Welcome Back to the Community Table: Agents in Conversation with San Francisco Art Producers. The Main Course Part I


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. Link here to read  The  Appetizer Part I and The Appetizer Part II.   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


The Cost Consultant: Value vs. Cost

What do you think is the #1 value of a cost-consultant? Also, will you explain in more detail how you typically interact with them throughout the bid process?

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

I have strongly held opinions about cost consultants. I don’t think the MBA has a place in the creative process and yet they have injected themselves and that is the cause for a lot of bad creative. I think the quality of the creative has gone downhill in the last ten years, in part because of this. It interjects another person who only cares about money. They are totally out of context.

Marissa Serritella/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

I don’t see very much value in a cost consultant. It’s what we’re there for. So when we know we have to interact with them, it in turn changes how we interact with an agent, because we know the consultant is going to want to see certain changes, so we limit what we negotiate up front with you. That’s how I’ve experienced it anyway – it becomes a bit of an unnecessary game, which I don’t like for it to be. Plus, we don’t like cutting things down to bare bones – would rather have some buffer to know we’re covered for small incidentals, but they often ask to scale it back too much.

If you get one that’s reasonable (rare) then it could help to have an extra set of eyes on something that I may have missed – but more often than not it’s more of a hindrance than a help. And it adds a bit more time to the schedule for all the back and forth.

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

There are a few established cost consultant firms and you end up working with them over and over again. Over time you get to know them and if you’re lucky, you establish a good relationship with them. And they know you are not trying to run around them.

The value is that with a lot of our clients if you get it past the cost consultant, you don’t have to have that conversation with the advertising or marketing client. Once it’s vetted by the cost consultant, it’s fine. It’s one of those jobs that wouldn’t be on my top 10 favorites list.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Take us through the process. Do you start with the cost consultant at the beginning of the job, do they know it’s coming?

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

We start with a bid meeting and give them the initial specs so everyone is on the same page and they understand the project and what you’re bidding. This is usually over email.

They have to approve your bid specs and then you send this to your photographers. After the initial bids, the cost-consultant will usually give us a target number they would like to reach.

Kristin Van Praag/Heat

Do they suggest different photographers? And when they ask you to come down, is it because they know it can be done for less?

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

It’s usually a percentage that I have to come down by, 10 or 20%.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

Sometimes it’s almost counter-productive. If an agency is bidding three photographers and three tiers and all those numbers go in and the lower numbers water down the process.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

I do feel that over the years, there are a few who have gotten strong. However, I’ve had a lot of challenging experiences with cost consultants because they don’t always have a good handle on the reality of what it costs to produce a photo shoot.

When they budget a producer for $350/day when the actual cost is $1,000/day it’s not a helpful conversation. They’re either trying to undercut me or they buy paper and don’t buy photography.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

And then I’m in the position of having to educate them and I resent it. I don’t want to educate them.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

Once, we got an email from one saying that his wife gets her haircut for $100, so how could a hair and makeup person be $1,000 a day.

More recently, we got an email asking if we could get a producer for $550/day. They know what it takes and we’ve worked for this client many times. They should be answering that question for us. It was a high-end shoot and of course we couldn’t get a producer for $550.

In our experience, the better ones have art buyer backgrounds.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

An experienced art producer is a cost consultant.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables Bell & Partners 

I work with cost consultants and get ahead of it and educate them and why things cost what they do. And if I know my creative want to work with a photographer who is a little more expensive, I come back to the rep and say you’re going to lose this solely based on money.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

Where this is helpful is that you can then say to me, “Heather, your location scouting is twice what someone else’s is.” And then you and I can have a conversation not about money, but about approach. I can check with you to make sure you are OK with where I think we can come down and you become part of our decision-making process as opposed to us playing art director.


Analisa Payne/Freelance Art Producer

I’m having a good experience with a cost consultant right now mostly because she used to be an art producer and gets that her job is not to give input on the creative and not to go over the bid but more to ensure that the costs are competitive.

I was talking with a TV producer and the cost consultant she was working with for a TV project knew a certain director charged a different amount on several other projects, so she was able to keep his fees in line and competitive. So from experience so far it’s to make sure things are competitive and are not out of whack based on industry standards for a specific city.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Who does the cost consultant report to?

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Usually it’s the marketing director or an outside company that has been hired by the client.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

I’m on a project right now where the photographer shot a campaign for a client and then, for budget reasons, they decided to work with photographers of a different caliber on future shoots. Well,  now we’re back to shooting the campaign again. And the cost consultant wants the costs to come in line with what they were paying the lower cost,  emerging photographer.

How do you handle this when it comes across your desk?

Analisa Payne/Freelance Art Producer

That is not apples to apples. You need to be very clear that it’s not. When you’re dealing with different levels, it’s a hard one.

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

Yes, sometimes can win this one and sometimes not. It’s really hard.

Rebecca Lanthorne/BSSP

Sometimes the client will go to bat with purchasing or procurement to say, ‘Even though this photographer is higher, this is who we want to shoot with.’ And this helps you a lot.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Who presents the bid to the client? The cost consultant? Or do you take it back and explain that it’s been vetted by the cost consultant?

Suzee Barabee/ Goodby, Silverstein & Partners

It depends. Usually that process is established with the client.

Analisa Payne/Freelance Art Producer

Right now I have a form I have to fill out. We’re having to triple bid so using a triple bid form. And then there’s a call with the cost consultant and the client. This is after the initial bid has been approved by the cost consultant.

Cameron Barnum/BBDO

I’ve had a lot of success with cost consultants. I think initially the hairs went  up on the back of my neck, that someone was looking over my shoulder and second-guessing the decisions I was making. But I turned around my thinking and started to see them as an ally and saw them as everyone who could get everyone at the table to agree on how we were going to do things.

I’ve certainly had cost consultants who have argued over the dollar-per-head for lunch. But it doesn’t seem to be the right job. It’s just to be sure that something isn’t completely out of whack for maybe the number of days you are shooting.

It is tricky when they get involved in the creative discussion. I don’t think that is their job at all.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables Bell & Partners 

The conversation needs to be about the value on the creative side. You can’t put a value on this. And at this point, I get my art director and creative director involved. So the conversation turns to being about creative and not about money.

So many times it gets put on the account people who aren’t strong enough to sell the creative to the client. If you approach the client with a comp about the creative instead of the account team who talk money, you aren’t really talking about money. You are talking about the creative and putting value to that creative.

So when you go to the client and have to have one of the difficult conversations about money, you’re not really selling them on money. You’re selling them on working with a photographer who might be more expensive but will be able to get them what they want.

You’re spending money anyways so you may as well do it right. If I can just stay quiet on that call and let the art director or creative director talk with the client, it is about the creative and makes it much easier to sell it to them.

I now bring my creative(s) to any meeting I have with the client to talk about money. They are on the phone with any conversation with the account people and cc’d on every email. They are involved in every single detail.

Any meeting with the client, the creative director is there and cc’d on every email. Involved in every single detail. It’s never, ‘I know what the concept is’ and then I walk.”

No one has complained that they don’t have time. They are engaged and want to be a part of it and at that point you have an ally and you are fighting for something.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

We get worried when we get an email from an account person. Or sometimes it’s literally a forward from the art buyer asking us if we can ‘do something about this.’ No explanation.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

When that happens, bounce it back to us.


Kate Chase/Brite Productions

How often does this happen?

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

It happens often enough that we are aware of it.  It happens when people are busy.   We are not part of the initial conversation and just get an email that we need to cut by a certain amount.

We get that we need to cut, but we are left wondering what are the reasons for cutting? Who is asking for the reauction?

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

There should definitely be some background and explanation. And it shouldn’t be ‘See below’ and it’s a chain of emails.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

It should come with some opener or explanation as to where the motivation is coming from?  Agency? Client? Account team?  Cost consultant?  Tell me what your point of view is. Are you saying ‘damn right’ or are you saying ‘Oh my gosh, we have to partner on this and figure out how we can make this work.’


Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

I look at the relationship and remind myself that we work really hard on the estimates and every detail of the estimate. And all they are looking at is the bottom line and not the approach. So I try to remind myself that they ARE paying attention and here is an extra chance to explain how we are approaching something.  Maybe that will get communicated more strongly to the client rather than the bottom line.

Shayla Love/Razorfish

And your client might not trust you. And when everyone is pressured to get costs down, I’d love to have the support of someone else who has given it a stamp of approval and can say ‘She’s not crazy.’

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

What is your approach to educating your creative director?

Shayla Love/Razorfish

Recently we did a triple bid, but it didn’t help. Our agency is under so much pressure to get costs down and is so expensive and account for and bill everyone’s hours that at the end of the day, there is no money left for production.

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

There is this whole idea that the art director wants to shoot as well.

Kristin Van Praag/Heat

We have a guy named Phil at my agency.


He can do anything. He’s amazing. We deliver on something miraculous and there’s one shot they decide they want and they say ‘Send Phil down there.’ And then the next time, they want Phil to shoot it. And there are no rights attached. And I have to tell them that Phil isn’t a photographer.

Shayla Love/Razorfish

We have a Phil named Craig. And if people took into account what they’re billing the client for his time, his day cost is as high as some photographers.

Rebecca Lanthorne/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

When this comes up, I ask who’s going to run and get the wardrobe and props and return everything? Explain that you can’t do production. We’re used to in-house people for models but they’re also an account executive who has to bill their time.

Kristin Van Praag /Heat

This happens so much right now. I don’t know how to explain it to them. We’re getting a lot of younger people and we have to educate them.

Shayla Love//Razorfish

Sometimes it works.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

This is helpful for photographers to understand as well. They have a linear understanding—you get the job, you hire someone, and you shoot it. That there’s another way agencies are thinking and other resources that they have so it’s not surprising when get asked to shoot something for $10k.


But Phil can. Or maybe Craig.

Please note, there will be eight posts shared over the month of April.  Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments. Link here to read  The  Appetizer Part I and The Appetizer Part II.   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.


2 thoughts on “Welcome Back to the Community Table: Agents in Conversation with San Francisco Art Producers. The Main Course Part I

Leave a Reply