[Executive Edge] The modeling agency that made Brazilians in PH popular

The answer: Ide got his start through the modeling agency, Mercator Artist and Model Management, which among its many accomplishments, popularized Brazilian entertainers in the Philippines. Mercator is located – like many offices – in the quaint part of Legaspi Village in Makati City, but unlike other offices, this one has a revolving door of some of the most beautiful talent in the Philippine entertainment industry coming in and out.

I spoke to Jonas Antonio Gaffud, one of its co-founders, about what it’s like to be at the center of all that action, particularly as it relates to running the business side of Mercator.

A model business

Gaffud created Mercator in 2004 “with the primary vision of putting up a modeling agency that genuinely protects the interests of models.” He was tired, in effect, of other agencies that took advantage of models, such as by demanding unreasonable commissions. Models, it turns out, can be as vulnerable as any other work group.

In the 10 years that has passed since 2004, Gaffud and his Mercator team have steadily built the company up into one of the premiere agencies in the Philippines. Gaffud said, “The team has discovered and molded several models that have graced runways and fashion magazines both local and international and have endorsed products for major television and print campaigns.”

Mercator’s lineup is diverse. It includes “fly in models,” who are models from abroad, as well as Filipino models. A shortlist of their roster includes Fatima Rios, Nadine Lima, Diego Gonzales, Derik Lopes, Diana Arevalo, Elaine Moll, Ben Evans, and Janna Tee.

How, then, does Mercator use its talent base to make money? Though the Philippines is dominated by models and endorsers, most Filipinos would be hard pressed to describe their business model in detail. It turns out that when the modeling agency provides the talent to clients for their advertising campaigns, fashion shows, and events, they take a 30% cut.

This commission is not better or worse than other agencies in Metro Manila. Gaffud said, “That’s the standard rate for all the modeling agencies.” Since the commission is standardized, if you’re a model, you can’t demand a bigger percentage no matter who you are. Instead, you can work with an agency that is talented enough to get you a bigger pie to split in the first place. Many aspiring models in the Philippines think that their best advocate in this regard is Mercator.

What happens next

Given that an agency’s lineup of models can make or break it financially, the owners must put a lot of stock into who they sign and take onboard. In addition to the obvious need for the models to be physically attractive, the agency also looks for good professionalism, which will help the talent navigate through the entertainment industry.

“Apart from the physical appearance,” Gaffud said, “what we look for in a Mercator model is someone who is confident about himself or herself – someone professional, polite, and courteous.”

After a model is hired, the first few months see them experience a flurry of work and promotion.

“We start sending their videos and compcards to possible clients right away,” Gaffud said. Compcards contain all information of relevance, including a few pictures of the model, their biometric detail (both basic specs like height and weight and more detailed specs like eye color and chest size), and their contact information.

The talent is also sent out into the world of entertainment. Gaffud said, “We also start sending them to castings for TVC, print, and fashion shows.” If all goes well and they tend to do with Mercator – the company having a stellar track record of taking talents to the next level because they don’t bet on anyone they don’t think can win – the talent becomes a known commodity and they start to get regular work.

This is what happened with Brazilian models in 2006, just two short years after Mercator’s founding. “It was in year 2006, it all started when we flew in Fabio Ide, a Brazilian-Japanese model, to work for the agency,” Gaffud said. “During that time, a few Brazilian models were already in the country and their market was good (and still is) for TVCs, print ads, and other advertising mediums. Since then a lot of fly in models, mostly Brazilians, flew in the country. Most of the popular Brazilians were Akihiro Sato and Daniel Matsunaga.”

But what happens if the situation changes and the models from a particular country become more popular? Based on his past experiences with Mercator, Gaffud is confident that he can always keep with the times and their trends.

“We are expanding and being competitive as well to ensure its growth and maintain its quality,” he said. “The industry is always changing, the market is always changing. We are always coping with change as it happens.”

Of course, though Gaffud and his team select the most talented and best looking models, it’s not to say that he has no knack for shaping people into the best versions of themselves. So if it ever came down to a scenario where the modeling landscape were to change dramatically, and to do so very quickly, Gaffud would still be able to bear on his talent for developing talent.

“Working at Mercator has given me the power to develop skills and enhance the personalities of our models to make them more competitive in the business and somehow in their own respective careers as well,” Gaffud said. “Being able to influence them is what I love about it.” – Rappler.com