How to get scouted by IMG (on Instagram and TikTok)

The iconic agency’s We Love Your Genes drive is finding the faces of tomorrow without even leaving the house. Which is good, really, because we’re not allowed to leave the house.

by Roisin Lanigan
30 April 2020, 8:00am

Image via Instagram

If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has ensured, it’s that more of our lives than ever before will exist online. Offices have become bedrooms, meetings have become Zooms and nights down the pub have become drinking wine from old mugs on House Party. It has been, suffice to say, an adjustment.

Even the fashion world is changing to become more digital and technologically accessible. Earlier this week Saint Laurent announced it would be forgoing Paris Fashion Week, and back in Milan SS20 Armani streamed their collection behind closed doors, while Dior and the Sarabande Foundation have pivoted to show their exhibitions and lectures online. Model scouting is no exception.

IMG models introduced its We Love Your Genes initiative pre-coronavirus, but the idea behind it has since become eerily prescient. In an attempt to democratise the scouting process, the world-renowned agency, responsible for signing some of the industry’s biggest names, decided to pivot from go-sees and auditions to Instagram instead. Aspiring faces -- rather than trudging along IRL trying to get representation, could instead tag their photos with the hashtag #WLYG. Then IMG’s dedicated development team of scouts would scour the hashtag and bring the world the next wave of supers. Simple enough.

“I thought if we could just centralise everything, make one place where you could scout models digitally, it would make outreach so much easier,” says Jeni Rose, Senior VP at IMG, who was inspired to introduce We Love Your Genes after setting up an Instagram account of her own. Jeni, who runs the WLYG account in collaboration with fellow Senior VP David Cunningham, now hopes the move to Instagram will help fully diversify the industry. “Before,” she explains, “you had to do an open call, buy a plane ticket to a major city, put together a portfolio, sometimes just to be seen for two minutes. Now you can be anywhere or anyone and be seen by a scout, which is exciting.”

Traditionally, scouting was a much more international affair. Jeni and David would have led teams of scouts across the world, seeing thousands of girls in the process. “We’ve taken the Trans-Siberian 13 times because that’s how you used to have to scout Russia,” she says. “They had 7,000 registered modelling schools in the late 90s and early 00s.”

But of course, the world and the modelling industry has become almost unrecognisable since the late 90s. Even before the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of borders across the world, many voices within the industry were questioning old-school processes, whether that was flying editors many times around the world to attend fashion weeks or the constant productivity drive which contributed to waste and pollution. Many have commented that lockdown, while an anxious, horrible time for us all, could also be an opportunity to rethink those practices and streamline the industry, becoming more digital, sustainable and carbon neutral in the process. Moving the process of scouting to a platform easily accessible from anywhere in the world certainly seems to be a step in the right direction from that perspective.

But what if your Instagram is full of nothing but memes, dog pictures and ill-advised phases of FaceTuning dodgy selfies? (Guilty) “I don’t want to see filters,” says Jeni. “I want to see you in your natural life. You with your grandma, your best friend. People underestimate the importance of being genuine. That’s we want to see and it’s how we build a career for a model. We want to know who they really are, what’s their story. If you’re looking at an Instagram account with pseudo studio pictures with tons of makeup and ridiculous clothing, that’s not what I want to see. Whether it’s Facetune, filters… it’s so much more fun to look at snapshots than it is to look at retouched pictures. We look at photoshoots all day long, the last thing I want to look at is a photoshoot that is trying to be a photoshoot.”

Since launching, the WLYG account has scouted a host of (filter-free) girls without ever having to leave the comfort of the sofa. This season’s exciting new faces, straight off social media and into the pages of fashion editorials include Dohyun, Nara Pellman, Freya Walton, Laura Stevenson, Elizabeth Lake and Tara Halliwell (no relation to Geri). IMG have even expanded out to TikTok, signing four new faces in the last month -- Olivia Eigenberger and Nicole Sahebi, both 16 from the US, 15-year-old Anaïs Lunch from France and 16-year-old Mokhamad Ali Al Akhmad, from Russia -- all via the app. “TikTok is great for scouting,” Jeni says. “Because you get to see so much more of someone’s character. For me, it’s the next step. We look at both -- if there is somebody we like on TikTok we look at their Instagram too. It’s great when accounts are linked between the two, because we can look at their snapshots and their dancing!”

Brb, uploading some more dance videos to TikTok. It’s for my portfolio, ok.