When people ask me about what it was like in the mid 90s when I first started my business, I like to joke that back then I was a GREAT rep. Wasn’t everyone great at their jobs back then? The phone always rang, we couldn’t keep a portfolio in the office and the fax machine was the most used piece of equipment in the office next to our phone.
Right around that same time, the Epson printer became affordable. Photographer websites were becoming a reality. Everyone who liked taking pictures now had access to technology that allowed them to call themselves a photographer. The barriers of entry were disappearing.That was ok though, there was plenty of work to go around.Fast forward 15 years and the landscape has drastically changed again. The dot com bubble long ago burst, the website replaced the portfolio and social media became a common marketing term. And of course, the economy crashed – for a second time.
In our group, the survivors were the ones who had the least amount of overhead, the largest amount saved for a rainy day and hands down, the ones who created the most amount of new work. They kept advertising because we reminded them over and over that if they advertised during a time when their competitors weren’t advertising then their voices would be louder. A lot louder. It worked and they are all still in business.
Now, times are such that photographers can no longer depend on their agents to do all the marketing and sales. It is required that photographers have their own voice and sell themselves and their work. The days of choosing a source book or two and sending out an occasional mailer are over. Frequency, consistency and variety are crucial in any marketing plan. We tell our photographers all of the time that they need to mirror what we are doing for them and have a marketing presence all of their own if they want to survive. When they participate, the power of their marketing is exponential.
And, with that power comes more jobs. We are happy to report that our inbox is busy with bid requests again (the phone isnt ringing of course – who calls anymore?). The bad news is that budgets are still way down, fees are lower than they have even been and it is starting to feel like a new bar has been set.
This time it isn’t just the economy. There are other reasons. Clients want way more usage and access then they ever have for way less money.Many clients don’t understand copyright law and aren’t interested in learning. Their mindset is no longer that they don’t have the budget, it is that they don’t think they should pay as much as they used to for it. As consumers they are used to instantly downloading content and for next to nothing prices. They are transferring that mindset to their jobs and the people they hire.This idea of wanting more for less comes up with every project we estimate. Many would say that clients no longer want to pay what they used to for commissioned work. I would say that clients will still pay for commissioned work but HOW they judge value has changed. Maybe they don’t value licensing as they used to but they ARE placing value somewhere. When you find it, you will be compensated for it.
We were recently challenged by a colleague to figure out what it is that clients are willing to pay for now, even if they don’t know what it is themselves. He inspired us to challenge the photographers in our group to reframe how they think about their business, decipher what is valuable to a client now and figure out how they can best participate as things evolve yet again.
We know that our group is up for this challenge. They have gained insight from the past and are already making changes to their business models that are yielding results. They have found their glasses to view the future, have you?