Geetha (left) with Ning Baizura
It’s a well-known fact that celebrities in Malaysia wear many hats. Singers are rarely just singers. Many would also act, do emceeing jobs or even have radio shows. Similarly, actors would sometimes sing, model and emcee on the side.
That’s because the entertainment industry in Malaysia is a relatively small one and so celebrities have develop many different income streams. One very important one is brand endorsements or even brand ambassadorships.
This is when a celebrity is seen promoting a particular company’s products. You see this everywhere, in advertisements, websites, billboards, TV etc. It’s an important source of income for celebrities.
Usually when one thinks of the entertainment industry, the word “glamourous” comes to mind. But a rather non-glamorous part of the eco-system is the agents who connect the brands to the celebrities.
Geetha Anandarajan got her start in this business when while as an intern at a TV station, one of the celebrities there invited her to join a new talent agency he was founding. She was the first hire in the agency and she literally grew with the company, learning along the way.
“It was just something I fell into,” she says. “I certainly didn’t plan or aspire to be an agent to the stars.”
She also never expected to form her own agency someday but after a few years in the business, she found herself at a crossroads. “I was at a junction in life contemplating whether to go for a proper corporate job or to try my hand at doing this on my own,” she recalls.
Handling a job and starting a business are two very different things. She was good at the former but could she handle the latter? She decided it was worth giving it a try since she had the knowledge and network to make it work. What she lacked though was business experience.
So, she did research online on what it took to run a business and asked friends for advice on legal and financial matters. And she got plenty of moral support from her family. All this made a big difference, she says. “I was blessed to be surrounded by people of various backgrounds who could give me the different types of advice I needed. If I had tried to do everything on my own, it would have been a very difficult.”
And so GTalent was born.
Geetha with Lisa Surihani and her mother.
There are different types of talent agents. Some help them to secure work. Others manage their clients’ careers. Those are not things Geetha does. Rather, she helps them secure brand endorsements or brand ambassadorships. “I help clients find suitable personalities who can front their branding initiatives. This can be anything from appearances in events to media interviews to appearances on social media. We take the client through from the beginning, helping them find the best personality to represent their brand.”
Although she gets to hobnob with the stars, her job involves a lot of back end work and negotiations. “A lot of people think my job is glamorous but it really isn’t,” she says. “The glamorous part of it – just for a little while – takes place when the event takes place. But before that there are hours and hours of preparation, spent in front of the laptop, on the phone, in meeting rooms. The huge amount of paperwork and e-mails involved is hardly glamourous.”
Although she mainly works with celebrities – actors, singers, TV presenters – she also represents famous personalities who are not in the entertainment industry per se. This includes athletes like Pandelela Rinong and cookbook author Chef Wan.
The hardest part about her job is not so much securing the endorsement deals. There are always companies looking for celebrities to endorse their brands. And there are always celebrities looking to become brand ambassadors. The challenge is in striking a win-win arrangement for both parties as Geetha’s role is not just to ensure that the celebrities get a good deal but that the brands do too.
It’s not been easy starting her own business but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I truly cannot survive a regimented schedule so it’s a real blessing that my job not only allows me flexibility, it also has me doing 10 things at once. Multitasking keeps me on my toes and I even appreciate the problems that crop up because I learn from them. New challenges keep emerging and I keep learning along the way. Which is great!”
Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.