Wilhelmina’s CEO Talks Insta-Scouting and Teaching His Models to Love Social Media

Wilhelmina CEO Bill Wackermann. (Photo: Getty Images)

When you hear about models being “discovered,” what comes to mind? Maybe a girl being scooped up at an amateur modeling competition, or a leggy teen getting approached at the mall? 

Well, in the modern age of modeling, that’s only the half of it — because these days, a perfectly proportioned individual is just as likely to find fame via social media as she is by camping outside a modeling agency. 

That’s exactly the well that New York City-based agency Wilhelmina, home to models like Cindy Bruna, Soo Joo Park, and Robyn Lawley, is tapping into with #WillyScouts — its latest recruiting tactic. (IMG launched a similar program in late 2014.) The concept is simple: Aspiring models who post Instagrams of themselves with the hashtag #WillyScouts are guaranteed to have their photos reviewed by a Wilhelmina model scout. If the scout likes what he or she sees, the agency will contact the model and go from there.

In the month that #WillyScouts has existed, Wilhelmina has received around 30,000 responses — approximately 1,000 per day. 

“Before, we were knocking on doors looking for a face as opposed to saying we’re going to open our doors and let you come in,” says CEO Bill Wackermann, who devised #WillyScouts after joining the agency in January. “Our agents would go through Instagram just randomly looking through [for potential recruits], but we had never created a spot that said ‘come to us,’ all in one place.”

Wilhelmina model Cindy Bruna at the 2015 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. (Photo: @cindybruna/Instagram) 

Now, Wilhelmina employs two scouts with the full-time task of combing through #WillyScouts. They’ve reached out to six model hopefuls so far. 

So what are those scouts scouting for, exactly? Wackermann says that, first of all, it’s important that the applicant understands what type of modeling she’s interested in. “Knowing the type of modeling you want to do would be the first step — there are prerequisites depending on which kind of model you want to be. Fitness model? Commercial model? Or are you trying to be a runway or high-end editorial model?” Wackermann says. “If you’re 5-foot-5, you’re probably never going to walk a runway, and it’ll be a much tougher situation for you. But if you’re in amazing shape, maybe fitness modeling is what you want to get into.”

Wackermann adds that the other photos on a prospect’s Instagram are just as important as the one tagged #WillyScouts. “If we like your look in the picture, we’ll then go through the rest of your feed to see you in other situations. You should use your Instagram as a platform to show that you can have a lot of different looks, because a really successful model can transform for a photographer: She can wear a short wig and look like one person, and the next day, she can be another. So make sure that you’re thinking about not just your original picture but how you’re casting your whole Instagram.”

But Wilhelmina’s new Insta-fixation goes beyond amateur models. Wackermann says that the agency is also working to teach its current models the importance and power of having a social media following. Which makes sense in an industry in which Instagram-savvy names like Karlie Kloss and Cara Delevingne have more than 4 million and 28 million followers, respectively.

A handful of #WillyScouts submissions. (Photo: Instagram)

“It’s not just something that is nice to do anymore — it is something that we’re requiring our models to take seriously. That is 100 percent the dialogue we’re having every day with them. Some say, ‘I don’t really like that, I don’t want to do that.’ But today, you cannot not do that. It’s the first thing casting directors will say: ‘What is his or her following?’ Because, if they’re going to pick a model, and this one has 2 million and this one has 11,000, I’d rather have the 2 million — that’s 2 million more people being turned on to my brand.

“We’re educating them on what time to post, what their handle should be. You have to think of it from a branding perspective,” he says.

As for whether #WillyScouts will produce the next great supermodel, we’ll just have to wait and see. 

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