FEATURING: Robert Casey
What do the words "Creative Community" bring to mind for you? How do you feel is the best way to utilize members in a Creative Community?
I think there's an assumption that anyone in a creative industry intends for their career to take them to a larger market, and Boston's proximity to New York draws inevitable comparisons and some version of the question "why didn't you ever try working in NY?" One of the biggest reasons I've always been happy to make my career in Boston has been the strong sense of community here that doesn't really exist in the same way in bigger markets. As a secondary market, our community is largely comprised of either people starting out and building a foundation to take a shot in a larger market, or people who have done that whole circuit and deliberately decided to make their life here. Consequently, you don't find the cattiness and cutthroat tactics prevalent other places; here, people are genuinely excited and grateful for each opportunity to show up for the day and do what they love. The members of our community are each others greatest cheerleaders, regularly recommending each other for jobs, boasting about each other's success, posting each other's work. I could not be more proud to be a member of such a kind and supportive community, and it's one of the greatest factors that makes me love my job.
How did you discover your creativity?
I'm in the unique position of being someone deeply entrenched in a creative industry and community, but who is not at all creative. As an agent, it's my job to recognize and cultivate talent, and it's a skill that needs to be malleable. A good agent is not one with strong opinion; in fact our job is to suppress all personal opinion so that we can clearly interpret others opinions, internalize feedback and pay attention to market forces. There are models who work now who we never would have considered meeting five years ago because of shifts in client base, we now fill portfolios with photos that would have previously been considered unusable because of shifts in photography styles. Interpreting and predicting client needs and adapting is kind is my skill, one necessary to the creative industries, but not under the umbrella of what is traditionally considered one of the creative disciplines.
What was your first “Big Break” in your profession?
I went to Boston University's College of Communications and there was a big focus on career preparation and supplementing school with internships. I had already done two internships by the end of my sophomore year and was looking for a third for the summer before junior year. I was a public relations major and thought I wanted to work somewhere in entertainment but wasn't sure exactly where. I wasn't specifically into fashion per se, but talent management interested me and there weren't any stand alone talent agencies in Boston so I figured I'd try a modeling agency and would at least get an idea of how talent management worked. And, to be candid, the idea of hanging out with models and getting invited to cool parties seemed like a fun way to spend the summer. I had read and heard about Maggie and she sounded like a strong woman I could learn a lot from so I wrote her a letter asking to hang out in her office and work for her for free for the summer, and the rest is history. She started paying me by the end of the summer and I stayed part time through the school year. By my senior year, I came on as a full time employee and took all of my classes at night to finish my degree. And seven years ago, I purchased the agency from Maggie when it became time for her to retire. This is the only job I've had in my adult life and next May will mark 20 years in the industry for me.
What's in your backpack/handbag/tote right now?
I spent a semester of school in London where it was raining every morning and incredibly sunny every afternoon so I became trained to carry both an umbrella and sunglasses on me at all times which I still do to this day. And a physical planner: I use my phone for contacts and calendar like everyone else, but I like to mesh technology with tradition; there's a charm to some things now considered old fashioned and I love having my beat up planner on me to scribble down notes and ideas
Top 3 Tips you would give someone starting out in your creative profession:
Respect and learn from those who came before you. Too often, I see young hotshots enter the business looking to shake things up by proposing to do away with the old guard and implement a new way altogether. It's a poor way to ingratiate yourself to a community you'll inevitably need to engage with and it's foolish not to learn from those who have already done it. We need to constantly adapt and change, and new ideas are welcome, but these industries have existed and thrived long before your arrival, the more practical approach is to look at how to improve upon and evolve pre existing structures, not reinvent the wheel.
On the same note, pay your dues. Do anything you can that puts you in the room with those currently doing what you want to do: assist, network, seek out mentors. I find that the ones who try to strike out on their own go through a lot more trial and error and often don't have staying power compared to those who utilize the community to really learn the industry from the inside, and work their way up through the ranks.
And be mindful of work/life balance. This can be an all consuming business, it operates 24/7 and, while I cherish my relationships in the community, it can become very easy to surround yourself with only industry people. Your skills and mindset can become very stale if your life is only comprised of work, looking at work, thinking about work, talking about work, socializing with people from work.... it's important to engage with outside experiences and contacts to recharge and to bring new perspectives to your work. I say this as a work in progress myself, it's a constant, but necessary, battle.
What is your MOTTO in life?
No booking left behind: our industry is fast paced, works on impossibly short lead times and we're constantly putting out fires. But we are a service industry and pride ourselves on giving each client and job the same amount of attention and importance. When things build up to a state of chaos, it's very easy for a booking to slip through the cracks and the one thing above all else that I won't tolerate. I can accept when we don't book something because the client went with someone else, but I won't sleep at night if we lose a booking because we were otherwise too occupied to properly attend to it.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
I Uber everywhere and haven't taken the T in over a decade. I grew up in Revere and went to high school in the city, I did the commute every day to the very last stop, Wonderland, and repeated the commute for two years when I moved home after college. I did my time on the T and vowed that once I moved in the city I'd never take the T again.
What do your parents think you do?
Go to fashion shows. Everyone always thinks I go to tons of fashion shows; I could count on my hands how many fashion shows I've ever gone to in my 20 years in the industry, I'm usually at the agency when shows happen, waiting for the call if something goes wrong.
What would be your Networking Do's & Dont's?
Seek out the oldest person in the room, they've seen the most and have the best stories.