Sharing Estimating Insights from Amy Rivera of DDB LA

IMG_4971I have known Amy Rivera for quite some time as we worked together for years on a Wells Fargo campaign with Hunter Freeman.  Amy taught me everything that I needed to know about estimating with spreadsheets and excel!  No one can analyze a production like she can.   Seeing how thorough she is in the process and how much care she takes for her client and the photographer, I thought she would be a great person to ask to contribute to our new Insights series.
Here is what she had to say.
OPTION 2:  Shedding Light on the Bid Process
1)  How often are you asked to triple bid a project?  And, if there ever is a clear first choice, do you let that person know they are the recommend?
We try to triple bid each time.  It is a much better process.  However sometimes the client requests we only bid one person, but only if we have used the person in the past.  All new people are subject to the triple bid process.   If we have a “first choice” I may let the person know, however I feel like things change so much at the 11th hour that if I tell someone they are the first choice and then the job does not go to them then it is that much more difficult to explain.
2)  Sometimes after a photographer bids a job, they will not hear back in regards to the outcome.  Can you shed some light on why that may be?  
I try to notify all bidders regardless.  In the event that I have not notified someone then it is a major oversight on my part.  I think it is very rude NOT to notify someone.  It’s a difficult call to make but it has to be made.  I encourage all photographers to follow up regarding the jobs that “went away”.  The only reason that I can think of that other people may not do this notification is that some overbearing reps want a detailed description of why the job did not go their way.  It just happens, and it may be awkward to explain.  No one wants to say, “the client hated the work” or “the other bidder was $100 less.”  The reasons may be stupid, but it is the business.  If the job didn’t go your way reps just have to say, “Well thank you for letting us know and giving us the opportunity to bid.  Maybe next time!”
3)  We all know there are many reasons for a photographer not getting a project.  Besides the obvious of price or creative, can you share some other reasons that they may not be awarded a project?
Personality.  If we have a bad phone call or work with them once and their personality is not a fit then it’s a huge problem.  All things being equal the nice guy/girl wins.
4) What sort of things are you dealing with on your end to get an estimate approved?  We all know it is not always as easy as presenting a photo estimate for approval.  What other things could your client be considering at the same time that could hold up the process?
Their media plan is a big one.  That drives the timing a lot.  If they have a fast insertion they want it fast.  If they don’t know the insertion dates, or if they are up in the air, they might sit on the estimates.   Their annual budgets could be an issue.  Sometimes the agency is trying to sell the client on a project and the client just “wants to know about how much that would cost??”  Often a budget is not requested until they know about how much money they might need for a project and they will use the photographers’ estimates to apply for funds that may or may not come thru.
5)  What sort of things are you doing behind the scenes that you would like photographers to know you are doing to sell in the project to a client?
Lots and lots of internet research.  I need a great website to sell the client on a photographer.  I never call in portfolios.  Often I call with a bid package and they didn’t even know I was looking at the site! 
6)  Do you share budgets when they are available?  Why or why not?
Sometimes.  Especially if the budget is tight.  I need the photographers to really ask themselves if a project can even be done for a specific small amount.  However, I generally prefer if the photographers do not know the budget since the estimates are often an indication as to how the photographer likes to work.   If I say, “we have $100,000” then all the estimates pretty much come in at $100,000 and I don’t know if perhaps the photographer could have done it for $75,000 and they are just padding it since we seem to have the money.  The flip side is if I get 3 estimates in closer to $200,000 then I need to talk to the client about their $100k.  I want real numbers, and knowing the “budget” (which can change) gives me the numbers they think I want to see. 
7) What is your client’s/agency’s policy surrounding advances on projects?  What do you do as an art producer to help facilitate that process?  And, what can a photographer do to help it along as well?
Our policy is that we provide 50% of the total estimate prior to shoot date.  The only hiccup is if I need to set the photographer/rep up as a new vendor then the process can be held up slightly.   Photographers need to check to see if they are vendors and provide the necessary paperwork.  It whole process has gotten more complicated, and accounting departments are asking for more and more paperwork.   Politely following up often is fine.  Just keep in mind that the Art Producers areon your side and are often coming up against many accounting road-blocks too.  I fight very hard to secure that advance.  Threatening to halt production is a slippery slope and should only be used sparingly.  We happen to be one of the fairly easy ones.  There are other clients that you may have to ask yourself if you are willing to wait that long for payment in order to have a job.  A good art producer should be able to tell you the truth about their clients’ payment schedule (good or bad).   Just try not to fight with the art producer.  Often they are fighting the system too.  
8)  What misperception about the estimating process from your end would you like photographers to have a clearer understanding of based on your experiences?
Don’t be too paranoid!  Put into your estimate what you think you need to have to complete a job.  Then negotiate.   Usually the initial costs are between you and the art producer.  We want your numbers to make us look good as well so we will work with you!  And yes, people can ask you to “come up” in certain areas without trying to sabotage you.  Sometimes we know the client well enough to need more money in different areas.  And maybe we know the client is going to cut something so we know where to “add the fat”.  Also, if you know a job has a budget that is too small you have to stand your ground so that you don’t get caught with the overages bill when the agency/client is being shortsighted.