When Agency Access’ The Lab first approached me to write a blog post titled “A Day in the Life of a Photography Agent” I thought it was a great idea. Well, it was great…until I actually sat down and chronicled my daily routine. My day to day is boring; it’s mostly filled with emails, estimates and therapy sessions with my photographers.
Then I realized that what The Lab was really hoping to glean from me was some insight into the big picture of what an agent actually does. Instead of a diary, I suggested writing a post sharing the Top Ten Most Important Roles of a Photography Agent. With that in mind, here they are:
1) Photo agents are Sales Managers
First and foremost, we sell photography. We want to connect photographers with creatives, share incredible photographs, find creative opportunities to pursue and plant the seeds for our talent to be considered for future projects. We are not only running our own business but partnering in the business of our photographer too, so ultimately we want to move the needle and increase sales.
2) Photo agents are Marketing Managers
In order to increase sales, we need to promote the photographer and the photographer’s work. We need to let people know our artists exist and continue to share their latest work in the hopes of future consideration for projects.
We partner with photographers to determine (within a certain budget) the best tools to market their work. Based on our research and experience, we make recommendations on media and source book placement, emails, direct mail pieces, portfolio shows, networking opportunities, and helpful websites.
3) Photo agents are Social Media Managers
It has become increasingly important to understand and utilize social media to gain attention not just for new work but for the story behind the photographer.
Agents not only need to be able to promote via social media, but they also need to educate our photographers on how to best utilize these tools and provide them with suggestions on how to find their own unique “social media voice.”
4) Photo agents are Therapists
The best agents are active listeners. They offer advice when photographers are struggling creatively or wondering why they didn’t get a project. They are supportive when a photographer wants to try a new creative direction or just needs to vent. And, finally, they recognize when a photographer is getting burned out and gives the artist room to consider what the best next step is in a tricky situation. (And by the way, this thankfully often works both ways!)
5) Photo agents are Translators
As I stated in an open letter to Art Producers on my blog (Dear Art Buyer), I believe that art buyers and agents are also translators. Art producers must translate ad-agency-and-client language to the language spoken by agents and photographers. Then agents have to translate photographer-and-producer language back to the language spoken by ad agencies and clients. It’s a delicate dance, but when we partner together it always seems to work out. Without this dance, many photographers could run the risk of misinterpretation, undervaluation, or even just simple misunderstanding.
6) Photo agents are Editors
I gravitated to photography because I love photographs. I love to edit them, put them in different orders, pair them with unexpected images and ultimately share them. A good agent needs to be able to work closely with a photographer to tell a story with their imagery. It’s critical that their story contains not only a strong idea of the photographer’s vision, but also has marketing relevance. This takes a very special skill — a skill that is not learned, but comes from a deeper understanding and appreciation for the art.
7) Photo Agents are Project Managers & Schedulers
I have too many projects on my desk at any given time to count. There are estimates, estimates and more estimates, and, there are just as many revisions. Then there are new websites to create, current websites to update, blog posts and imagery for ads to wrangle, conference calls to schedule, calendars to maintain, emails to return, portfolio images to edit, trips to schedule, portfolio shows to plan, jobs to follow up on, thank you notes to write, social media posts to plan, emails and direct mails to send, blog posts to write (*ahem*) and finally photographs to enjoy.
All of those things are marked urgent, of course. And the whole time we’re doing our best to make each photographer in our group feel like they are the only one we’re working on at the moment. As for whether or not we succeed at that, well you’d have to ask them—but they can’t say we don’t try!
8) Photo agents are Guardians
Photography licensing can be tricky. Interpretation of usage tends to be different from agency to agency, and purchase orders often take a law degree to decipher. Clients hire lawyers to draft agreements that supersede our Terms and Conditions and many times photographers (and agents) don’t even notice. A good agent needs to read the fine print, negotiate the best terms for the advance possible, and partner with the photographer to communicate their concerns if the conversation gets challenging.
9) Photo agents are Business Owners
Because our own business success is based on the success of the photographer, it’s often forgotten that we’re running a business too. When you lose a job, we lose a job. When you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid. We have advertising and travel expenses, payroll, 401k, insurance and all the same headaches photographers do when it comes to keeping our business profitable. I love photography and I love my job—so the money seems like an added benefit sometimes—but at the end of the day I am running a business and I need it to be profitable, too.
10) Photo agents are Negotiators
When it comes to setting fees and determining bottom lines, the rules are always changing in this business. What we charged one client for one use may not be acceptable given another client’s budget. It’s up to us to work with the photographer to determine if the project is still worth pursuing for creative reasons or if it is best to pass.
The fees we set and the bottom lines we present are not only representative of the photographer’s business — they also represent who a photographer is as part of the artistic community. They are trying to make valuable contributions to the creative process while protecting their copyrights. In order to do this well, it is important for a rep to understand the law, have experience in what industry standard is, and know how to value the photographer’s contribution and art in the process. Although it can be a lot of hard work, a good agent can help enrich not only her artists’ careers but the photography community as a whole.