B&M, there are no divisions. Each booker is responsible for every model and everyone is equally interested in each model's success. When success comes in the form of a major booking or placement, everyone shares in the celebration.
That doesn't just boost morale, it also makes it easier for clients. Whomever answers the phone handles the booking from start to finish. If T.V. commercial castings are particularily busy one day, all of the bookers can work with the casting directors, rather than passing on messages to a lone talent manager.
For the models there is the comfort in knowing if they have a question or problem they don't have to wait to speak to their individual booker. Because B&M carries a smaller roster, each of the bookers is prepared to work for any of the models.
One of my defining memories of the agency comes from an incident five years ago. Living in Calgary at the time, I had stopped into B&M on a visit to Toronto. For the 20 minutes or so that I was in the office, Mateus was on the phone vigorously defending a model that had been given bad information by a client. She was adamant the model was not going to take blame for something that wasn't her fault. THAT, I thought, is what an agent is supposed to do.
"You have to have trust and you have to have loyalty," explains Mateus. "I give it, so I really appreciate when I get it in return.
"Loyalty is one of the words that best defines our agency. Loyalty and trust are so important in life, let alone business. If you've got those two things going for you, that's how you build strong relationships. Some of [the models] talk to us more than they talk to their moms and dads."
One of the people that spends a lot of time talking to the models is Agency Director Sarah Kelar. The incredibly stylish booker actually started training for the job long before she knew she would be working in the industry ... errr... sort of. "I once spent 16 hours straight on one conversation. And now my mom says 'to think all that time you spent on the phone was training for your job. If I ever thought all those calls would have prepared you for where you are today I wouldn't have come down so hard on you then.'
"It's all phone etiquette. It's all talking to people. And your ear burns. You start to think 'Oh my God, what's going to happen to my ear?'"