Why Agency Kickbacks are a No-No
Here's how a typical kickback works:
Step 1: The agency signs a new model with no upfront fees or other funny stuff. Harmless enough.
Step 2: They tell the model that she/he must organize photoshoots in order to build their portfolio. The agency will give the model a list of recommended photographers that they encourage the model to work with.
Step 3: The model works with one of the agency's recommended photographers and pays for the cost of the shoot, makeup artist, stylist, comp card printing, etc.
Step 4: The photographer gives a percentage of their cut to the agency.
Step 4 is the "kickback" part and is a big no-no. The agency should not be receiving any money when it comes to the portfolio stage--the only time they should see profit is once they book their model work and are able to charge their agency fee/commission. Some agencies have done kickbacks under the table as a way to generate additional income but this is not good business practice. Does it stop agencies from doing it? No.
Those within the industry usually know which agencies do these kickbacks, although it is difficult to find out for yourself. Even if you asked the agency and/or the photographer whether they deal with kickbacks, what's to stop them from lying to you? The point of this post is not to figure out how to track down the truth--that's a huge challenge that I wouldn't even know where to begin talking about. I simply want you to be aware of the fact that when it comes to paying for your portfolio shoot when signing with an agency, it's okay if you pay as long as the agency isn't getting a cut from it. When you sign with an agency, find out all your options for choosing photographers. The agency should not force you to use one of the photographers they recommend. They should be open to allowing you to choose who you want and deciding whether to accept the images that you get as a result.