“They wanted us so badly because everyone acknowledged that the [ICM] television department was really not great,” says Silbermann, whose wife is Julia Franz, who runs the creative department at ABC studios and thus is one of the people with whom Silbermann does business. “We had this boutique shop that you could just slip in there.” The aftermath of the acquisition was not a happy time for some—several of ICM’s veterans were pink-slipped, including TV department head Nancy Josephson, the daughter of ICM cofounder Marvin Josephson.
Silbermann, however, saw his star rise. He was brought in as copresident, a title he was to share with Ed Limato, an old-school film agent whose impressive client list includes Gibson, Denzel Washington and Steve Martin. Limato, a Polo Lounge regular whose power is reflected in the star-studded Oscar party he has thrown for years at his home, is the personification of the old guard.
But the power-sharing arrangement quickly broke down last summer, when Berg announced that Silbermann alone would hold the president title. Limato learned of his demotion when one of his three assistants read him the companywide e-mail over the phone. He resigned shortly thereafter, and, after an arbitration proceeding allowed him to exit his contract, he left for rival firm William Morris and brought many of his clients with him. (ICM continues to represent Billy Crystal and Claire Danes, who were formerly with Limato, and other agents at the firm represent stars including Halle Berry, Jennifer Connelly and Beyoncé Knowles.) Several of the ICM agents who had started out as Limato’s assistants were let go soon after his departure.
Silbermann is unapologetic about the disruptions. Limato’s film department, he says, was too insular and not on board with the “culture and ethos” he wants to instill. “We had to make it more of a team-oriented culture, break down the cliquishness. And as a result we did lose some high-profile clients,” Silbermann says. (Limato declined to comment for this story.) “Certainly there’s a cool perception around representing movie stars,” Silbermann continues. “But we felt like, you know what? We can be on the forefront of the next wave.”
“Team” is the driving buzzword around ICM these days. It’s not enough to be an agent who lands big clients and big paychecks. What Silbermann wants is for everyone, from all departments, to be pitching new ways to make their clients money.
“The straight business of representing a client in a certain discipline isn’t a growth business,” Silbermann says. He points to Dancing With the Stars as an example of the sort of strategy he’s chasing. ICM first represented the BBC—which developed the format for the show in the UK—in a deal to create an American version for ABC, which aired its fifth season last fall. After the show became a ratings success, ICM’s music division lined up a live concert tie-in, which completed its third tour last year. Meanwhile, ICM’s corporate division enlisted Slim-Fast as a corporate sponsor, and the book division went to work on a deal for a Dancing With the Stars–branded fitness title.