Dear Art Buyer. An open letter from a photographer’s rep.

@Blaise Hayward

Dear Art Buyer;

We have been working together for over 15 years now, have grown professionally together and have become good friends.  We have shared good times, confided in each other and even overcome some crazy obstacles together.  After all that,  it is only just now occurring to me to share with you hints for getting the best work out of me and our photographers.

I know that each project, each client and each creative team is different. I also know that the rules are always changing and you often find yourself without all of the information you need.  My experience is that you do your best with what information you have; just like we do.

I often find myself thinking about how similar our jobs are. We are both translators. You have to translate account executive language to creatives and then creative language to me.   I then have to translate art buyer language to photographer and producer language and then back again to your  language.  It is a delicate dance but when we partner together it always seems to work out.

Hopefully these notes can help you to help us make all of our experiences together even better.  Even though some of them are obvious, they are still important to note so I decided to include them.

And, feel free to write me back and let me know what works best for you. I find that the more we talk about this the stronger our partnerships can become.

1)   When I ask you for the budget, please know that I am only trying to get an idea of how to approach the project. My experience is that clients never really have enough anyway so if I know up front then I can set the crew and photographer expectations and save us some back and forth.  I want to get you the best possible project for the amount of money you have and if I can get it to come in lower, I will.  I am sure there are so many outside influences on the budget that make it hard to give me a solid number, but in those cases, a range or target are really helpful.  I know how to be smart about a budget and will do my best to keep things lean when I can.

2)   If I ask you who else we are bidding against, it is ok if you don’t want to share that information. I get it.  But if it doesn’t really matter to you, then I could really use the information.  It is so hard nowadays to know who our competition is and to determine where we fit in the spectrum of the project.

3)   If you ever have feedback for me about the book, the site, the call, the estimate; any of it, I would really be appreciative.  Books are rarely called in anymore and I can’t really tell who is looking at the site.  I used to have ample opportunities to get feedback from you but now access is limited so any information I can share with my photographers is so helpful.

4)   If I am just a third bid, please let me know. I am happy to provide a courtesy bid for you but would much rather do so without the song and dance.  I can be fast, efficient and very professional about it.  My photographers and I appreciate knowing when not to spend the time.

5)   When we are not awarded the job, please let me know right away.  I know it isn’t an easy call to make or email to send but there are many people who helped with the bid that need to know as well.   We are so fortunate that often the job does come our way so we get it when it does not.   We have thick skins and would much rather know.  Besides, do you really want me calling and emailing?

6)   I so appreciate when you let me come to your agency to brag about our photographers.  I know it takes time out of your day and is a distraction from your work.  And I am sure you feel the pressure when no one shows up.  Please know though that if you cheerlead just a little for me then the turnout is that much better.    And, I so do not mind if you call me the day before to tell me everyone is now at a creative meeting. I would much rather reschedule if I can then come when we know it will be slow.

7)   I also appreciate when you spell out your expectations for a portfolio show – especially when it comes to what will entice the creatives. I know you know it is very expensive to host the shows so if you would, please do try not to be too insistent about what I should bring.  In return I promise to bring something delicious.

8)   Please do not get annoyed with me when I send email blasts.  I know, I know you get so many.  However, these are one of the only measurable forms of communication we have nowadays. Since portfolios are not called in that much,  I never know who is looking at the work unless I send a blast.  They help me to be more targeted.  If I see that you never look at our work I actually do take you off the list.  AND, if you feel that the work is not relevant for you, then please do let me know.  I can easily remove you from my list.  And, it goes without saying, but I promise not to stalk.

I am sure you have lots of notes that you could share with me and I welcome you to send them our way.  We both speak each other’s language so it will be easy to keep the conversation going.

Thank you again for all of your support.  I have enjoyed our working relationship and feel fortunate to call you my friend.


Heather Elder

60 thoughts on “Dear Art Buyer. An open letter from a photographer’s rep.

  1. Etiquette is almost a lost art, the simple “Thank You” and “Please” is so simple to say or write. I always find it interesting when the sides of the fence switch that a speedy reply is needed by the one who had an inbox of unopened mail. When you treat someone with respect you will receive the same when you need it most.
    Great post Heather, most of it applies to how we should behave everyday with clients, friends and family.
    :O) ophelia

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  3. Wonderful post, Heather. As a new rep, I have often wanted to say exactly what you’ve said in this well-written letter. I do hope we can all move towards better communication, consideration and “transparency” going forward.

  4. Great letter, but strangely, no mention of the notion of creative problem solving. At the end of the day, the art buyer is seeking it out for his/her creative staff, and hopefully you’re providing it via your stable of artists. When you fail to address it within the confines of this sort of letter/conversation, there’s a real danger that you appear to be selling “art” at a very commodity level (vs. creative problem solving in a unique manner).

    • Thanks so much for your post Paul! And of course thank you for reading. Your point is well taken and such an important part of the whole process. I guess for me that idea of creative partnership is a given and wasn’t a point that I needed to clarify. That said, the obvious is always worth repeating and I appreciate the post.

  5. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thank you Heather for your genteel and diplomatic way of saying what many of us have wanted to for years.
    Ally Godfrey Reps

  6. Having been a producer for decades in the print media and with some great photographers, I say you hit the bloody nail on the head! If the agencies would have implemented even 50% of your suggestions while I was working, I would not have left the business. Bravo!

  7. Excellent and sincere, even though related to photography, not illustration, suppliers. We, as illustration reps, especially appreciated the references in 1, 4, 5, and 8!!

    • Thanks Heather for pointing these things out. I can only hope that many people read it, take a moment to give it some thought and begin to implement what used to always be simple standard practice and respect for all parties. I hate hearing people always talk about the good ol’ days. I like to believe that my good days are still in front of me! And Rich, the reason I am posting here is because as I am sitting in front of my computer, I am actually wearing a “Life is Good” shirt with “Half Full” and a Half Full Water Glass on my chest. So, your reply made me stop….

      Rob Bacall – Bacall Reps

  8. My extra credit question/comment would be: Please make your choice on photographer by the second or latest third round of estimating please? By then you know what everyone charges and probably who your creative choice is. There is no reason you really need to go any further with those you won’t be working with.

    I thank you in advance!


  9. Love this, Heather! Hope all the lovely AB’s out there take time to read a good, well-thought out description of a fun, albeit sometimes crazy, working relationship.

  10. Heather, Awesome post!!! Perfectly said! I would only add one thing.

    Dear Ad Agency, please keep in mind that my invoice is my paycheck. My rent, health insurance, utilities, and employees still want to be paid every month. Thanks

  11. Heather.. this was so nicely said! You have made all very good points and speaking as an art buyer for so many years, these are all things we SHOULD be doing, and hopefully there are more hits than misses. We appreciate you (personally and as a group) more than you know, and if it weren’t for you, our jobs wouldn’t be near as pleasant and efficient. You set the standard!

    • Hi Cindy.

      Thank you SO much for taking the time to read and to comment. I really appreciate it . When I reference the friendships I have made over the years, you are top of the list. i am fortunate to have known you from early on. Incredible how that can be and we don’t age a bit!!! Thank you for your kind words and I am glad it all seemed reasonable. 😉

  12. Great post, Heather! Thanks so much. @ Your Point #5: As a part of our ad agency biz, we are also in the business of producing two one-hour documentaries for European TV. It used to be difficult to get commitments from talent for docos, now it’s become difficult to get a “No” from talent and/or their representatives. You don’t know if they’re waiting to see who else comes on board, or just can’t be bothered to say “No.” It stagnates the process, which is already slow enough. We were shocked when we got nearly an instant reply from Ennio Morricone’s staff expressing interest. Maybe the Italians still have manners, as you and the blog posts above note, is so lacking in today’s world.

  13. Thank you for saying what often needs saying these days in a respectful and eloquent manner…and for starting a beneficial dialog on the subject.

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  15. Hi Heather- you are always professional and honest to work with. This letter shows you understand the other side of the profession. Thank you for the reminders. Well stated. A shout out to Andy & Jim who I enjoy working with!

  16. Heather, A plus for enthusiasm and passion for your trade, but do your homework and you could have answered some of your own questions. Clients don’t want to know what they can do for you, need I say more? Don’t get me wrong, go for it.

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    • Hello and thank you for your comment. I believe you are asking me if you can translate the post for your own blog. If I read that correctly, please let me know. And, yes – you can. thank you!

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  19. I got a chance to read this and the reply from Bonnie, very informative for everyone out there including creatives and their reps. I appreciate the time for you publishing this for others like myself to read.

    The part about email blast. I have toned mine down to once a month sometimes once every two months, because of being worried about pissing this or that art director off lol.

    Thanks again


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    • Just tried to email you directly to say thank you but i received a bounce back. I have always been a fan of your work so I appreciate the kind words even more coming from you.

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  22. Yes yes. And all real estate sellers should divulge their lowest acceptable price, but it’s not going to happen. We all have to dance.

  23. This is great. As a self represented freelancer of 15 years, I can relate to everything you mention here. And in my position it may just be twice as hard to convey! Your letter is succinct and polite. Thank you. I may need to paraphrase some of your thoughts a bit on future communications. Or, just include a link to this post on every estimate (~;


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