Inside Job: Making Stars Align
Kristin Nava ’01, MSFP ’02 is the talent behind the talent.
Covering both coasts from a.m. to p.m., seven days a week, she connects actors with Fortune Global and Fortune 500 companies and with brands such as AT&T, KFC, Samsung, Lego and Nike for commercials and endorsements. Last fall, the alumna directed 18 years of industry experience toward taking her own star turn: principal of Nava Artists.
Opening my own agency gives me the power to select my roster. It’s all about the actors I truly believe in. I have around 200 clients right now and feel blessed that most of them have been with me a while, some for my entire career. The long hours can be a drawback, but I love what I do and who I work with, so I really don’t see it that way.
I represent familiar faces you’ve seen over the years on TV and in movies, including most of the kids from The Sound of Music. It’s atypical to have a group like that with one agency, but they’ve stayed together through the years because they consider themselves a family. They live all over the world now, but we came together in L.A. in 2015 for a Vanity Fair shoot [above], to mark the 50th anniversary of the movie. That was a once-in-a-lifetime day.
I’m always on set to make sure my clients are taken care of and things are flowing smoothly. I remember one July, being in hot-and-humid Miami to shoot a winter spot for a Ford campaign. My celebrity client was wearing layers — a sweater and jacket — while I was in a summer dress. In those situations, I’m their advocate to production, to say we need to take a break and get a drink of water.
There used to be a stigma around celebrities endorsing products in commercials. They thought it would hurt their reputation. Today, everybody wants one. It elevates their status if they’re being sought after to endorse products.
Commercials also give them an avenue to showcase their talent. If they’re known for drama and then star in a commercial that uses comedy, they’ve revealed another side to the world.
I’ve worked on ad campaigns such as the “Dilly Dilly” Bud Light campaign featuring the Bud Light Knight. Also, the State Farm campaign starring sports agent Gabe Gabriel with NFL quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Remember the cavemen from Geico? I worked on that campaign, too. For this year’s Super Bowl, my clients were in spots for Anheuser Busch, Cadillac, Hellman’s and Indeed.
At this point in my career, I have direct relationships with ad agencies, public relations firms and brands. They say, “This is the project we have, and we’re looking for this kind of celebrity. Who do you have?” I also proactively stake out brands that are an organic, genuine fit for my clients. For this I’ll sometimes use straight-up cold calling. I’ve even reached out to a handful of Bentley alumni in the marketing space.
The Show Must Go On
Commercials are unique because they never stop shooting; they are truly a 24-7 business for this industry. During the tightest part of COVID-19 lockdown, we had to adapt. Actors started filming auditions and commercials in their own homes. Some of the ads you saw in 2020 included people who weren’t actors at all, but a spouse, child or friend who got roped in because they were part of the actor’s pod.
Pitching a Fit
There are several steps before an actor is hired. At the scale [minimum pay] level, an ad agency hires a production company and they bring in a director, who hires a casting director. Casting puts out the breakdown of what they’re looking for, maybe a Midwestern, Caucasian male in his 20s to 30s who has comedic chops with a background in improv. Then I pitch everyone from my agency who I think is a right fit for the project.
One of my coolest experiences was traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand, with a client who was the face of the Pandora jewelry campaign. We flew first class, stayed at a gorgeous resort and visited an elephant sanctuary. I tried to get a feel for the culture by visiting night markets and eating street food. We were there a week and it was beautiful.
A year ago, a client of mine did a series of spots with Barefoot Wine, which led to her getting an invitation to be on Jimmy Kimmel Live! I've had other clients on Conan. It's normally a publicist's job to be with clients at these press opportunities, but if a brand is involved, I’m there too.
Right for the Part
In my industry, agents have all different backgrounds. Some come from business, some from acting. If you were an English major or screenwriting major, you might become a literary agent. For me, becoming a commercial agent was the best fit. My Bentley classes in accounting, communication, marketing and advertising gave me a good foundation for working in commercials — and for eventually becoming an entrepreneur business owner.