Voices Of Live: ICM Partners’ Lorrie Bartlett, Robert Gibbs and Yves C. Pierre

– Lorrie Bartlett, Robert Gibbs, and Yves C. Pierre

ICM Partners has been committed to racial and gender equality since its inception. The company instituted a “50/50 by 2020” program in 2017 and has met its goals of gender equality in total employees and in leadership positions. To wit, Lorrie Bartlett is the first African American to become a department head at a major agency and the first elected to its board. In this current racial crisis, the agency has made financial commitments to support Campaign Zero’s #8CANTWAIT, Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote and the ACLU of LA and NY. The company also announced it is immediately instituting mandatory training in unconscious bias, anti-racism, anti-hate training programs for all employees. 

Pollstar caught up with Bartlett, the co-head of talent; Robert Gibbs, a partner and agent in the concerts department; and Yves C. Pierre, a music agent in New York, to discuss the current crisis and their experiences toward figuring out how we can all do this better.

Pollstar: What’s your take on all that’s currently happening and the agency business? 
Lorrie Bartlett: I don’t think people have come to terms with what’s transpired over the last few months, but I do think that there has been, at least in terms of the talent side, a more intentional attempt to cast a colorblind eye in shows and films. But this is the time to create a substantive shift in the way things are being done.
Do you think it’s a turning point?
Robert Gibbs: It’s different from a few years ago. We see people coming together and being unified. It’s about focus and alignment, both internally and externally, for us to create and make sure change is happening and holding people accountable. Moving forward I’m hopeful. I know what I’m going to do and how I’m going to hold my colleagues and counterparts accountable. That’s giving me hope.
Yves C Pierre: You can’t feel stifled and stuck in thinking, “Oh, nothing is ever going to change.” You have to have the mentality that this time is different. I’m hopeful in knowing there are like-minded people I work with who are committed to the process and committed to holding people accountable. It’s a conversation as an industry we need to be having and have an allegiance to. 
Bartlett: Al Sharpton said something at the George Floyd Memorial today (June 4) that was interesting: The partner to hope is faith. When you lose hope sometimes you have to have faith that we will persevere, we will push forward, we will make things happen and we are committed. There is a real commitment in a different way than in the past and I’m hopeful and have faith people will remain diligent about making substantive changes. 
There was an all-hands-on meeting this Monday at ICM, how did that go?
Bartlett: There was a real feeling amongst the agency that we had to devote the entire meeting to how people were feeling. The real proof in the pudding will be the long-standing commitment we have to making a difference. It’s not a hashtag or a black square, it’s about a real commitment to having more diverse faces in our ranks.
I heard you played J. Cole’s “Be Free” at the meeting, Robert.
Gibbs: There was a lot of emotion in the meeting and it was tough, we’re all hurting. I was trying to find words to express how I felt and went back to that performance. Not everybody had seen it. He did that performance in 2014, six years ago, and here we are and his music and his message still stand. It’s a sad truth and sends a powerful message. 
Does the structure of the partnership at ICM, with employees buying out its corporate owner in 2011, lend itself to change in a way you wouldn’t see at a more corporate agency?
Bartlett: I think it lends itself to having a more open conversation because we don’t have a majority partner in the company telling us how we have to execute our business. It’s really about us running the company and it’s incumbent upon the partners as well as the entire agency to move this ship forward. The structure lends itself to creating a better environment to make things happen and have more substantive actions and not just lip service. But we’re going to have to do the work, which we’re set up to do.
I know ICM reached its 50/50By2020 gender parity goals. Is that how diversity and inclusivity initiatives will be approached?
Bartlett: It’s a different time and the idea of thinking about situations differently vis-à-vis sexual harassment has occurred, and it’s fantastic. This point in time, it’s about taking that enthusiasm and the will to change mindsets vis-à-vis race and having different cultures ingrained into the fabric of our agency. We’re really committed to making it happen in the same way we were committed to making women in our company a real priority as well. 
What are your stories of breaking into the business and the challenges you faced?  
Pierre: A big part of it was getting an internship while I was at the University of Maryland. We talk internally about making an effort to reach out to HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities] and giving them an idea of other forms of employment in music beyond being an artist or working at a label.
Where did you intern? 
Pierre: I started at Def Jam and that turned into employment. I spent the first couple years at labels and then went into management and ended up at ICM in 2012 and worked my way up. I started from the bottom as an assistant, then became a coordinator and then promoted to an agent. I just used sensibilities learned while working at a label and those relationships to start my path to agent.
You make it sound easy.
Pierre: It definitely wasn’t, but in understanding what propelled me there were communities of people who I consider friends in this business who helped by giving me an opportunity or putting in a kind word or being an advocate. 
Bartlett: Yves has a never-say-die, take-no-prisoners, I’m-not-going-to-take-no-for-an-answer attitude that every agent needs. And yes, you need advocates, you need mentors, but that internal fire that she has, I’d bet on Yves Pierre every time. 
Gibbs: Similar to Yves, I got an internship at a boutique agency in Philadelphia while I was in school and learned the agency business on a much smaller scale. I ended up meeting someone who I consider not only a mentor but a big brother, a colleague and partner, Dennis Ashley. We are still working together to this day side by side. This man recognized something in me as a 19-, 20-year-old kid. We stayed in touch and he called me one day and said, “Hey, have you ever thought about coming to LA?”  And I’m like, “I’ve never been to LA.” He was like, “You know what, I’m running the Urban Division at CAA, you should come out and we should meet and let’s figure this out.”
Bartlett: My first job was at William Morris. When I interviewed there, the human resources director never told me about their training program. I found out about it once I started and it was clear the landscape wasn’t meant for me. I got a chance to work at a company that was terrific and let me hone my abilities as an agent because it’s an empirical job and that’s all you want. Then I came to ICM and it’s been really good in terms of growth and helping me make the clients that I had even more successful and getting more successful clients. I’d been at a boutique company, the Gersh Agency, which is an amazing organization and in fact the owners couldn’t really care less who was or wasn’t promoted, it was like, “Are you going to make me money? Are you good at your job?” But regardless it was just me for a long time, so to walk into ICM and see other people that looked like me was fantastic. 
When you faced bias, stereotypes and the ignorance of racism, how did you deal with it?
Pierre: I would buckle down and work harder. You have to have that mentality that if your gut is telling you to do something and you know it’s not necessarily harming anyone, but it’s a decision you’re committed to, then let the chips fall where they may.
Gibbs: When I went to CAA they told me I would move off the desk and become agent. I was the first guy in the music department at that time to leave a desk and go to the mailroom. It was probably the best thing that could have happened from the standpoint of understanding the entire agency. You take what you initially perceive as a negative, you turn it into a positive and it made me a better person. Now, to be able to say you’re a partner and have equity in a talent agency – if you would have asked me that 20 years ago if that could happen, that would have been unheard of as an African American man or woman – to be in that position is mind-blowing.

Bartlett: I would often talk to my dad and my grandmother who were real support systems. My dad, among many things, was a football coach, and would always say to me, “Adversity is going to always be in front of you. It’s how you handle the adversity that’s put in front of you that defines who you are and who you’re going to be.” I always have kept that really close to me, it’s in my DNA. 
Can you talk about what you see as some of the solutions to making our industry more inclusive and diverse?
Pierre: The answer in broad strokes is there has to be an even playing field. At the end of the day, everyone has to be committed to getting to that place. In totality, it’s going to take actual commitment to doing the work and doing your part in making it better for the people you’re around and the communities you’re involved in. It has to be tangible daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, to move everything forward so we don’t see instances like this ever again.
Bartlett: It includes a number of things, education and an awareness that there really is a problem that has to be dealt with and then figuring out ways to ameliorate the issues for those who maybe aren’t as well informed. It’s multi-pronged but we have a really huge platform and we have to use it, it’s essential.

Gibbs: It’s focus and alignment. I get calls from colleagues and friends asking, “What can I do?” My message to them is, now is great, donating is great, posting is great and all those things are cool, but I want that same energy, that same commitment a year from now, 10 years from now, that’s what I need you to do. Educate yourself, ask questions, keep that dialogue going, but it’s time to put things in motion. It’s no more “being patient,” those words are out the window. Now it’s time to go to work.