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AIR was initially a sounding board for reps in the US at the start of the pandemic but organically transformed into a proper organisation for the industry - LBB’s Addison Capper chats to its founders and board members

The Alliance of Independent Representatives (AIR) is a prime example of something born out of a need to survive a pandemic that proved too worthwhile to not continue doing. 

Founded by Veronica Lombardo and Ann Asprodites, both reps in their own right, AIR is a 501(c)6 trade organisation that was formed to unite, support and elevate independent production company representatives by creating a platform where community dialogue, resources, and vital guidance are shared. The aim of the organisation is to connect live action, post production and content creation companies with “bold thinking and industry leading representation”, acting as a conduit between the reps’ rostered talent and the advertising agencies and brands who entrust them with their creative vision.

Initially, AIR served as a community, somewhere for like-minded reps - competitors in their day jobs, but with the same daily issues and an ambition to play their role in elevating the work of the wider advertising industry - to sound out issues. Panel discussions were held with heads of production and executive producers from agencies and production companies. It was really a means of survival at first, in much the same way that organisations such as AICP and the 4A’s were also tackling in those earlier days of the pandemic.  “It gelled very organically into an organisation,” says Ann, who is the vice president of AIR and runs Asprodites Reps. “Eventually we became a 501(c)6 proper trade organisation.”

Becoming a proper trade organisation, Veronica says, meant that they needed to step up and “do things properly”. A board of directors was created with fellow reps Corey Rogers, Julie Koellner and Doug Sherin coming on board to join Veronica and Ann. They formed three committees - ‘Evolution + Change’, ‘Diversity in Talent’, and ‘Membership + Recruitment’ - to enable more of a focus on specific issues that are affecting their own businesses and those of AIR’s membership base. You can read more about each committee and their chairs and members here

On top of access to panel recordings, communication and general camaraderie, membership to AIR gives independent representatives the opportunity to appear on AIR’s website, which includes an ‘Explore the Alliance’ section. It’s a tool that has never really existed before and allows producers from agencies and production companies to properly understand where reps are by territory, state and country (country is there because AIR has a rep in Canada and Scandinavia and has plans to hopefully expand to London soon). 

“In this time when people are working heavily online, maybe an agency producer lives in Los Angeles, works out of an agency in Detroit, but only knows reps on the West Coast,” ponders Veronica, president of AIR and owner of VLM representation. “Well, they should not be contacting me or Doug, for example, because we’re West Coast reps. We don’t handle people in Detroit. But they could go to the ‘Explore the Alliance’ section and find the right rep.” 

What’s more, there’s a ‘Looking for Representation’ section of AIR, which again has never really existed before. Let’s say you’re an EP or owner at a new production company and you’re looking for representation. Where do you start in that search? And who’s to say if the representative that you’ve found is a good fit or even has the bandwidth for more clients? AIR’s ‘Looking for Representation’ section asks users to fill out a short form to better understand their needs. That request then goes to members of the recruitment committee, who will compare and contrast it against AIR members, and draw up suggestions for representation based on location, specialism and availability. “That's never been done before,” says Veronica. “And it’s been working really well. It’s both an incentive for people hunting for a rep and also for reps. It’s only accessible to our members and it helps them build their roster. We are a paid organisation - we have a very low annual fee of $500. But let’s just say that you sign a company - that money and then some is in your pocket. And I’m telling you that there are many reps who have signed more than one company in the less than one year that we’ve been running. Those are two assets [‘Explore the Alliance' and ‘Looking for Representation’] that we provide not just for our members but also for the greater community at large.”

“We are that resource which straddles the world between commerce and art,” adds Ann. “There are content needers and content providers.”

According to Doug, who has run Options representatives since 2004 and is director-at-large at AIR, the organisation is bringing open dialogue to a place where it’s been missing for years. “I'm sure the general perception of a rep was ‘they're my salesperson, they do screenings, they entertain some people, and then I have to pay them commission begrudgingly’. It's a bigger picture than that. It's misrepresented and it has not been embraced, because we ourselves have not expressed wholeheartedly really what we do, how we do it and what we're deserving of - not financially, but respectfully, as we're a pivotal piece of the puzzle in this industry. That's really what this camaraderie and this collaboration and the organisation is. It's putting the body of representatives together for a united front of understanding respect in the name of a true profession.”

“It's really been nice to have a group to bounce things off of,” says Julie of Remedy Reps, who acts as treasurer at AIR. “Before, we were kind of operating as these little islands. We're also trying to come up with best practices and standards. Nothing's mandated where you have to do things a certain way, but it's certainly been helpful to hear how other people handle things.”

Corey, secretary of AIR and a founder of Schaffer/Rogers, likens Julie’s islands metaphor to the working lives of tennis or golf players. “Every once in a while they get to be on a team and they think, ’well, this is fun!’ AIR’s Evolution + Change Committee for instance works on solutions to try and standardise the processes of our business and make things more efficient.  And they also focus on ways to improve our working relationships with producers. A lot of that is education because we’ve discovered that a lot of people in our industry really don’t understand what we do. So the committee put together a handy AIR FAQs to explain our actual role in the industry." 

“A lot of us have been doing this for a long time,” adds Ann, “and we’ve been operating on our own for years. Now, when you have a speed bump, conundrum or question, you can call someone and ask for advice, and that’s been a tremendous help. It’s hard to know all the benefits right now because they are increasing as we go along. Every time we meet there's a new benefit that's discovered. “

Doug concludes, “We are not a union. But we are like-minded people and similarly professional people - we're all doing the same job in our own unique way, shape and form. We're the conduits for connectivity between the talent and the jobs, or the agencies or brands. In any profession, there is an organisation where those like-minded professionals assemble, share thoughts and concerns, address these things, unite and create ideas. So this is what that is.” 

“We've created a place where we all belong. Not your ‘Cheers’ bar per se, where everyone knows your name - but in a similar fashion where everyone gets to know each other better, share their successes, challenges and faults. And we can come up with our united resolutions and focus on our profession and how it can best serve, not us per se, but our industry; fine-tune who we are and how to better ourselves for our industry.”

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