Notes from a rep’s journal: Have you picked out your new glasses yet?

©Ann Elliott Cutting

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?

28 thoughts on “Notes from a rep’s journal: Have you picked out your new glasses yet?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Notes from a rep’s journal: Have you found your glasses yet? « Heather Elder Represents Blog --

  2. It’s pretty hard to avoid the kind of grimy, dark, wobbly focus glasses everybody seems to be wearing, but the hopeful, practical way you’ve put this is provocative. It’s tremendously difficult to predict the future, but looking again and better at the present is awfully possible.

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  4. Great post, Heather. I think we have all thought about these things, worried about them, maybe grumbled silently. Thanks for putting it out there in words. I forwarded this to all my photographers yesterday because it sums up the current marketplace and it is so important for them to understand what it is like “out there.”

  5. Heather, thank you for posting the truth! It is spot on and glad to see it in print for others to read!

  6. Think this is very insightful and well written but does not take into account what we on the ad agency side are facing as art buyers- in terms of our value, our worth, and how challenging it is for agency folks these days to get stuff made as well- our lives are not so easy either as we redefine what we do in the era of all things social and digital. I know your POV is strictly on behalf of reps and photographers, but may be worth interviewing someone about the state of the business- and not so sure I agree on people being “trained” with the next to nothing model in mind- I have to believe talented agency side folks will still put a premium on great work, because at the end of the day, you can’t really put a price on that , can you?

  7. Thanks for sharing your insights Heather. As a new photographer I only know the current situation of our industry, be that a blessing or a curse…? However, I think I am right in saying that it has never been easy to become a photographer, even back in the good old days. Your posting is a reminder to us all that we have to keep pushing ourselves, to be visually distinct and to have a unique marketing voice if we want to be successful. Now that’s a real challenge and one you can only achieve if you are truly excited about the view ahead.


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  9. Much appreciate your view and comments on promotion (which I’ve neglected of late). Your comment on ‘How they judge value has changed’, has the most impact for all seeking commissioned work. If only that value could be tied to measurable end results for the client, and bonuses negotiated and paid accordingly ? The financial industry doesn’t have a problem doling that one out..

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  11. As depressing as it is, your commentary hit the nail right on the head! Thanks for spelling out the situation so eloquently and putting a positive spin on it at the end!

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