The Ultimate Promo Guide for Dancers
"I'm a Dancer."
The familiar look on their face reminds you of the last 10 times you gave that answer to somebody and, unless of course you are one of the fortunate few to be in work right now, you begin your all too rehearsed explanation that somehow never quite paints your day-to-day slog in quite the right light.
They tell you that they ‘work in marketing’ which immediately conjures up images of the secure 9-5 desk job and solid career path that they have to look forward to. You, somehow, always come out feeling slightly deflated with maybe a bit of an ego bruise.
Nobody outside the industry really understands quite what you have to go through day to day. In fact there are a lot of people IN the industry who don’t get it either. Cattle-call castings, drinking your sweat, if you ever get them through. Constantly having to keep up with what’s happening on the grapevine for fear you might miss that one open call that could have been your break.
But let’s not forget, you have bills to pay too! How can you be expected to do all of that and still be able to afford to pay the rent? You need a job that pays pretty well, has flexible hours, lets you take time off at the drop of a hat but doesn’t require any particular set of skills besides being in the right place at the right time and a basic ability to speak to people.
You need yourself a ‘fake’ job and “Promo” work is the clear winner here. Ticks all the boxes. Lots of work going, lots of agencies out there, lots of your friends already do it. But it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of forgetting why you are there in the first place and pretty soon find that you’ve actually been working in retail for almost 10 years! Where did that time go?
So how do you make Promotions work for you instead of the other way around? Work to live instead of living to work? Let’s start at the very beginning…
WHAT IS 'PROMO' WORK?
“Promo” work is basically where you use your skills as a blagger to sell or promote a brand or product to unsuspecting members of the public. There are many different types of promo but it really all boils down to that.
Ever been stopped by a nylon clad, over enthusiastic leafleter on Oxford Street? That’s a promo worker. Ever been offered a mini cup of fro-yo from a stand on Southbank? Promo worker. Ever had to battle your way through the beauty halls at your favourite luxury retail store? Those expressionless souls who all look like they came straight out of the Matrix - all performers, just like you.
And I used to be one too!
Don’t get me wrong, I think promo work is the best part time job any performer can get. Forget bussing tables at a pub for minimum wage. This is usually, and I stress, usually, flexible, fun and pretty high paid for pretty low skill work. Which is why it is so tempting to stay doing it for so long and forget that it’s actually your ‘fake’ job.
There are two broad types of work that you will find yourself doing (and two types of Agency) - Retail or Experiential work. Retail involves you selling stuff directly to customers in a store - usually a big department store. Experiential is usually the more fun stuff outside, or events just to promote a brand or launch a new product but often not selling anything. Both involve a bit of blag which is why Agencies love hiring performers and are happy to give you pretty flexible work and time off when you need it.
When you join an agency you will start at the bottom of the ladder, with the hundreds of other minions on their books and it’s up to you to rise to the top and become one of the regulars that get requested for the best campaigns.
But before you can rise to the top, lets decide if you even want to do promo work at all because I must warn you;
Promo work is not for everybody!
PROMO PRO's AND CON's
How does standing in the freezing cold and the lashing rain with soggy leaflets advertising free comedy under a pub in Piccadilly for 40 quid a day sound? Crap right?
If you want to be one of those people who does nothing but hover by the phone all day, praying an email or a call comes through for another one of those kinds of shifts, then stop reading right now and go back to playing angry birds.
How does a business class train with free champagne, a 5 star hotel, continental breakfast and a day of greeting business folk to a conference for £150 a day, …plus £60 for the inconvenience of having to travel and stay in a hotel, sound? A hell of lot better right?
Like everything else, Promo work has its ups and downs. You need to be sure that you know what you are getting yourself into before you say yes to dressing as a soggy costume character holding a subway sign in the middle of winter.
* ‘0 Hour Contract’ - When you join an agency you will usually be on one of these. This just means you are free to accept and reject any work as it comes up so if you have an open casting today or just can’t be bothered giving free lip-balm samples you can just say no thanks, as easy as that. But remember - ALWAYS GET A CONTRACT.
* No Interview Competition - Because promo agencies take on countless people at a time and are always hiring you don’t have to compete against others to join their books. As long as you turn up on time dressed in your Sunday best and speak semi-good English you should have no problem getting a spot.
* Above Minimum Wage - Generally speaking £10 an hour is where promo work starts which is quite a lot above minimum wage. This means you are guaranteed to walk away with £60-£80 for an average shift which is a lot more than you’ll make at your local pub.
* Flexible Hours - Fancy handing out newspapers to commuters at 5am on their way to work? Well, you’ll be finished by 11am and have a day’s pay in your pocket. Maybe you’d rather have your day free and do some hostessing at a club in Mayfair, starts at 9pm so you can do whatever you fancy ‘til then. Maybe you need some extra cash this month? You could do 14 hour days on a big event for a week and make up your full months’ pay check in 7 days! It’s all up to you!
* No Special Skills - Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? How about hold a perfume bottle and speak. Great you’re hired! If you can do headstands and play piano with your toes, Well, I’m sure there will be a use for that somewhere but maybe leave it on the spotlight CV for now. You don’t need anything extra to make it in promo.
* ‘February Freeze’ - particularly with retail promotions work is often seasonal. While the Christmas sales mean lots of shifts, early spring can get really quiet. If you only join one agency this can be a really tough time. Similarly with experiential events these are usually planned through the summer months to catch the sun.
* Show Me The Money - It very often takes absolutely ages to get paid for promo work. The best ones out there will pay you a month after the job but the ones that pay weekly can take 6-8 weeks to pay & some pay by cheque - yes the paper kind that you have to lodge in your bank.
* Managing Finances - If you don’t stay on top of this it can really creep up on you, especially if you are on the books of lots of agencies. Some require invoicing, some pay you as self-employed, some as PAYE. Some take tax, some don’t. Some use other companies to pay their staff and some have administration charges. It can be really confusing to keep track of.
* ‘Shop Floor Syndrome’ - Again, more of an issue if you stick with one agency but doing the same thing day in day out can get really monotonous. This is another reason why you should always be on lots of agencies books not just one. Standing on the shop floor for 8 hours flogging the latest One Direction disgrace in your heels can wreak havoc on your soul, let alone your feet!
So now that you’ve seen the grass on the other side of the hill and it looks a bit greener than where you’re stood right now, what do you do next? How do you actually join an agency and start earning the dollah-dollah!
I was going to write an entire section on this but at a risk of boring you all with talk of ‘specialisation’ and ‘diversification’ (who the hell knows what that means anyway) I have distilled it down into a list of the most important questions you need answers to before joining an agency.
For the love of God, ask these questions before saying yes to handing out STI home testing kits at a G.A.Y. At 3am on a Saturday night (Yes, that was a real thing).
* What types of campaigns do you most often run?
* What are the main brands you work with?
* What is your basic rate of pay, is it daily or hourly and do you include expenses.
* Do you pay weekly, monthly and how long do payments take to process.
* How do you pay your staff? Bank Transfer, Cheque etc.
* Do you pay PAYE or Self Assessed and will I need to invoice you.
* Do you outsource your payroll and if so are there any processing fees.
* How long is your interview process and what does it entail.
* How many days work does an average person on your books get per month?
When your rent is due and you haven’t enough change in your pocket to afford a loaf of bread you’ll wish you asked these questions before joining your agency.
Once you have booked some interviews with the agencies you liked it’s time to rock the interview and set yourself up to quickly rise to promo stardom. Here are some golden rules to set you apart as a future promo ninja.
* Do Your Research - You know that list of questions from before? Bingo. Don’t forget to get outside opinions about the agency. Ask your friends about them and get them to dish the dirt.
* Pre-prepare, Prepare and Re-Prepare - You might be asked to make a short presentation about a product that represents you or maybe they want you to show them your handstand-piano-playing skills but remember; this is your time to shine so make sure it’s slick and polished.
* The Train Before The Train - In the name of all that is holy, in this world and the next - DON’T BE LATE. If your interview is 2:30 arrive at the place at 2pm and go for a coffee close by and relax. I guarantee 1-in-3 times you will get lost on your way to the offices and you will be glad of that extra half hour. Decide what train you need to get, then get the one before that.
* DON’T BE LATE - Just don’t do it. Promo agency offices are notoriously difficult to find, I have gotten lost countless times trying to find the right buzzer on the right door to the right warehouse office space.
* Ninja Tip - Always follow up after your interview. This is a hugely important step for any new networking opportunity or meeting. Listen out for when you are likely to hear back, if they don’t say, ask. If you haven’t heard by then, give them a call to ask if they have any feedback from the interview.
Now you know the ins and outs of the Promo world, here is a list of some of the top agencies to get you started and some details about each one. But do your own research as there are many, many more out there besides these.
TBC - This is the big one in the high end retail space. They provide staff for the big Luxury Retail department stores like Harrod’s and Selfridge's. For dancers particularly this agency is renowned. Good things about this agency include pretty regular work all year round, standard monthly pay and a pretty high average daily rate of £60-£80. Bad things about the agency include very high grooming standards; you will be checked every morning before you start your shift. Hair, makeup, nails, uniform etc. And just because you are a guy don’t think you’ll get off the hook. You have to call the office at 9am every day… yes every single day and they then expect you to wait by the phone to either pick up a shift or be “released” in the afternoon. Also, they pay by cheque… yup, actual paper in the post that you have to lodge at your bank! If you want to work for them call 0207 584 6522 Mon-Thurs after 10am and ask for Recruitment.
BCB - These guys are second in line in the luxury retail world. They also provide staff for the big department stores and luxury brands but they aren’t as big as TBC so don’t get quite the same level of work. They have more relaxed standards than TBC so some people prefer to work for them instead and they are cheaper to hire than TBC so lots of brands use them instead but this also means they don’t pay their staff as well as TBC. You are looking at more like £50 a day for the same shift times but you do get holiday pay so it can work out ok.
Others in this list include;
* Elite Associates
* The Bureau (Estee Lauder)
Tribe - These guys are one of the big dogs in the experiential marketing world. They have lots of big clients and tend to get the bigger event campaigns that food and drinks brands sponsor, for example Coca-Cola. They are quite a big agency with a really cool office in East London. In their interview you will be asked to give a short presentation about a brand or product you feel represents you best
Kreate - These guys are one of the bigger agencies for experiential campaigns, they tend to cover more of the technology side working a lot with brands like Samsung across all of their products. The biggest drawback about Kreate is they take up to 8 weeks to pay after a campaign and their staff portal is a hideous mess. But having said that, some of my highest paid days have been with Kreate and I have travelled all over the UK with them.
Mash - Mash are another big player. They do a lot of work with Samsung too but most of their work tends to be more for food and drinks brands. Their biggest client by far is ASDA who give their staff constant work throughout the year. Their office staff are particularly lovely and their staff portal is one the best in the industry, easy to stay organised.
Others in this list include the following but there are many more out there;
* Arc Stars
* Kru Live
By now you should be pretty certain whether promo work is right for you or not. In a future post I will tackle how to get the highest paid and most fun jobs and the simple system you can use to double your earnings in 30 days.
For now it’s time to get yourself on the promo ladder, so bite that bullet and follow the action steps below;
1. Write a list of all the agencies you can think of, use my list, ones you’ve heard of etc.
2. Google their names and have a look at their websites to decide if you like the look of them. Ask your friends about them and make notes after each name.
3. Narrow the list down to your top 5-10 and call their offices to schedule an interview.
Do you work for an agency that wasn’t mentioned here? Maybe you’ve heard of one but don’t know anything about it? Write a comment below and ask everybody what they think.
Jason Broderick is an actor and author of the performers blog, "Waiting For The Call". He writes about the business of show business and helps performers discover what they should have learned while training. Grab his exclusive free content here.