Developing artists as brands
Mercenaire is a multi-disciplinary artist agency whose values are honour, perseverance and out of the box thinking.
Our clients are mainly fashion and luxury brands and we have a particular expertise in digital content.
So you could say that we are old fashioned in a way and forward thinkers in another.
(This is the short version. Want to know the much longer version? Keep reading…)
If you want to be an anomaly act like one.
Ten years into my career as an agent in London, New York and Paris I had a burnout. As many people do, (and after watching this talk) I decided to go traveling to look after myself, gain some perspective and figure out why I had worked myself into the ground but also what my real purpose in life was and subsequently, what my dream job could be.
As usual when something’s wrong and you can’t quite pinpoint what it is, I started considering a 360° change of plan: teaching, humanitarian work, becoming a photographer myself, or start a decoration business! I would get excited about it for a month or two but always got back to square one.
I was pretty lost.
The irony of it is that during that time I got offered some amazing opportunities that most people in my industry could only dream of – but somehow, something was always missing. I was scared to repeat the same mistakes that drove me to escape my life altogether and find refuge on the other side of the planet.
The people who know me, know that I am a go-getter. I am bold and not afraid to reach out to anyone. So they kept asking me what was stopping me from taking action. And the problem for me was never to go get my dream job but simply to figure out what it was.
My travels took me to Australia, New Zealand, Russia… I had the time of my life, but I still didn’t know who I was going to send my CV to when I’d get home.
After coming back to Paris and freelancing for a couple of people, the solution came to me: there simply wasn’t a dream job out there for me. Traditional workspaces and one-dimensional roles have always ended making me feel frustrated and limited.
The problem I had – like many of you I’m sure – is that I’m interested in so many things and I have a complex personality: am an introvert who also loves working with people.
So there we were, there was no lazy way around this one: I would have to create my dream job, built directly upon the different aspects of my personality.
Ok so… How does one build a business around one’s needs and not the other way round like most people, dare you ask?
First things first: during my sabbatical I did a lot of introspection, a lot of thinking and a lot of stepping outside my comfort zone. I wanted to change, I wanted to learn, I wanted to overcome some personal limitations and to experiment with how I defined myself – and I finally had the time to do so.
During and after that time, I had to dig deep and really examine my values and how I had let myself down often by compromising them – and how compromising them was very counterproductive in the long run. I had to find more meaning in what I did, and I had to be 100% aligned with my core values and aspirations.
Don’t be scared to be multidimensional, you’re not unfocused, nobody should define who you are, you can be so many things
In the workspace a lot of people tend to believe that if they’re not suffering, then they’re not working. In France in particular, I hear my friends tell me that they force themselves to stay late at work even if they know that they’re so tired that they’re not productive at all. They do it so that everyone sees ‘how hard they’re working’. What is that about??
I met a lot of people in my industry who had passion but the absurdity of the workplace left them frustrated. They lost the will they had in spite of being super talented, bright and beautiful individuals.
I want to tell them that work doesn’t have to be hard; work doesn’t have to bring stress, frustration or pain. Work is part of our self- expression as human beings and should drive us towards excellence and greatness. It is not about pain or struggle.
I’m not saying it’s easy either. Whenever one attempts to achieve anything, there will be obstacles, setbacks and doubts. But if you are driven by joy and passion, those will not slow you down for very long as you will keep coming back to that inner calling, that inner voice that lets you know you are in the right place, at the right time, expressing yourself and making progress.
So – it is paramount for me to enjoy the process. And for everyone else to enjoy it too: clients or artists alike. Take things with a pinch of salt, have a sense of humour and keep working towards your goal, or our mutual goal. Joy is contagious, so refuse work that will bring nothing but hassle. When your vibe is good, more of it will come your way and abundance will flow.
Integrity to me is a lot more than just ethics. The first thing I learnt about sales is that my word meant EVERYTHING.
I always strive to do as I say simply to establish trust: keep my commitments, demonstrate fair behaviour and speech in all my runnings. Because word of mouth and reputation is the most powerful form of marketing.
But for me, aside from this, I’d say the next level of integrity is about authenticity and truth. When I am in my truth and my passion, I know I create energy that drives and inspires others to make team work smooth, exhilarating and fun.
Being grounded in my truth also makes me more sensitive to bullshit because I listen to my internal compass more. On that topic, yes, one of the reasons why I felt so depleted a few years ago, why my personal drive and enthusiasm had gone was also from allowing ungrateful, manipulative or negative individuals too much influence on me.
This is the reason that today I commit to you that you will not find any of that as part of my roster or team. I will not allow artists who work under my wing to behave like divas, speak badly to their teams or let success change them into egomaniacs. Nothing but good vibes, creativity, fun, and professionalism.
Life’s too fucking short!
(And it’s not the 90’s anymore)
Another realization was that it wasn’t possible for me to be traditionally employed by somebody anymore. I had had so much autonomy in my previous roles that the asking for permission, the swallowing of my opinions when I knew that the business wasn’t well managed or driven, and the insane politics inside big businesses weren’t something I was prepared to deal with anymore.
It’s just such a drag!!
I am fiercely independent yes but that does not mean I have a phobia of authority. I wouldn’t mind working for someone else but it would have to be someone I admired and learnt from, and unfortunately all the people I consider my mentors in the business are people I have never met.
On top of being my own boss, another vital thing for me is the freedom to circulate. For years I sent artists around the world to travel experience wild adventures while being stuck in the office after hours.
I now want to be able to go as and where I please, as travelling is my biggest source of inspiration, how I recharge my batteries, gain perspective and come up with new ideas.
This is why I made Mercenaire a location independent entity. I can take the business with me anywhere, and keep the spirit I had during my sabbatical: the open-mindedness, the inspiration, the out-of-the-box thinking. At the end of the day it is a MAJOR added value to my clients and artists alike.
Because one of the beautiful side effects of that wanderlust is that I have made and still continue to make special connections everywhere I travel to. This is extremely precious for the artists I represent as I broaden their own horizons for projects with foreign or international brands.
Oh but secretly, I want to be everywhere. I want to know who is doing what work where and how. I want to see the bigger picture at all times. So yes, I am slightly fascinated with ubiquity.
I know this world is full of many opportunities. And the more you believe it the more they manifest for you. This simple statement is not just a naive, wishful thinking optimistic belief. It’s the truth.
I have seen it with my own eyes on many occasions: amazing ascents to success, incredible strokes of luck combined with fine preparation can bring people to places they’d never imagine. If you approach business or life in general from a place of lack – you will just feel threatened by others, you will develop a sort of defensiveness that will only bring you more of the same.
In that frame of mind I do not consider anyone to be my rival or my competition, more so a peer or a colleague. The only one competition worth considering is myself as I commit to more personal development and challenges on a daily basis.
I also realized I had to stop trying so hard to convince people to like me or work with me. In my twenties I approached sales in a very aggressive way which was to leave no stone unturned and to go knock on the window if the door was closed for me. For example I remember trying very very hard to secure a meeting with DDB Paris a few years ago. Every time I secured the meeting I’d show up and after waiting half an hour I was stood up, the person was “in a meeting”. I think that happened 2 or 3 times. I was determined to have the bloody meeting! Well… I stopped that. It was extremely counter-productive. It made me resentful and I frankly had better things to do with my time.
These days: I no longer try to convince anyone. Of course, I still hustle, reach out and initiate meetings but I stop trying so hard. It’s not meant to be such a strife and trying too hard not only is not attractive but it’s often a sign that you are on the wrong path. Instead I now look for like-minded people: open-minded, solution driven people I can relate to and who can relate to me. I want my tribe! And since I shifted that paradigm, I have had a lot more fun and have made some joyous effortless connections.
Because on a side note, I’m not really it to make “connections”, am I? I am in this to make friends.
The belief of abundance also makes me more generous, considering that helping other people eventually creates more opportunities for myself. As the very inspiring writer Simon Sinek puts it: “A star wants to see himself rise to the top. A leader wants to see those around him rise to the top.”
True leaders help other people become successful instead of trying to bring them down. I always try to help people rise up – although I do draw the line between helping and enabling, helping and being exploited. And it’s a fine line sometimes, innit?
Yes I know the word will make some of you cringe… But consider that self-development merely means a need to keep learning all the time and better myself.
Everything I do is driven from that. I have some sort of hypercuriosity about all things creative and cultural. Hence the need to travel and meet new people constantly. I believe everybody I meet has something to teach me and you’ll often find me taking notes when you speak because I am genuinely interested in what you have to say and often follow it up with research. (I seriously do!)
And yes I also take my personal development very seriously, and I invest in it.
I have a Masters degree in Philosophy, I’m an NLP practitioner, I’ve read more than 100 books on personal development or psychology and I work on emotional savviness weekly with a coach.
I’m a sucker for objectives, visualization techniques, critical thinking and all that stuff.
I want to keep learning because when I stop it’s usually very bad for me! I find myself in some sort of a lethargic place… Complacency is such a turn off, don’t you think?
That infinite curiosity has had some great side effects on my work too as I started gathering significant general knowledge which in return fed my ability to connect with people. For example, I speak a bit of Russian and I always make a great first impression when meeting people originally from Russia, as it’s a great ice breaker and an upfront way to bond. And how about being able to say to someone who comes from a tiny village in New South Wales – Australia – “yes I’ve been there”. People dig that stuff.
The best school of leadership is therefore general knowledge
Charles de Gaulle
As a result I have no intention of binding myself to representing only one type of artists. I search for unusual artists, not just traditional visual artists which is my backrgound. Basically any type of artists or creative whose work has commercial potential can reach out. Are you handbag designer? A perfume maker? A motion designer who uses nothing but bits of plastic and a camera? If it’s beautiful I want to hear from you.
I want to design projects of all kinds, projects I’ve never done before, weird complicated quotes where I will need some serious creative resources myself too. Stimulation!
You can send your application to: email@example.com
When I contacted Garance Doré in 2009 I was already following a bunch of blogs and I knew something was brewing… You could tell that there was a major paradigm shift underway.
Over the course of several conversations Garance and I bonded and shared a common vision for developing her business, so I became her agent and stayed so until 2012.
At the time she was already getting quite a lot of attention from the press and her readership stats were impressive but she hadn’t done significant commercial work.
She wanted to grow and develop but it was paramount to protect her strong connection to her audience and chose assignments in a very organic way, avoiding any forced collaboration which could have potentially alienated her readership.
We worked on developing creative relationships with the brands who could make her blog viable financially, brands who were smart enough not to try to bend her out of shape to accommodate their list of requirements.
So we proceeded to custom-design projects along the lines of her existing editorial line in a view to building long lasting bonds with the brands she loved. It sometimes meant taking risks and going outside of our comfort zone, experimenting different things at a time where there was no role model in the field.
Together we worked on her first major editorial fashion story shoot with Vogue Japan, on her first “acting job” for Petit Bateau, went on our first covering of the Cannes Festival for Chopard, her first major advertising campaign for Australian client Westfield or her first public talk at Sciences-Po Paris.
It was a learning curve which I welcomed with open arms as I loved the idea of designing tailor-made “outside the box” projects offering the client something else than just the usual photography or film.
We often tried to come up with 360° strategies including user generated content, subtle product placements, hashtags, intelligent content across a number of media platforms, as well as product design or capsule collections, or even prestigious dinners OR public talks.
Our time together was highly successful both creatively and financially, as well as fun. It was rewarding to be in the background of her career’s tipping point.
And as a result my knowledge of blogs and blog development is unprecedented in the industry.
In 2008 Walter Schupfer and I met through a common friend (Hi Margot!) and he appointed me to start his French office. (WSM was founded by Walter in New York in 1995)
Armed with only a laptop and a phone I took this challenge on to build in Paris a sustainable and profitable branch from scratch.
Walter had burnt his wings before in Paris where he had previously opened an office with a team of 4 or 5 people straight away, in beautiful offices in central Paris which of course meant large overheads. By a stroke of very bad luck his French office opened in August of 2001, days before 9/11 happened in New York and caused the following two years to be absolutely disastrous for business. He quickly had to wrap it up here, and the French being the French (tax, tax, tax) the whole ordeal cost him a huge amount of money.
When we started working together his concern was understandably to ensure a different approach, a very organic kind of growth and not investing an initial huge amount while binding himself with long term employment contracts which are very hard to get out of in France particularly.
That challenge hugely stimulated me so I kept the initial investment very low, started in a tiny office (those who remember will laugh at this, it was EPIC!) and sowed the seeds until the rewards came. And boy did I hustle! So they didn’t take that long: after the initial 6 months, the French office was 100% self funded and self reliable.
I kept running the business by myself for quite some time, had the freedom to select young artists with fantastic potential (inc. Garance Doré – see above) and invested all my energy and smarts in order to patiently attain the right momentum for the significant next steps. On our third year of trade my turnover was 1.5 million €
It then started to feel like my mission had been completed (and quite frankly I was exhausted!) so I scouted for bigger offices, hired a small but loyal team (the team is still in place to this day, almost 5 years later) and trained them.
And then left to travel, and you know the rest of the story.
Gilles Bensimon – Anton Corbijn – Michel Comte – Martien Mulder – Jessica Craig Martin – Arnaud Pyvka – Garance Doré – Benedict Redgrove – Gavin Bond – René & Radka – Nick & Chloé – Olivia Da Costa – Thomas Legrand – Ralph Gibson – Indira Cesarine – Paul Farrell – Nick Turpin – Ignacio Salinas – Graeme Montgomery – Peter Rad – The Socialite Family – Une Libanaise à Paris – Patrice de Villiers
Dior – Chanel – Louis Vuitton – Guerlain – Jil Sander – Givenchy – Mac Cosmetics – Clarins – L’Oreal – Chopard – IWC – Chloé – Westfield Australia – Publicis – TBWA – Max Mara – Calzedonia – Petit Bateau – Hermès – Le Bon Marché – Longchamp – Comptoir des Cotonniers – BETC – Rosapark – Monoprix – Martell – Ogilvy – Coca Cola – Agatha – Berluti – CLM BBDO – NARS – OPI – Roger Vivier – Ferragamo – Yves Saint Laurent Beauté – Diane Von Fursternberg – Forte Forte – Paule Ka – David Yurman – Moschino – H&M – Galeries Lafayette – Le Printemps – American Apparel – Bloomindales – Harvey Nichols – Mulberry – Bulgari – Cartier – Nina Ricci
Developing artists as brands.
When it comes to artist representation and as mentioned earlier our motto is “developing artists as brands.”
We believe that successful artists today need to grow like brands do, working on a 360° approach to their craft and communication. Anyone can be a visual artist these days but what will make the difference is perfecting your message and presence so that you can rise above the noise. Our models are successful personal branding companies like Jamie Oliver, GOOP, Jillian Michaels etc…
What it means is to make sure your message is clear, your aesthetics and moral values are clear, that people know what you stand for. And then bring that message out as clearly as possible on a number of media channels and make that connection with your audience.
The beauty of personal branding is that it allows self-expression to be completely multidimensional as long as you have found your style – your DNA. It allows tremendous freedom if done properly. All the different parts are being glued to the one individual who embodies the brand.
One of the elements of personal branding we love in particular is product design, which is a material extension of your voice. Today people want to own something tangible when they are a fan of yours. This is why we apply ourselves what we preach and are tackling product design – which is an extension of the emotional connection with our community and followers. Would you productize your value system? You should, it’s such fun!
And boy do I want to have fun with this company of mine!
The meaning of life is precisely to have fun with life
As an ex philosophy student I couldn’t help but make an essay of this, could I ?!