This is my first instalment of what I hope will be a series of reviews of my favourite illustration agencies. At first, I was going to write an exhaustive list of my favourite New York reps in one single post, but it quickly became apparent that this would take forever to both write and read. Instead, I will post one agency at a time, and will for now focus on reps in New York. Why NYC? Because it is indisputably the global centre of the illustration industry.
Of course, every review must have its criteria. I am hardly an expert critic on anything, but as a represented, full time illustrator, I do have my own opinions of what makes as good agency. For instance, an agency should have strong branding and a clear focus in its portfolio. I tend to favour agencies that have a few high quality artists over the ones that have dozens or even hundreds of pretty good ones. I am less impressed by the quality of individual artists than I am of the overall presentation of the set. But of course, who they represent is every bit important: I'm looking for at least one or two recognizable names, and I give extra bonus points for industry superstars (although not all reps with superstar names meet my other criteria). Good agencies of course show the work of their artists well and give each illustrator a proper bio and profile page. Another mark of a great agency is their demonstration of stylistic and technological freshness: their talent is current and creating good, time-friendly work, and their online experience is up to date. In 2017/18, We can't overlook social media influence either, particularly on Instagram. I'm looking at the follower count, which is an indicator of reach and influence. I'm also looking at the feed itself, particularly how it is curated. Finally, you may be surprised to learn that clients are less important to me than these other things. Most agencies can boast a handful of the big ones — Nike, Google, Penguin, The New York Times, etc. — if they've been around long enough. For me, the most stand-out agencies are the ones who are not just saying they're different, but actually are.
These are my personal criteria for what makes an admirable illustration agency. As I do not count myself an expert critic, I would caution you to take all my comments with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, I do not know how these agencies operate from the inside, nor do I know how well they are doing as businesses. The agencies that impress me most do so for the above reasons, and that's that. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged I myself have a New York-based rep. To make sure I am not showing any bias, I have left them off the table for consideration.
Bernstein and Andriulli
Bernstein & Andriulli is a premiere creative management agency with hands in all the pots: photography, illustrators, cgi, motion, beauty, fashion, and even influence marketing. But don't let their "one stop shop" appearance fool you: they boast an impressive talent roster, including pop art legend Sir Peter Blake, who created the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" sleeve. Among others, they also have the whimsical Nomoco (a personal favourite) and Toronto's own Polyester Studio.
What impresses me about B&A is their strong branding, which is sophisticated and premium, alongside a well designed web experience, which makes finding and viewing individual artists a pleasure. While there are many other reps in New York with similarly diverse and choc-full rosters, B&A do a very good job presenting the work in a way that feels cohesive and well-curated. It helps that their logo and overall branding is straightforward and elegant. Even their international-sounding name pleasantly lands on the tongue.
With an Instagram following in the tens of thousands, it's easy to assume that Bernstein & Andriulli are doing something right. And yes, their feed is delectable. It strikes a great balance in terms of showing work from its many disciplines, and demonstrates an expert curator's skill.
If I have any critique of B&A, it's fairly practical: for all the ease of use in finding artists on their website, finding information about the agency itself is less accessible. They don't have an About section on their page: I had to go to LinkedIn to find their agency statement. Their client list is similarly hard to determine, although specific clients are listed in individual artist bios.
My Final Verdict
Bernstein & Andriulli stand out as the top New York agency in my mind, with a good mix of legendary and fresh talent, a great online experience, high audience engagement, and a clear dedication to keeping with the times. They seem to elevate their artists and their work above any specific merits of their own, as an agency, which is refreshing in this industry. And this is the mark of a confident agency that knows what makes it most valuable — the work and the illustrators who make it.