Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Estimating and Negotiating

Here is the third and final part of Melissa Rodwell's excellent Business Side Of Fashion Photography series. Although this is based around fashion photography, many aspects are applicable to all types of photography business.

So we went through Part One and Part Two in the last two weeks on the Business of Fashion Photography. Hopefully you have learned by now that fashion photography is like any other business: it takes a lot of work and is as competitive as any other lucrative and high profile gig out there. You have to have your arsenal of self promotional tools looking their best and ready to blast them out and let the world know you exist. Now we’re going to talk about what to do once you get your foot in that door of that magazine or ad agency you’ve been working so hard to get into.

You want to be prepared when you finally get that golden opportunity to sit across from that art buyer or fashion editor that you’ve been dying to meet. Here are some rules of the business to remember when meeting the art buyer/client:

  • If you don’t feel confident, don’t see them. If you aren’t feeling 100% the day of your meeting, it’s better to postpone it than go in with a less than confident attitude. It’s seems to not only be a rule of the business but an overall Universal Law: People can smelldesperation a mile away. Don’t give off that aura or they’ll never hire you or you will be undervalued.
  • Silence is Golden. Another Universal Law perhaps, but a definite one in our business. Don’t sit there in your meeting, and out of sheer nervousness, start blabbing away about your personal life or the history behind every damn photograph in your book. If they have a question about a certain picture, trust me, they’ll ask about it. Otherwise, just let them go through your book and sit quietly.
  • Do NOT ask them: “What did you think of my book?” unless you are absolutely prepared for the truth.
  • Do your homework. Find out what accounts they are working on and what art directors or editors are responsible for what tasks at the company before your meeting. In other words, don’t ask them what accounts they’re working on. It shows you didn’t do your homework and thus, don’t really care if you work for them.
  • Do not ask them “Is there anything going on”. It’s a safe bet there is, which is why it took you so long to get an appointment.

Okay, so I’ve given you some helpful tips on tact and etiquette when you go to a meeting to show your portfolio. Now let’s say that you’re in that meeting and the art director or art buyer starts talking about an up-coming job and wants you to bid for it. Here’s what you do at this point:

  • Ask a lot of questions. Get as many specifics as possible. No question is stupid in this case
  • Put together a spec sheet: what is the usage, description of the shots needed, who is doing the casting, location scouting, etc. etc. etc.
  • Make absolutely sure you understand exactly what they are asking you to do.
  • It’s absolutely okay to give yourself time to think. You can say, “Let me get back to you.” Give yourself some space and crunch some numbers back in your office. Even get some feedback from other photographers or blogs, etc, so you are absolutely confident in the number you come up with.
  • NEVER give ballpark figures. If you come in low, they think you’re not qualified. If you come in high, they think you’ve never done this before and therefore not qualified either. Plus, you never want to lock yourself down to any number until you’ve gotten all the facts and taken some time to really think about the estimate you want to give them.
  • Do not give up something without getting something in return. Example: If they want you to come down on your day rate, then they get shorter usage on the images.
  • Be willing to walk away from a crappy deal. I do it all the time now, and boy does it feel GREAT. It only makes way for bigger and better gigs.
  • Do not be afraid of the money. Get what you need. Make sure you have estimated correctly and all needs anticipated are provided for.
  • Pre-production is the most important part of the job. Casting, permits, putting the crew together, figuring out the catering. All of this takes time. Time is money. Did you include that in your bid?

This is one reason a good agent is really nice to have. They have all the current information on what media usage fees are going for, etc. Like, how much DOES an album cover pay now? What are the media usage rates going for? What about usage….is that shoot you’re doing for the album cover going to be considered for billboards and Point of Purchase sales? I have to be honest and admit I’ve always been weak in this area. Always being one to just be happy to be shooting, I”ve probably often times underbid myself. Which is why I am definitely someone who needs an agent. Other photographers are really good at this end of the business. I am not. I admit it. I’m pretty good at self promotion and nailing down the meeting with the art buyer. But I totally flub the estimating part which is why I have an agent do it for me. I’ve learned the hard way on this one, blowing jobs and totally underestimating the bid, thus myself. So now, even if I don’t have an agent when I’m asked for an estimate, I “borrow” one. I call someone up and ask if they’ll help bid on this one off job. I’ve gotten to the place I can actually do that now. I know when you’re new or just starting out it might be a bit harder. But hey, everyone likes the possibility of earning money. If the job is a big one, get someone to help you with the bid if you’re not really confident in this area.

My only last bit of advice is this: the business side is difficult and not the most fun part of what we do. My advice is to always keep shooting! Retain the enthusiasm you had when you first started. Your work not only evolves, but the buyers around you can smell that enthusiasm just as easily as they can smell desperation and believe me, which personality would you rather be around? I thought so!


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