In a perfect world, clients would seek out visual talent to hire. Photographers would have their choice of assignments. Clients would set fair prices and arrange lucrative licensing fees. And because they would be "selling" to the talent, creatives could focus their energy on doing what they do best: creating.
A nice scenario, but not at all realistic. The world is not perfect-shocking but true-and today's highly competitive market forces serious pros to spend a significant amount of time marketing their talent. Although there are no exceptions to this rule, there are several ways to how to go about it. Many creatives who feel uncomfortable in the marketing arena or who have limited time, choose to obtain representation.
Reps are responsible for creating and implementing plans associated with developing new business. For their efforts, they earn 30 to 35 percent of the creative fee. In addition, some reps also service house accounts, usually for 10 to 15 percent of the creative fee. In some cases agents insist on servicing house accounts. Beyond that, the job description varies a bit with each individual, but you can expect a rep to assume some or all of the following responsibilities:
- Develop a long-term business plan while setting and meeting short-term business objectives
- Evaluate your current marketing tools (portfolios, mailing pieces, websites, e-mailers, and so on) and make suggestions that will benefit your promotional efforts
- Target markets and research appropriate contacts for your talent
- Actively promote your talent through portfolio showings, direct mail, website presence, and e-mail blasts
- Negotiate licensing fees for all assignments generated through the rep's efforts
- Obtain printed tear samples when available
- Develop an ongoing client relationship once it has been initiated
Sound ideal? Ready to sign up? Well, join the crowd. There have always been many more photographers seeking representation than there are seasoned, experienced reps. So before undertaking the search, make sure representation is a viable option for you. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have a strong belief in the commercial potential of your work?
- Has this belief been confirmed by clients? Are you billing $300,000 or more annually from advertising clients?
- Are you willing to spend at least $5,000 to $10,000 a year promoting your talent?
- Do you have a distinct, easily recognized visual style?
- Have you become too busy to seek out new business?
- Do you wish to go after a market that's outside your geographic area?
- Have you been servicing clients for at least five years?
- Have you actively marketed your work (15-20 portfolio showings a year plus direct mail, e-mail, and Web portal placement) for the last two to four years?
- Are you a team player, making decisions with another person?
- Are you willing to make a long-term commitment?
Most seasoned reps are looking for an affirmative answer to the questions above. They're interested in aligning themselves with people who have a proven record of success. Few are willing to break in a new talent, not even when the artist has a unique vision.
Ralph Mennemeyer, a seasoned New York City-based agent, says this on the topic of taking on new talent: "From a rep's standpoint, "building a new talent is an investment. Agents don't just get you assignments; they build and develop a career for you. It is not a relationship that either party should enter into lightly."
The term "new" in itself is a double-edged sword, says Mennemeyer: "It takes time to build a career. Even if the talent has been shooting for years, if the buyers I am seeking to connect with don't know him, he is a new talent to them. "
Is talent the most important quality agents look for in a photographer? Says Mennemeyer, "Talent is a big part of the equation. I have to love the work and know that it's marketable. But talent alone won't interest me. A photographer needs to be willing to work toward the goal for as long a period of time that's needed for the team to be successful. Photographers who are team players are the folks I choose to work with."
Even though it is a rep's market, you need to be choosy when looking for someone to represent you. Before launching your search, consider the traits you will be looking for in a rep and understand, as Mennemeyer suggests, "You are looking for a long-term relationship, not a 12-month affair."
An agent's greatest forte is his or her ability to develop your career, negotiate and license your work, and build relationships with buyers. You will be looking for contacts who display the ability to accomplish these jobs.
When making a list of qualities that your agent must have, include genuine interest and excitement for your work for any rep you consider. A proven track record with talent and clients is important, as are organizational skills, marketing savvy, and confidence. A shared work ethic and common servicing values are a must.
Be prepared to conduct an all-out effort. Get the word out on the street. Discuss your needs among peers at art director clubs and similar meetings. Peruse sourcebooks and Web portals; most have a general listing of reps in their directory sections. Look for pages reps have purchased with talent. Look for an agent who already has photographers who you feel have talent and are at a similar talent level as you, but may not create the type of work you do. Note the agents who might benefit from what you bring to their existing stables of talent.
Consider contacting SPAR (the Society of Photographers and Artists Representatives) in New York City. While sometimes difficult to reach-after all, they are busy working reps-SPAR publishes a directory of members that includes the type of talent the agent handles, as well as contact information. Consider an ad in the SPAR newsletter.
When you are ready to contact reps, be creative and organized. This might be your most challenging marketing objective because talent seeking to be represented solicit these folks daily. Do not call reps or send unsolicited portfolios. Instead, create a package of information that will instantly provide the rep with an idea of your vision and professionalism. In a cover letter, discuss your marketing efforts to date and your professional achievements. If you prefer, write an email letter and link it to your site.