Welcome Back to the Community Table: Agents in Conversation with San Francisco Art Producers. The Appetizer Part II

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For those of you just joining us, welcome to Community Table  SF– the latest 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.

 As a reminder, each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing.  Not surprisingly, many of the answers were similar to those of our LA and NY colleagues.   Therefore, rather than sharing the entire conversation, we included the original question and then the quotes and notes that were most relevant.  Please note, often times the person leading the conversation spoke most often.

And with that, we welcome you back to the table.

Please note, there will be eight posts shared over the month of April.  Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments.  To read The Appetizer Part I, please link here.  To see our other Community Table posts from LA and NYC, please link here.

San Francisco Participating Art Producers

Owen Bly:                               Art Producer/Freelance

Kate Stone Foss:                     Art Producer/Freelance

Cameron Barnum:                   Art Producer/BBDO

Shayla Love:                            Art Producer/Razorfish

Suzee Barrabee:                       Art Producer/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Dan Southwick:                       Art Producer/ Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Kristin Van Praag:                   Art Producer/Heat

Jacqueline Fodor:                    Art Producer/Venables, Bell & Partners  

Rebecca Lanthorne:                 Art Producer/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

Analisa Payne:                          Art Producer/Freelance

Justine Barnes:                        Art Producer/Duncan Channon

Marissa Serritella:                   Art Producer/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

COMMUNITY TABLE – THE APPETIZER PART 2

Conversation Starter 4:  Email or Phone?

Conversation Starter 5:  Templates

Conversation Starter 6: Transparency & the Triple bid

CONVERSATION STARTER #4

The Bid Process: Email or Phone

And to ensure a successful estimating process, which do you prefer as your primary communications tool (email or phone) and why?

Justine Barnes/Duncan Channon

I typically start with email regarding the spec sheet, visuals and calendar so it’s all in one place and we have something to go back to. And sometimes it’s easier during the follow-up to just pick up the phone and talk through something. But in that situation I make sure to do a follow-up email reiterating what we discussed as well as an updated spec sheet and the discussion reiterated in the email.

It’s important to have an email to go back to. I’m sure you’ve all been there—when there is a job from two years prior that you need to reference and some small detail was discussed on the phone and there’s no paper trail.

Marissa Serritella/Art Producer BSSP

I also prefer email. If you need to refer back to something you discussed then you have it in front of you rather than relying on what you remember from a call. And you can email when the time is right for you, after you have all the necessary info, rather than be caught off guard at what may not be a good time for a call.

Also it’s often either too noisy to really have a good chat on the phone, or so quiet and uncomfortable to have everyone in your section listen to your phone conversations.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

I find that even now, when I call someone and don’t reach them, I’ll send them an email that says ‘I just left you a voicemail.’ You don’t know if someone is listening to their voicemail. Any time there is a phone interaction, there is still an email.

Justine Barnes/Duncan Channon

You never know if someone has to be out of the office or if they’re sick or it’s a busy Monday filled with meetings, so voicemail isn’t as efficient. A follow-up email is a good idea.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

You’re still answering your phones though by and large?

[Laughter]

Justine Barnes/Duncan Channon

Yes, unless we don’t recognize the number.

[More laughter]

Kate Stone Foss/Freelance Art Producer

I think it’s nice to start with an email as well because you have a more productive conversation and you can really go into the details of the job.

Shayla Love/Razorfish

I prefer to set a time for a call so I can make sure I’m there and can schedule the time. And sometimes the creative need to be on the call as well.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

What is your expectation when you have a first conversation with a rep versus a photographer?

In our group, we are the first ones to pick up the phone so we can get a little more information and we know exactly what is happening before the photographer gets involved.

Do you see it as duplicating your effort and have the conversation twice? Or is this not an issue?

Rebecca Lanthorne/BSSP

I think it’s nice for the reps and producers to talk sometimes and then the photographers and creatives once we’ve hashed out some of the simpler stuff.

Shayla Love/Razorfish

It’s good to be on the same page with budgets and then give the rep an opportunity to talk with the photographer and approach it with whatever parameters are in your mind.

If it comes up on a call, the creative don’t consider these things.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

So do you think it’s odd if a rep is not on a creative call?

Rebecca Lanthorne/BSSP

I like having the rep on the call.

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

I think it’s important for rep and/or producer to be on the call. I want the person who is scheduling and in charge of the budget to be involved.

Shayla Love/Razorfish

Sometimes the creative are excited to talk with the photographer and will call them directly.

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Justine Barnes/Duncan Channon

I’ve been in situations, to your point, where you have a good relationship with the photographer, but make initial contact with the rep. Then the rep will send an email and cc the photographer and get them involved. In a situation like this, I will just go to the photographer because that’s where it will end up anyways. But this isn’t common.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Do you have the expectation that commercial photographers should be business savvy or do you think of them as predominantly creative?

Analisa Payne/ Freelance Art Producer

I think it’s helpful if they understand and acknowledge that there is a process as far as changing your idea or approach and that there are cost ramifications worked out before you can proceed.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

How would you handle a situation where there is a creative call and a photographer is fully aware that whatever is being asked of them is not possible for the budget. However, you’ve got the creative and the agency on the phone call and the creative hasn’t set expectations and everyone is excited.

Then we get the phone call that there isn’t enough money. Do you prefer that the photographer speak up on the call and let everyone know it isn’t possible or would you prefer that you get the phone call from us?

Analisa Payne/Freelance Art Producer

I would prefer that the photographer or someone in the know speak up and say that it isn’t possible but present options instead of saying yes or no.

Dan Southwick/ Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Hopefully on that call when everybody is riffing, somebody can subtly rein it in a little bit.

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

In my experience, there is usually one person who takes this role.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

Photographers are very uncomfortable saying, ‘Let me have Heather, Lauranne or Kate crunch the numbers with Suzee and make sure this is doable for you before we all get excited.’

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Usually what happens in this situation is that it comes down to logistics and the photographer will know that they can’t get it done in that short a time. And this is the parameter —what they can get done in a day—is the clear boundary.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

Do you find yourself getting a shot list or specs from your client that you know are unrealistic and you broach this on the creative call with, ‘I know this is a lot to get done in the time frame we are asking.’ Is it led this way?

I’m in the middle of this right now, so I’m intrigued.

Kristin Van Praag /Heat

A lot of my creatives only want a creative call. They don’t want the heaviness of production discussed. They’re a brain trust and want to listen in and go away and figure out what the tough conversations need to be afterwards.

Justine Barnes/Freelance Art Producer

This is what I like to do—have the conversation with the rep and photographer up front and give them the Statement of Work and talk about the project. Then have the creative call where the Art Director and photographer can discuss the creative aspects of the project. At the end of the call in greater detail, what our options are, how we can achieve what this, and answer any questions that may have come up during the creative portion of the call.

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

This has happened so much lately. Sometimes, it starts on the call and just grows. I try to stay focused on what we can do and not promise everything.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

It’s great to have a wish list from the client so we can discuss priorities. We’re happy to try and do everything, but is how much we think we can get done. And anything else is gravy.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

So you discuss the shot list on the creative call?

Dan Southwick/ Goodby Silverstein & Partners

If it’s coming from the client, that is different than if it’s coming from the creatives. I try to set this up as soon as possible, to discuss what we are thinking about and talking with the rep about this.

I try to frame it as ‘We’ll do our best.’

Kristin Van Praag /Heat

I think that’s really important. To Suzee’s point, you get this list from the client and a red flag goes up because the budget is tight or there isn’t enough time.

It’s important on our end to set expectations with our team and the client and to let them know it is really tight and we’ll see what we can do, but there is no guarantee.

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CONVERSATION STARTER #5

The Bid Process: Templates

We imagine that you get a lot of bids from various templates. So are there any preferences on which one you like best and why?

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

No. So long as it’s easy to understand.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

What about the projects where you get a bid from me with line items for the photographer’s cost and a line item for the producer and I attach the producer’s estimate to that. Are you ok with that?

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

I like having it all broken out with a summary page followed by detailed pages.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables, Bell & Partners

Me too. I like having everything spelled out. I know if I have to negotiate down, I can easily find where I can possibly discuss cuts.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

So the summary and itemized are really important. But we’re moving towards a trend of having the producer’s estimate and attaching it.

Marissa Serritella/Art Producer BSSP

As for bid templates, we see all different ones. I think it would be great in a way if it was more standardized. Often we have to take your numbers and reorganize them into an agency Excel chart for client so they can compare apples to apples in everyone’s bids. Sometimes that gets tedious trying to pull them apart and put them back together differently. We just try to simplify and summarize the categories, like: Assistants, Stylists, Props and Wardrobe, Locations, Casting, Talent, Travel, Equipment, Transportation, Insurance, Misc…).

In a way it would be nice to have you fill out our similar template but we’d still like to see it a bit more broken out the way you normally give it to us, so we know what goes into each number (sometimes client asks for more specifics so it’s good for us to have it handy). But, I’d be happy to tell you what categories I have to summarize and fill in for client to make it a bit smoother when I have to re-plug it into my format.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables, Bell & Partners

Do you have producers you work with on specific jobs? I’ve had producers tell me they didn’t work on the initial bid.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

Unless a producer is not available for some reason, if they do the initial bid they are the producer on the job.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

If your estimate looks elegant, you get bonus points for this.

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CONVERSATION STARTER #6

The Bid Process: Transparency and the Triple Bid

Is triple bidding mandatory at your agency and when so, do you think it is important to let the photographer know up front that they might not be in the top 2?

Marissa Serritella/Art Producer BSSP

Triple bidding isn’t always mandatory at an agency – it isn’t here, but it has been at other agencies I’ve worked for. However, it often depends on client – even if it’s not necessarily policy here, a lot of clients want us to go through the exercise.  In some ways I think it can be helpful, but it really depends on the creative – sometimes I think it’s just not warranted, and when that’s the case then I’m really not happy to have to ask an agent bid it for basically no reason. I like to try to tell them if that’s what’s happening.

Also, not sure that it always helps to tell the photographer if they’re the reco – I’d rather them focus on trying to think about what is best for the creative and see what the outcome is. If someone is challenging for their time then I may be more inclined to let them know they’re a strong contender. Also, a lot can sometimes depend on the creative calls on the front end and how that all goes, I’ve seen someone who was top choice fall down to #3 because the call didn’t go well – so I don’t like to say anything until that all plays out and we’re sure.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

I’ve never worked anywhere where it’s been an agency policy to get three bids. It’s client policy. I am uncomfortable telling someone if they are in the top two or top one or five. I think there is some usefulness to it because you know where you stand as a rep. But I think you’re also spinning your wheels and go ahead and bid on this and don’t want anyone to feel that way.

I did a Comcast job five years ago with top fashion photographer in NY. Everyone else came in between $150 – $160k. He was the number one choice and he came in at $350k and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get him into the range. So I was able to show that to the creatives and he was no longer the top choice. So there was no need to tell someone up front that I was using them as cannon fodder.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

There’s value on both sides. There’s a part of me that would like to know so I can set my photographer’s expectations. But at the same time, maybe they won’t work as hard on the treatment or whatever they are doing to sell themselves. Their ego might be bruised. So if I legitimately don’t know, they put in all the effort.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

There is a tangible cost to the photographer and hopefully the reps know. We were told recently we were the triple bid and the photographer rallied. And we rode the mantra of being the dark horse.  And we really approached it from this perspective.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

There is really value in that. If he/she puts their best foot forward and engages that art buyer or creative they leave with a good sense of who that person is even if they are not the right choice for that job. They make an impression.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

I wouldn’t let someone bid who I didn’t think had a chance of getting the job. And I don’t want to stomp on that right off the bat.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

So what would be really helpful, and it doesn’t happen very often, tell me I’m third bid if you’re not going to engage me like I’m a first bid. If you’re not going to give me the time, the effort and the information to do a really good job for you, then tell me I’m the third bid and I won’t spend the time and the effort and get my photographer as engaged. Or when you have a chance, answer my questions or be available for my call or email. Because this does happen a lot, that no one gets back to us and we assume we are a third bid.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

Or we submit a bid and never hear anything back. Not a ‘thank you’ or ‘we got your bid.’ Just radio silence.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

Do I ever do that?

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

No, you guys never do that. No one sitting at this the Community Table has done this. And this is why we do this, to have this two-sided dialogue. So people who read this can take it all in and have a better understanding and maybe have a different reaction sometime down the road.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

It’s all about personal relationships. Either making one with a rep whom you don’t know or someone you are regularly dealing with. You don’t want to ignore or be a jerk to someone you will work with again.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

I do think communication is key. Whether you’re on the receiving end of getting a job or not.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

That’s why I’m up front about a triple bid. I don’t call a producer just to bid.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

I love that call. Please call me and I’ll give it to you in five minutes.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

It wouldn’t occur to me as a human being to say “You’re likely not going to get the job.’ But if it’s useful, that’s great.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

I’ve realized that it’s such a small community and everyone talks. All the reps know each other and call each other. But it’s more than likely that everyone out there knows that you’ve called so and so and so and so. For you to think they’re not is silly.

When I learned this, I decided to be 100% transparent and be honest and tell people ‘You’re the favorite and please work for it.’ And it becomes a collaboration.

I got burned once. I was trying to be secretive and the person knew the other person who bid the job.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Right. And the producer has the studio on hold.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

When we hear from another rep that their photographer got the job and yours didn’t and you didn’t hear it from the Art Producer, it’s disappointing.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

Had a more junior photographer call the senior photographer who was also bidding to consult about numbers. And I’d been transparent, so told them talk all they want. It was liberating.

I think one of the most important aspects of my job is to take care of relationships. So then when I need help getting something done we take care of each other.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

I think about how other art producers read the blog and how it’s a shared community. An online producer told me she learned a lot about print production from it.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

I’ve learned so much from reading about how more senior art producers bid. We’re all working in a vacuum.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

There aren’t really any more secrets to how business is done. I don’t have to share everything about how I communicate with our photographers. But as far as fees, it’s all out there. No one can do my job like I can, so I’m happy to put it out there.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

That’s why Car-Max is doing so well. There are no more salesmen. The salesman used to control all the cars. And there were things we didn’t know, but now it’s much more of even playing field.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

If I have a relationship with a rep, I’m open.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

That’s true. If I don’t have a relationship with a rep or know them, I’m a little more guarded.

Please note, there will be eight posts shared over the month of April.  Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments.  To read  The Appetizer Part I,  please link here.  To see our other Community Table posts from LA and NYC, please link here.

 

And, as always, thank you  Allison McCreery of POP Blog for your flawless transcription and partnership on this project.

 

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