A few months ago, I had the pleasure of working on a large pharmaceutical project with Amy Salzman for Chris Crisman. It was a large project so Amy and I spent a lot of time fine tuning the estimate and keeping expectations in line. Given the amount of time we spent connected by phone and email, it wasn’t surprising that we started talking shop. I quickly realized that because she worked at many different agencies on so many different pharmaceutical projects that she would have a unique and invaluable perspective on the industry that we could share with our readers. It took a few months or crazy schedules, but we connected long enough to get some great information. Thank you Amy!
What are the trends you are noticing in pharmaceutical photography?
There is a shift towards more real moments, but still with the very high production value associated with pharmaceutical imagery. Art directors and art buyers don’t want to see images geared towards traditional stock-style imagery—they are more interested in images that portray a slice of life like an older couple sitting outside a coffee shop having a cup of coffee rather than an older man sitting at a table looking at a Thanksgiving turkey.
These clients are also now creating their own libraries. They want original imagery and to control their assets for different mediums: print ads, brochures, banner ads. Pharma shoots tend to capture a lot of imagery and a little more behind-the-scenes video.
How would you define pharmaceutical photography as distinct from lifestyle photography?
Pharmaceutical photography shouldn’t necessarily be labeled Pharmaceutical photography. The photographer should just be an exceptional lifestyle photographer. However, the portfolio does need to have a section geared towards the mature market with good lifestyle photos of people 45 and older. This is when your body starts changing and when you start needing a pharmaceutical regimen: cholesterol, diabetes, or heart medicine.
The more diversity you have in your portfolio, the better. Photographers should be sure to have underweight and overweight people in their books as well as generations together. Indoors and outdoors, capturing lifestyle moments and scenarios, all shot beautifully.
Do photographers want to show this in their books? No. They want to show hip photos of young people and children at the beach. But if they want to focus on the pharma market, they have to have some diversity and older people. Once you land a pharma shoot or two, your book grows. But go test baby boomers. They’ve made their money. They travel. Have older people in your book.
What trends are you noticing in pharmaceutical advertising?
I think they are trying to be a little more creative. Pharma advertising can all look alike. You can turn down the volume on your TV and cover the name of the drug and not be able to tell the difference. Clients know this and are trying to be a little different and know their brand. It will never be “fashiony”—it’s about real life, family situations. When someone gets sick, it’s an emotional issue. Family draws you in.
CG is also playing a role. Concepts are being pushed a little to make a differentiation. I just bid an arthritis job that used both photography and CG. The concept was a couple was doing a strenguos activity in an outdoor scenario to show that the drug relieves pain in while you perform motion. The copy headline for the ad was embedded in the snow using CG.
What are creatives looking for when they review photography for a potential project? What should photographers consider putting on their site if they want to be considered for pharmaceutical projects?
Creatives are looking for imagery that matches a focus-group tested comp and this usually means beautiful photography, lifestyle scenarios and older, diverse people. The people in your book are key. They have to match the comp.
On set, some photographers know how to work with older and people from diverse backgrounds, how to talk with them, dress them and get the most out of them. If you are only showing younger people, there is no way to know if you have this capability.
Alzheimer’s medicine is the next big breakthrough. That market will be 70 and older. Photographers who want to go after a whole new drug market should be smart about this, keep an eye on what is coming in the market(s) for which they want to shoot and test for this.
Are pharmaceutical clients and agencies loyal to the photographers they hire or do they prefer to choose different photographers for each campaign? Is it different at different agencies?
I think it varies among agencies. Each agency will pick the right photographer for the right job. Loyalties exist sometimes—a relationship has been built and you always have to have back-up people. But for every job, the photographer is hired based on who is right for the job and the budget.
Do you notice that the agencies use the same photographers or do they all have their own favorites?
Again, it’s the right photographer for the right campaign. And if they deliver, they are highly considered for the next. Some agencies use the same five people because they have the relationship, but it will still be the right one of the five for the job.
How important is it for pharmaceutical photographers to have experience working with directors on set?
Pharmaceutical photographers need to know how to work very well with a broadcast set. Often the are shooting on the same day have and get ten minutes to go in and take the still shots, to “piggyback” with the TV or video shoot. They have to tag on to the TV days and they have no say. It’s a different way of shooting and more jobs are going in this direction. Sometimes you have to capture the same talent and there is no wardrobe or set change.
But sometimes you get your own day if it’s a strong print ad. If they shoot a little video, even better. The videos that play in doctor’s offices are most often shot by a photographer/videographer.
When it comes to a photo shoot, what do pharmaceutical clients tend to value the most? Is that different than what the agencies value?
Everybody just wants to come out with beautiful pictures. Pictures that match the concept from the beginning with some variations and that allow them to build a library based on the concept.
Art buyers are there for every shoot to make sure the concept is being executed correctly, to hand-hold everybody and to watch the budget.
Are pharmaceutical clients purchasing the library of images with the intent of using most of them or do they want to own the library so as to be covered in the future?
Pharmaceutical campaigns have complex needs and with digital it is possible to capture a lot more variety and clients want this. They want to shoot the library to get the most out of their imagery, to build as many pictures as they can.
For example, the project may require different images for the print and web ads. They want the most for their money, to cover as much as they can. You don’t know what’s going to work better after the shoot.
One shoot may be covering different markets, even global markets. And there are different regulations for different countries. One government might have rules about showing someone with pain only bending half their body while in another country you can bend your full body.
Are you noticing any trends when it comes to pharmaceutical talent? Any challenges coming up in regards to finding talent and category exclusivity?
Yes. Talent is key in pharmaceutical ads and there a couple trends to note. The talent has to match the comp first of all and this hasn’t changed.
But yes, more and more clients want exclusivity. Clients don’t’ want to see their models in competitive categories. If you had a hero talent in a specific drug category, you don’t want to see the same model in the same category for a competitive brand.
Clients are also starting to work with celebrity spokespeople. Paula Deen had signed on with a chloestrol medicine and Blythe Danner for osteoporosis. And Jessica Simpson is now associated with the weight category.
Here are some images that Chris Crisman created for pharmaceutical clients.