New talent agency offers GLBT division

For some advertising agencies, marketing to the GLBT community means placing an attractive model and a rainbow in the same ad. Through his new talent agency, Josh Robbins wants to change that.

"I want gay people to be in gay ads," he said. "I want to book people who really understand that ad from the perspective of [the] people it's targeting."

Robbins, a veteran talent agent, opened BNA Talent Group in September. The agency represents actors and models and specializes in the GLBT market, he said.

"No one else in this market, in the Bible Belt, is doing this for fear of stigma," Robbins said. "I'm not afraid of going down that road."

Before opening BNA, Robbins worked with another Nashville talent agency for 6 1/2 years as head agent and V.P. In that company, Robins says that he played an active role in facilitating growth from a one-room office to having offices in four markets in the southeast. Now, he's planning to do the same for his humble, yet efficient, one-room agency on Music Row (1601 16th Ave.).

BNA is ostensibly one of the few agencies outside of New York and California that specializes in finding GLBT people for GLBT parts in advertisements, film and TV. In business just more than two months, Robbins has already signed two models to the GLBT division.

Debreca Smith, 35, signed on with BNA last month. She said Robbins' knowledge of the industry, BNA's youth and it's GLBT division were definite draws.

"Other agencies are already pretty saturated with talent," Smith said. "BNA is giving me the opportunity to come in on the ground floor and grow with the agency."

Smith, a self-described half-black, half-Puerto Rican, ultra-femme lesbian, is pursuing a career in film acting with a focus on independent films. She said BNA's focus on minorities and GLBT people was comforting to her since she has such a unique heritage.

"I'm fascinated by the idea of playing a part that actually shows the real side of GLBT people, not the Hollywood version," she said. "BNA gives me the chance to explore that area which is such a big part of who I am."

Robbins said the GLBT division will provide extra exposure for his clients as advertisers and filmmakers look to fill GLBT roles.

"I am going after accounts that specifically advertise to this community and these clients are getting an added push in an arena," Robbins said.

Robbins hopes his specialized divisions, which also includes one for minorities, will help BNA grow steadily at a time when local and national agencies are trying to find new ways to tap into the billions of dollars of spending power held by the GLBT community.

Locally, Nashville-based advertising agency Gish Sherwood & Friends (GS&F) has been one of the first to reach out to the gay community with ads commissioned by Bridgestone Americas which have featured people from the GLBT community.

"Using a talent agency that has a GLBT division would absolutely be a consideration based on our initiatives to support all areas of the GLBT community," said Laramey Lawson, senior vice president at GS&F. "This would also be true for African American and Hispanic segments."

Robbins said BNA will offer GS&F and others direct access to a pool of openly gay talent for its future campaigns.

"I want to reach out to agencies and show them that there is a community here of gay people who are performers and they want to be included in the ads," Robbins said.

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