Though the scouts at IMG have used Instagram as a search tool for some time, it wasn't until this past December that the modeling mega-agency created a dedicated division for that purpose alone. "We Love Your Genes," as the program and Instagram handle are called, aims to find new faces via the hashtag #WLYG. Girls tag the acronym on a photo, and they're guaranteed to land in front of an agent for consideration.
Having spoken with the team at IMG early this year to hear about the program, we circled back to see how things are going— and it turns out that things are, indeed, going. IMG has signed four girls through WLYG: Andrea Van der Westhuizen from South Africa, Stella Everett from Sydney, Bronwyn Fisher from Germany and Gina Pacak from Pittsburgh. Jeni Rose, the agency's vice president of scouting, said that, as of last Friday, her team was in the process of signing five more, and was speaking to somewhere between 30 and 70 others.
All of those leads were funneled down from a hashtag that has been used more than 101,300 times since it launched in mid-December.
It's a lot of content to wade through, but Rose says that there's almost always someone looking at the tag since IMG has offices all over the world and operates in numerous time zones. About six weeks ago she hired a dedicated digital scout, Isabelle Lindblom, to work on the program.
The process of signing someone through #WLYG isn't entirely different from how the agency signs any other girl. After identifying a potential model on Instagram, the team will follow up with her to ask how tall she is and where she's based. If she seems to fit the bill, an agent will come out to visit her. That's where IMG's longtime experience scouting girls all over the world — at mall searches, concerts and on the street — comes in.
"No matter where they are, we can get to meet them or see them, because we travel so much," Rose says. "We found a girl in Romania, and I have someone I've known for years and trust who met with her. It's important to talk with the families, and it's important for them to understand what it means to be a model. Then we try to get it going as soon as we possibly can."
It's not a straight shot from Instagram to the runways of Paris, though. At 14 to 16 years old, all four girls signed through WLYG will be on IMG's development roster until they graduate from high school, learn about the business of modeling and show that they're ready to head on to the big leagues. Although models can book big jobs while in development — Gemma Ward graced the cover of Italian Vogue during that time, while Jac Jagaciak booked her first campaign for Chanel — it's about preparing them mentally and physically for a career as a professional model.
"We want everyone to understand that modeling, until they finish high school, is a hobby. We're really strict about that, just because it's important for the girls to understand," Rose says. "[They] need to concentrate on being a great student, so they can get time off [to model] because their grades are so good. We want to represent them for 15 to 20 years like Carolyn Murphy or those girls, so the preparation is a long road."
One tip for those hoping to get cast via Instagram? Don't create a separate account for your modeling portfolio.
"A lot of girls are making side accounts for getting scouted, which is absolutely wrong," says Rose. "I want to see the pictures that they have no idea I want to see. I want to see them at their best friend's sister's wedding. I want to see them on the last day of school."
In short, the best photos are the ones that show a girl's vibrancy and personality, both of which help propel models forward once they're in the industry.
Though WLYG makes it drastically easier — almost a "passive" act, in Rose's words — to land oneself in front of a scout, the sheer number of girls submitting photos on Instagram doesn't mean that IMG is going to have more models in development.
"They're all in different phases [of their lives], so you constantly need to make sure that you're scouting so that you have girls, but I don't think it's necessarily [that we have] more models," Rose says. "I just think we're finding them in a different way."