Dear Rep. Let’s not be afraid. Love, Art Buyer.

© Richard Schultz –

When I first wrote the Dear Art Buyer letter, I was hopeful that it would start a dialog between art buyers and reps so that we could open each other’s minds to the challenges we face every day working together.  I knew that it was not only an important conversation to start but an important conversation to continue.  I was blown away by the comments, the re-posts, the facebook shares and the tweets.

Thank you everyone for keeping this dialog going. And, thank you Kat Dalager for your thoughtful reply. Kat is the Manager of Print Production (and oh so much more to so many!) at Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis. She writes about the idea that we are all operating from a place of fear.  It should get us all thinking inward and looking for places where our actions (or reactions) are rooted in fear.  It would be interesting to see what we all uncover.

Here is what Kat Dalager wrote:

“I should preface my letter with the fact that so many people are living in fear these days. It spans all industries and is prevalent on every side of the vendor/client fence:

  1. Fear of losing a job.
  2. Fear of not getting a job.
  3. Fear of looking bad/inept to a client/vendor/associate.
  4. Fear of being taken advantage of.
  5. Fear of not having enough hours in the day.
  6. Fear of not making enough money to survive.
  7. Fear of not following agency policy.
  8. Fear of – well, just about everything.

At the root of fear is insecurity and lack of trust. This is not something that happened overnight: Insecurity/lack of trust/fear has been with us for a long time. The problem is that a tight economy only exacerbates this. As Bonnie Brown alludes to in her response – and as it has been since the dawn of time – it’s about relationships. Building strong relationships helps build trust, and therefore creates security. I wish I could say that this happens overnight, but it takes time.

Taking this into perspective, here is my response to the Dear Art Buyer letter.

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.
I first need to explain that I am a firm believer in giving photographers a budget or target budget to start with; it makes everyone’s lives so much easier, including mine. I can give a dozen photographers the same budget but each will utilize it differentlly. How it’s being used is a great way to determine if a photographer is approaching a project in a way compatible with the sensibilities of the agency and the client. I’ve learned how to read the numbers and understand what they mean in context of a project. But I’ve been in this business for 30 years. Not every art buyer has that much experience. In fact, they might’ve been the Creative Coordinator yesterday and today they’re the art buyer.

When you receive grief from a buyer when asking about the budget, you’re presuming that the art buyers that you’re working with understand the value of imagery and feel secure enough to let you know what they believe they have to spend. These days, there’s often one pool of money that’s divvied up among all players and photography is only a small portion of it. The pool of money also covers media, media planning, account service, television, print and interactive production, other staff positions and overhead. Inexperienced buyers are afraid of being taken advantage of because they don’t understand pricing. Some experienced buyers know enough to understand what things should cost but fear they will be perceived as “giving away the store” by sharing budgets with photographers. While I personally don’t function this way, it still represents how some people operate. (See Fears #3 & #4), and until they become secure, it will be difficult to change this perception.

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.
My question in return: why should it matter? If you’ve all  been given the same budget, shouldn’t you estimate the project in the way that best represents how you would approach it? What’s the true purpose of knowing who else is in the mix? Would it suffice to know that all photographers are of the same caliber rather than knowing their names? Sadly, I’ve know situations in which names were shared and the “losing” photographer called the “winning” photographer to berate them about lowballing the job or worse. This has happened to several art buyers that I know – which creates a bit of a disincentive when it comes to sharing names. Sometimes photographers can be their own worst enemies! (See Fear #3.)

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 personally like to send email thank-yous and provide unsolicited feedback to websites and portfolios – but that’s because I’m opinionated 😉 I have to say that it does take time to do so and I don’t respond as often as I would like because I simply don’t have time. I started keeping track of email solicitations and have documented 5,000 every 6 months, or 10,000 per year. It’s truly impossible to view all 10,000, much less respond to them. (See Fear #5) Also, I’ve learned through the years to not give feedback to those who don’t ask for it. So ask!

How do I determine who to respond to in the event of email-only communication? Those I have prior relationships with. Those who send me something particularly relevant. Those who use the subject line wisely and make my life easier by letting me know the contents of the email before I open it. Sometimes I take pity on those who send inappropriate work and I give them gentle suggestions.

As far as not giving feedback on estimates: that’s just plain rude. If they’ve engaged in a dialogue with you, the least they can do is let you know why the estimate didn’t work out. That said, that does NOT give you permission to admonish me for selecting someone else or telling me you can’t believe I didn’t select you. Yes, this has happened to me and to other art buyers and it creates a disincentive to share information. (See Fears #1, 2 & 6 [for the photographer])

4)   If I am just a third bid, please let me know.
No excuse for this one. Sometimes multiple bids are required, but if a buyer isn’t bidding with people that are all viable or possible considerations, just tell them and make short work of it. (See Fears #3 & #7)

5)   When we are not awarded the job, please let me know right away.
Again, no good excuse for this one except for Fear #7. Anything else is rude.

6)  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.
If you think buyers actually know what’s happening in the Creative department more than 5 minutes in advance, you must be dreaming! Heck, I don’t even know what I’m doing the next hour because things change so fast!

Cheerleading? Believe me, I try. Sometimes I get so many requests for portfolio showings that the art directors become non-responsive. By the way, did you know that in addition to my art buying responsibilities that I manage 12 fulltime and freelance staff, manage the agency’s creative recruiting, write agency processes, mentor students and transitional adults, participate in diversity initiatives, manage billing, talent payments, intellectual property rights and other business management responsibilities plus manage a full workload?

7)   I also appreciate when you spell out your expectations for a portfolio show – especially when it comes to what will entice the creatives.
In my world, anything that can be digested works for Minnesotans!

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.
And please do not get annoyed when I cannot look at them. I want to look at them (I really do), but per Question #3, I get literally thousands of email promotions each year. Again, you can be your own best advocate by using the subject line wisely: “New Lifestyle Fashion Photography for JCPenney by Joe Schmoe” rather than “New Work” or the offensive “URGENT – please open immediately!” that puts you on the “don’t call me, I’ll call you” list.

Have you done your homework to know that what you’re sending me is relevant to the businesses I currently have? Are you sending me dozens of car photography promotions when I don’t have anything remotely close to a car client in the mix? Or are you sending me promos for beautiful beauty work – for the client we just lost (thanks for reminding me)?

To wrap this all up in a bow, what it all comes down to is that it requires communication, collaboration, understanding and perseverence from ALL sides. “

Thank you Kat!   I really appreciate the time you took to write such a thoughtful reply.  You gave us all a lot to think about.

If you are an art buyer that wants to chime in with your own response, please do email me.   I plan to write a post summarizing what works best for everyone, so the more input I have the better.


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