Introducing Community Table: a Conversation with LA Art Buyers. Part I: The Appetizer

The Community Table

Welcome to Community Table – the first in a series of blog posts sharing conversations held directly with our community leaders about top of mind industry issues.  Community Table was formed from the collective efforts of Matt Nycz and Kate Chase of Brite Productions and Heather Elder and Lauranne Lospalluto of Heather Elder Represents with the idea that there is nothing more powerful in our industry than education.

So, of course it is no surprise that Community Table was inspired by LeBook Connections, which was founded with the vision of bringing together the worlds top reps with buyers and creative’s from the worlds leading agencies and clients for a day of sharing and connecting.  It was in this context of discussing the inspirational nature of all of us coming together in LA that the idea was launched for Community Table – the timing perfect to foster an in-depth conversation about top-of-mind industry issues and to then share the results-of with our larger community via a shared blog post.

Thus invitations were sent, RSVPs rolled in, questions were drafted, a beautiful spot for lunch was reserved and a tremendously inspiring conversation ensued with topics ranging from what art buyers are looking for at Connections, who from the agencies actually attends the event, the rise of and value of pay-to-play events, one of the most effective ways for photographers to get work. The often debated email vs. direct mail discussion made an appearance as did insights into where creative’s look for inspiration and work, thoughts on photographers shooting video and over dessert, a one-word summary from each of us to describe the current state of our industry.

All agreed it that there aren’t enough opportunities to get everyone together and we can’t wait for the next one. But for now are very happy to summarize what we learned with our larger community.

And, with that, we welcome you to our table.


Each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing. We decided this was the best way to present the discussion, to share the experience as close as possible to how it actually happened to bring you all to the table with us.

The first questions were directed to Cara Nieto from DeutschLA about how she defines a successful event, what she enjoyed the most and what was most effective for introducing her to new talent and reacquainting her with familiar talent?

CONVERSATION STARTER #1: Le Book’s Effectiveness

Cara Nieto, DeutschLA

How would you define a successful Le Book event?  Do you think the event met these criteria?  What elements of Connections did you enjoy the most?  What were the most effective in introducing you to new talent and reacquainting you with familiar talent? 

Here is how Cara got the conversation started:

“I consider LeBook successful if I discover new talent or someone new to a roster. I may have discovered someone new to a certain roster, but no one that I hadn’t seen before.  I don’t get to talk with every person, so it may not be that there wasn’t any new talent there at all, but it’s obviously difficult to find that with everything one has to look at.

For the booths I did make it to, I asked to be shown one or two things I hadn’t seen before since this what I’m looking for—if someone is new to the roster or has something really new and exciting. It would be helpful if, at each booth, new talent to either their roster or the industry were highlighted.

I did like the big agency books with five or six images from each photographer, especially the big agencies. It’s daunting to ask to dig one out from the bottom of the pile.”

“I loved it. The chaos. Seeing all the portfolios stacked up all over the place,” added Jigisha Bouevrat of TBWA\Chiat\Day. “I think if you spread it out, you lose that energy, that charisma that is in there.  And because of that I found five I’m excited to hopefully work with. And we do a lot of research and have people come in. And these were five who were not on my radar at all.”

“I go straight to the music stand, assuming that it must be the best of the bunch right now,” added Lisa Matthews from Team One. “It’s easier to flip through and read—it really works. So maybe that’s the idea. You switch it out every 45 minutes. When I see a stack of books in the corner, I say ‘give me three.’ The big monitors with five images from each photographer also draw you in. You can get a good idea very quickly of the artists at each rep.”

“We are also most interested in personal work,” adds Cara Nieto. “Reps could encourage their photographers to have a personal project or test for their reps to share at the event that they’re excited about and that is catered to us.

But quite honestly, what I enjoyed as much as looking at the work was seeing the reps I don’t usually see, from San Francisco and New York, and catching up with them.”

Jigisha echoed the same sentiment. “I loved that I can network not only with the agents, but that the photographers showed up at the end and that I got to see all the art producers and the other people that are part of my community that I never get to see and bond with. We tend to be and feel isolated in LA and it’s great for us to get to spend time together.

I also love that it’s on the West Coast in LA because I think we need something that elevates us and makes us part of this industry. I love that and I don’t ever want this to go away. I call it our industry day, but it should turn into an industry week.”

The second set of questions were addressed to Melanie Tongas of RPA.  And in keeping with the conversation-starter spirit, it quickly turned into an animated group discussion that ranged from getting art directors to Connections and to portfolio shows, how digital and motion are impacting art director’s availability for looking at photography, and why a fashion and celebrity-driven event like Connections is relevant to a wider audience of art buyers.

CONVERSATION STARTER #2:  Le Book’s Attendance

Melanie Tongas, RPA

How much does your agency encourage attendance to an event like Le Book?  Do they encourage the entire creative department to attend?  Did any of your creative’s attend the event?  If not, why do you think that is? 

Here is how Melanie got the conversation started:

Since LeBook came to LA last year, I along with Ginnie Assenza, who I co-manage the department with, encouraged our department to attend the event, as we believe it’s important to connect with the photography and advertising community, and keep abreast of the latest trends in the industry. Most of us attended last year’s event and loved it, and because of that found a way to fit it into our incredibly busy schedules this year.

Being that we’re a predominantly automotive agency, we intentionally narrowed our focus for so many years to know the automotive reps and photographers because that’s who we were hiring and it was the best use of our time.  But with a handful of growing non-auto accounts where we’re finding ourselves commissioning more fashion and celebrity photographers, the LeBook event was a perfect venue for us to meet new reps and see new talent, as much as it was to visit with those we’ve worked with over the years.

As art producers it’s our job not only to source out the right talent for any particular project, but to keep expanding our talent library with new talent. That’s part of what this event is all about. It’s about seeing who’s out there so if we have an automotive project that requires some fashion, we’ll know who’s out there.”

Freelance art producer, Jill Hundenski said that their responsibilities have expanded as well. “We have to stay on top of who is shooting print and motion. Art Directors come to us to ask who is doing both.

“I feel like LeBook should also really be targeting the digital and print producers because we are crossing media. Maybe broadcast too, but definitely digital and print,” suggested by Jigisha and echoed by Lisa Matthews, “Integrated production is the new buzzword. Le Book should grow it into an option.”

“Just having a couple events is not enough to draw the art directors. They need to have more to attract them,” suggested Melanie. “Successful ideas could be held throughout the week.”

“They could also attract higher attendance if it were more centrally located on the Westside,” added Cara Nieto. “They might be catering to fashion and celebrity businesses, but the agencies are on the Westside and Hollywood is the mecca in traffic.”

“So it would be nice for them to partner with someone to expand the event more,” suggested Heather. “This being their second year in LA, I’m sure they are trying to figure it out and are still learning what people are craving and need here. I think it’s recognizing the power of this week and building on it.”

“One thing to add. The events/presentations at LeBook (branded content, etc.) have nothing to do with photography,” observed Jigisha. “It’s about a different way of advertising and marketing and working with clients and so much more strategy than the creative development. If they want to get art directors there, they need to rethink the presentations. And also not do them during the day. I didn’t get to look at books until 5:30.

On another note, I would spend my money to go to NY to see the European agents at NY Connections.”

The final question of this first installment of Community Table was on the rise of Pay-to-Play events. Directed to Jigisha Bouverat of TBWA\Chiat\Day an interesting discussion developed .  Some see the value outweighing any shortcomings and others felt it was somewhat unfair to photographers to pay to see them when they could simply make an appointment. All were agreed though, that those getting to know the photographer,  is paramount and this is one opportunity for doing that and these events are very beneficial to emerging photographers.


Jigisha Bouverat, TBWA\Chiat\Day

There is a rise in the “pay to play” events where photographers pay a fee or pay into a program that allows them direct access to creatives and or art producers.  The organizers sometimes offer compensation to the reviewers in an effort to elevate the seriousness of the event and show a respect for the reviewer’s time.  What is it about these types of events that are most successful and what do you feel could be improved upon?  Do you see this as a positive trend and if not, why?

Here is how Jigisha got everyone thinking:

“In the past few years I’ve thought about this a lot because I’ve needed to strategize as my role as an art producer in an ad agency and as a department head. With regards to the pay-to-play events, I’ve thought about what is a conflict of interest and what is acceptable.

At first, I would get an offer to come look at and critique portfolios that came with a stipend. I knew the people putting the shows together were also charging the photographers to have their books reviewed, but I would do them. However, in the last couple of years, the books that came to me were photographers who didn’t need my critique, who were already quite successful and could call me and get a showing

Acknowledging that the pay-to-play events present a valuable opportunity to emerging photographers, Jigisha continued, “Then alternatively, there have been other reviews I’ve done for beginner and emerging books where I could be constructive and helpful. In this case, my time was worth it for them, if the photographer uses it as a critique to make their book better.”

Based on an evaluation of how much each side gets out of it, Jigisha now only participates when she feels it is not a conflict of interest. “I made the decision not to participate in events where the caliber of photographer is good enough to come in to my agency and be seen. But I will participate in the ones where I can use my experience to help them and they can maybe do a little more work and see me at my agency the next time and not have to pay.”

Several art buyers however highlighted the value of actually meeting with photographers, “Personality is huge,” added Jill Hundenski. “If the creative call goes downhill, I take them off the list. And on that same note, if you have 15 minutes with a photographer, you can really delve into what they love working on and get a better understanding of who they are, more so than looking at their book or hearing from their rep.”

“I find the pay-to-play events successful because I have the chance to meet with new photographers and I love one-on-ones with photographers,” confirmed art buyer Andrea Mariash of David & Goliath. “I’ll go into a portfolio show and everyone is standing around the photographer trying to figure out what they have coming up that they could use them on. It absolutely makes a difference.”

And echoing what we often hear from art buyers, Patti O’Halloran of The Designory summed it up with “Yes, it’s always good to meet the photographers because you may end up spending a week with them.”


Be sure to tune in next week to sample the Main Course of our meeting where we will be addressing Marketing over the Years and the ever present Emailer Controversy.

If you have anything to add to the conversation, please do email Heather Elder Represents or Brite Productions, we are excited to keep the conversation going.

Thank you again to all of our participants, Heather Elder Represents, Brite Productions and Alison McCreery of POP Blog for making all of this sharing possible.

6 thoughts on “Introducing Community Table: a Conversation with LA Art Buyers. Part I: The Appetizer

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  2. From the photographer’s perspective the “pay to play” events are a double edged sword. Last year I attended NYCFotoWorks and got to meet with a lot of potential clients I probably wouldn’t have been able to meet with on my own primarily for logistical reasons. I’m based in San Francisco and have done the east coast trip to show my portfolio and meet new clients… But as you all know, you’re VERY busy and scheduling 20 different meetings with the clients I’d like to meet would be very challenging. With NYCFotoWorks the meetings are all arranged for me. Combine that with the 10 or so meetings I scheduled outside the event during my downtime and I had 30 meetings in a week. Not bad.

    The other side of course is that the reviewers at the events are inundated with portfolios and photographers trying to impress them… So it would be easy for the reviewers to get overwhelmed and come away barely remembering anyone they met.

    For me, it was worth while and I got jobs from the meetiings I had. I just signed up for this June’s NYCFotoWorks.

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