Most agency models are «commercial» models — meaning that they appear on local or national print ads or television shows, in catalogs, work in local fashion shows and trade shows and similar kinds of work. They don’t get huge fees (although pay can be very good indeed), national recognition or lucrative national ad contracts, but they are the backbone of the modeling industry.
Fashion models also work as commercial models, although the reverse is rarely true. In smaller market cities in the US, most agencies concentrate on «fashion print» or «commercial fashion» models, who tend to be tall, slim and beautiful in a more mainstream way. This is «commercial fashion», a subset of commercial modeling.
Very, very few commercial models make a living at it. It is not a career, it is something they do on an occasional basis while they do something else «full time». Outside of the major markets (New York, Chicago, maybe Miami and Los Angeles) it is doubtful that there is any city in America in which more than a dozen people make a good living at modeling, but in virtually all cities and substantial towns there are many, usually hundreds, who are in the modeling market, and who occasionally find work.
The requirements for being a commercial model are very different from being a fashion model. It certainly helps if you look a lot like a fashion model, but there is work available in most markets for many other types. Models can be older, shorter, heavier and need not be pretty or beautiful — «interesting» often will get work, and “generic good looks” is the most common look required. Commercial models are asked to play roles in pictures: “young mom”, “active retiree”, “Doctor”, “executive”, and they look like idealized versions of these roles. In most of the markets we have surveyed the hardest demand for an agent to fill is for middle-aged men!
Things that help a commercial model are acting ability, an outgoing personality, easy availability for jobs, and good self-presentation skills.
The great majority of commercial jobs are booked through agencies, except for those that are given to friends or members of the client’s family.