Taking the world by storm: The modelling agency expanding across media sectors

The modelling agency best-known for having Kate Moss on its books is expanding across media sectors, reports Ian Burrell
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The Independent Online

Log on to the newly revamped Storm website, go to the section marked "special bookings" and you'll get an idea of the cross-media potential of this, the best-known of British modelling agencies.

Here are famous actors (Emma Watson from the Harry Potter films, Tom Payne from Skins), broadcasters (former Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon, radio host Emma Forbes), singers (Florence "and the Machine" Welch, Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, Katherine Jenkins and Paolo Nutini), cooks (Tom Aikens) and sportsmen (Joe Calzaghe). This is not just about the stars of the catwalk, even if Storm is home to such names as Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford and Alek Wek.

It helps to explain why the entertainment media mogul Simon Fuller, the man who created the Spice Girls, bought a share of Storm earlier this year, aligning the model management company with his 19 Entertainment empire, a portfolio which already includes the Beckhams and their sports, fashion and fragrance businesses, Andy Murray, global television formats, the estates of Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali, and a TV production arm. With Storm's roster of talent, the possibilities are innumerable.

Considering that its first-floor offices, in a small side-street off the King's Road in Chelsea, are almost anonymous, Storm's profile has grown inordinately since it was founded in 1987 and, with Fuller's help, the intention is to grow that brand recognition to a new level.

"We are looking at various opportunities," says Storm director Simon Chambers. "We are almost like a communication brand to the extent that we are involved with a dialogue of taking people forward into careers. We exist as a bridge, directly between the general public and the fashion and entertainment industries."

The fresh strategy is there in the revised website. The landing page features not the magazine images of Moss and other models that graced it in the past, but the Storm logo itself and some spotlights. The agency had taken 10 or so beauties from its books down to the Russian Studios in east London for a shoot, but then decided that just the five letters of the name were needed. "There's so much that Storm is doing now with regard to licensing and branding and constantly pushing forward. We wanted a stronger image that reflected Storm as a whole as opposed to the models," says Paula Karaiskos, Storm's communications head.

Reality television and the self-publishing culture of social networking have played their parts in transforming Storm's relationship with the public, encouraging an even greater proportion of aspirant models to take the plunge and send off their pictures. Storm is now receiving 400 online applications a week and the quality is improving. "They're getting better. When I first started I remember having to sift through a lot of bad ones to get to a good one, but it's one in 20 now," says Jac Waters, image administrator at Storm, which sees itself as something of an academy for young models, some of whom are still at school. "You can see friends who have sent pictures in at the same time, or sisters who have got the same surname."

But the website's principal role is to serve as a series of virtual portfolios for the models and allow clients to see their photographic portraits in exactly the same order as they appear in their physical "book". That's not good news for London's motorcycle couriers. "There used to be all the expense of lumping a bunch of portfolios across town on a motorbike," says Chambers. "Quite often decisions were made by a group of people – photographer, client, advertising agency – and so the portfolio might be sat there for several days when we needed it back because other clients wanted to see it."

The new system, he says, also makes life easier for the models themselves. "A lot of these girls are seriously peripatetic, they're flying around from job to job."

It's no longer an industry based solely on stills photography. Most of the models on the Storm site are having video footage uploaded to their pages. "Clients want to get a sense of the model's personality and the way they move," says Chambers.

The internet has also been responsible for bringing together sectors that were once more disparate, and Storm is trying to capitalise on this by helping its models to work in several fields. "Different industries are merging – fashion, music, sports and lifestyle. It makes sense for us to develop the careers of the clients we work with," adds Chambers.

"Wind the clock back a decade and people kept to their core function. In many cases it was considered confusing or detrimental to be doing something else. Commercial relationships were seen to degrade their core function as an actor or artist or musician," he says. "Whereas we now live in a world where these things can sit very much hand in glove. It's very exciting."