When I was 16, I remember wanting to go a beach party for a friend (ok, a boyfriend) who was moving. My father suspected exactly what would be going on at the party and immediately said no. I think his exact words were, “No 16 year old of mine is going to a party like that.”
Arguing my most mature point of view (practicing my negotiation techniques early on!), I remember asking him if he would at least hear me out. I explained that 16 was just a number and asked him if, regardless of my age, he thought I was old enough to handle what would come my way at the party. Was he still seeing me as a little girl?
I had made him pause. I had challenged him to think about me for who I was at that exact moment in time and not to get caught up in what he thought a 16 year old could or could not handle. I asked him to really think about who I was NOW and consider if it was time to evolve his idea of what I could handle. Amazingly he let me go! He must have realized that my age was just a number and he had to consider more than just that. (Of course what happened at the party must be saved for another post!)
That story reminds me of a discussion we have every so often with our photographers and even other agents.
“How do you decide how many photographers to have in your group?”
I think it’s a great topic of discussion because as I have evolved my thinking on what clients find valuable, I have evolved my point of view on this question.
When I first started my business over 15 years ago, Carol Kaplan was my only photographer. Two years later I moved to San Francisco and convinced Hunter Freeman and David Martinez to take a chance on me (thanks guys!). It was 1996 and San Francisco was booming. Over the next few years I would add and subtract talent until I settled in with about 5 or 6 photographers that I felt rounded out our group well at the time. Some stayed and some left but over the next ten years we never had more than 6 photographers on our roster.
We had a strong base of well-known talent that allowed us to diversify our roster with up and coming & more specialized photographers. Even though the newer ones hadn’t proven themselves yet, we could choose to represent them just because we loved their work and knew it was marketable.
We enjoyed calling ourselves a “boutique agency” and knew our type of agency was valuable to our clients. They appreciated small because of the attention they got, they felt like they were “discovering” our talent and ultimately they liked dealing with us.
The more they liked dealing with us the more we became a resource for them. The more we became a resource the more work came our way. Times were good so 6 was a good number.
Fast forward 10 years and we are faced with smaller budgets and shifting client mindsets. (See previous Post, “Have you found your glasses yet?) Commissioned work declined for not only everyone in our group, but most everyone out there shooting photography.
For our photographers, it became crucial to evolve their business model. They added stock sites, pursued fine art options, increased motion capabilities and continued to look for new and unique ways to reframe how they looked at their business.
Financially it was clear that 5 or 6 photographers could no longer sustain our agency – at least not in this new economy. More importantly though it became painfully obvious that it was time for a change when people called and we didn’t have the roster to fulfill their varied needs.
Change for us was about adding quality and relevance without losing the personal connections clients appreciate. We like being the ones who answer the phones. We like that there are only two of us to handle the workload. You connect with either Lauranne or you connect with me. That’s it. We pride ourselves on personal service.
We built our reputation on personal service and we do not want to forsake them.
As of today, we proudly represent 9 photographers. From our point of view this number is just the right amount. We are an even stronger resource for our clients and still have time to be there for each of our photographers individually.
Right now, at this time in the industry, this works. Who knows what will happen in the future. We will just have to keep our fingers on the pulse of what is happening out there and adjust accordingly. We are proud that we recognized how crucial it was to evolve our thinking and are being rewarded for it now.
So, now when a photographer or agent friend asks me how we determine the amount of photographers in our group, I confidently explain that it is not about a number, it is about recognizing what the industry values from an agency at that point in time. I remind them of the power of being well rounded as a group yet still staying true to those core values.
And, then I tell them the story of wanting to go that party when I was 16 and they get it immediately.