Agency offers training program for promising staffers

It was a very tough room. ICM’s youngest and brightest gathered in a conference room at the tenpercentery’s Century City office last month to present the major networks’ new fall lineups — a few days before the series pickups and primetime skeds were actually announced by net toppers at the Gotham upfronts.

Divided into teams of four, one for each of the Big Four, the group of ICM assistants and departmental coordinators made their pitches for why “Charlie’s Angels” would land the Monday 10 p.m. slot on ABC, why “Terra Nova” was sure to be on Fox’s fall sked and why “A. Mann’s World” was bound for NBC, among other moves.

The audience, comprising agency veterans and a few industry insiders, was merciless in putting each team through its paces and poking holes in their programming and skedding rationale, developed after each of the participants spent months reading this year’s pilot scripts.

The elaborate exercise was one of many assignments given to participants in ICM’s agent trainee program. It’s designed to give newbies a well-rounded view of the industry, as well as schooling in how to network effectively, how to collaborate with colleagues and think fast on their feet in challenging circumstances. The year-round effort involves weekly lunches, workshops, guest speakers and charitable fundraising efforts, in addition to assignments like the sked presentations or mock negotiations of contracts.

Participants are also tasked with setting up casual networking opportunities with their peers at other companies.

In essence, the program offers a primer in how to be a good agent, steered by one who knows — ICM vice chairman Bob Broder, who is among the most respected percenters in the biz. Broder took the reins of ICM’s trainee program after his agency, Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann, merged with ICM in 2006.

From Broder’s perspective, it pays to invest in promising young staffers, no matter what their ultimate career path may be.

“The program is designed to take the really ambitious, highly motivated, smart young people who are working for us and give them a great opportunity to learn more about the business and more about themselves,” Broder says. “The common wisdom we tell them is, ‘We’re going to work you very hard, pay you very little and hopefully you will learn a great deal that will serve you well for the future.’ ”

The program is highly selective and usually encompasses 18-20 people a year in L.A., and as many as 10 in ICM’s Gotham office. Staffers with at least a year of experience at the agency have to apply to get in, a process that involves a written statement and interviews with a panel of seasoned ICM-ers. Once accepted, there’s no strict parameter on how long a person stays in the program.

Shade Grant is among the agency’s recent success stories. She was upped to agent in ICM’s unscripted TV department last October, four years after she started in the mail room. The showbiz 101 education and the relationships she developed while in the program have been invaluable.

“Being an assistant can be very insular,” Grant says. “The program allows you to experience everything that a full-service agency does.”

Succeeding in the program is no cakewalk, she adds.

“You absolutely need to be invested in it. Being an agent is about being persistent and hard working and that’s part of being an agent trainee,” she says. “You cut your teeth in that room.” Showbiz 101

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