front row

When a model makes it big, you can bet there's a team behind the scenes who got her—or him—there. Michelle Lister is a key part of that team. As a model booker for one of Australia's leading agencies, Vivien's, the 25-year-old fashion and public relations graduate is responsible for managing the careers of some of Australia's best-known names in the modeling industry. 

Sounds like a dream gig, right? That's what we thought, which is why we sat down with Lister to talk about how she landed her role as a model book at Vivien's in Brisbane—and what steps you can take to follow in her footsteps. 

What did you study and where?

Bachelor of Creative Industries with majors in journalism, public relations, and fashion at QUT.

What did you want to be when you were at university?

I was so set on becoming a journalist ever since the age of 14 when I started work experience at the Courier Mail and in radio and TV, but it wasn’t until I started my degree at university that I soon realised I much preferred PR than reporting hard-hitting news. 

What was your first “proper” job?

I was fortunate enough to land the job of publicity coordinator at Channel Nine in Queensland. It was a dream position to have coming straight out of university. A year into the job I was promoted to Queensland publicist.

Who do you consider a mentor and how did you develop a relationship with them? 

I met Caitlin O’Loan whilst working at Channel Nine and worked with her for a couple of months after finishing up at the network, as a contract publicist. She is the director of her own PR and communications company in Brisbane, called COCOM, and is a total gun in the industry. She’s someone that I will always look to for advice and inspiration.

How did you land this job at Vivien’s?

I had done about a year’s work experience at Vivien’s when I was younger and still studying, and it wasn’t until I finished up at Channel Nine that I began looking at other local job opportunities. Vivien’s needed a new head booker, so I got in contact, applied and was interviewed by the Queensland manager. I’ve been working here ever since!

How many people work in the Vivien’s Brisbane office?

Although Vivien’s is a national agency, we have a really small team in Brisbane made up of the Queensland manager, my role (head booker/publicist) and an administration assistant/photographer who helps with our development board and younger models.

What does an average day look like for you?

My main role is booking out our models on jobs and managing their careers. An average day will include putting together a booking of a model for a shoot, but will also include pitching models to new and existing clients, negotiating rates and usage fees, and the general everyday modelling requests. I also do the publicity for Vivien’s nationwide so I’m constantly pitching our models to media outlets and promoting the agency as much as possible.

What’s the dress code at your office?

We are very relaxed here in the office and I’m fortunate enough to be able to wear mostly anything to work because of the usually fast-paced mood of the office. Obviously if we are meeting with clients or if we are holding a casting in the agency, we’ll make sure we are suitably dressed.

What’s the best part of your job?

Working with models is a lot of fun! You are very much working in the creative industry in a modelling agency, and being able to watch the process of a photo shoot take shape (including the collaboration between a photographer, model, and styling team) and come together to create art is pretty spectacular. I also really do enjoy seeing a young model blossom into something truly special.

And the worst?

It’s very rare that you’ll have a bad day here in the office but the job can be quite stressful at times because you’re constantly working to deadlines (these deadlines can be quite tight!). It’s also a very competitive industry and it can sometimes be tough on the models, but it can also be incredibly rewarding for those that work hard.

How often does Vivien’s hire new staff?

Once you start working at Vivien’s you tend to stay in the family. Because the team in Brisbane is relatively small, new staff will only be brought on if a staff member leaves.

What qualifications and experience do other Vivien’s model books have?

The Queensland manager has a similar background to me in business and journalism, but there are no formal qualifications that are required for model bookers.

Do most full-time positions at Vivien’s require a specific degree?

I definitely think a degree can help someone in terms of giving them a foundation for career development and honing in on a specific set of skills but it is not imperative at Vivien’s to hold a degree. Common sense goes a long way in this office and industry! 

How often does Vivien’s take on interns?

From my own experience, Vivien’s took me on as an intern whilst I was studying, but usually they will only take someone on during very busy periods.

What was the interviewing process like at Vivien’s?

I was interviewed for my position by the Queensland manager. It was a one-on-one interview in the office. Although Vivien’s has four offices in Australia, all of the hiring is done within the individual office.

Where does Vivien’s advertise new jobs?

Vivien’s relies on word of mouth within the industry and has also previously advertised on Pedestrian TV.

Do you have a favorite book?

I’m currently reading Arianna Huffington’s Thrive— I’m addicted. What a woman.

Photo: Net-a-Porter