A Journey Through the Industry with Ally Godfrey. Part 2 : From Art Buyer to Super Producer

© R. Terry

© R. Terry

If you missed PART 1 of our interview with Ally Godfrey, please link here.

When I first thought to interview art producers for the blog, my intention was to celebrate the person behind the position.    I recognized that people in this position always came from such rich and diverse backgrounds and their path to art buying was never a straight line.   Well, that is for sure the case with Ally Godfrey.  Ally’s career path has given her such a unique perspective and understanding of the industry, it is no wonder that so many people want to work with her.

She is so diverse in her abilities that when a family matter came up that caused us to consider canceling our trip to Texas, we hired Ally to go in our place.  We have all the confidence in the world that she will be the perfect replacement!

You are now working freelance production, art buying and consulting.

I was at The Marketing Arm nine months and got laid off. This was not a great day. I had disbanded my agency and a month prior had let my website go. I had to ask myself if I wanted to rep again and I decided I didn’t. What I really like is working with a team of people and putting everything together. When I was a rep, I often hired the producer but I also did a lot of the production myself.

I had five photographers at the time I closed my agency. I had never repped an illustrator, but really enjoyed the illustrators I worked with at The Marketing Arm. The bids are different – more streamlined and I enjoyed monitoring the feedback from the creative director/art director. We worked on a big Halloween campaign for Frito-Lay and the illustrator had to create designs for large stand-alone product displays. They had to think in terms of geometry and engineering because even though it had a face they had to supply die lines. It was like putting together a puzzle, just really interesting. What he created was incredible. I will miss that, but it was a great opportunity.

I have been freelance since February doing production, freelance art buying and consulting. I have worked with TM Advertising working on the Pacific Gas and Electric account. I was pulling together stock and it was interesting the way they were using it – on TV. They animated it in post to make it move.

I’m also doing some consulting with photographers on branding, portfolios and websites, database building—helping them build custom lists reaching out to the right people? I still love doing this and everything I know comes right back. I try to keep it reasonable because so many consultants charge very high fees. So many photographers feel like they didn’t get enough out of it for the fees they paid. I really want to make sure they understand why I’m saying what I’m saying and to get that it’s not a silver bullet. But that small changes in a progressive, logical way can move the needle.

What lessons do you bring from working directly with clients to producing?

I just love this business, being on set, putting things together and seeing a creative vision come to life. I just love that. I also know how to speak the language of the client. They want to hear “Yes, and this is how we will do it.” You also have to learn how to say “No” while still saying “Yes.”

When I was a rep, a friend/art buyer called me with a job with ‘lifestyle’ animal photography. I didn’t have anyone but I knew of an animal photography team, a husband and wife. I was going to broker the job set up a conference call with the wife. As a lifestyle shoot, the animals weren’t sitting and had to do certain things. She kept telling the client “No, we can’t do that.” I was about to explode. I could not believe we were being thrown in front of the bus together. The conversation ended and I got the art buyer back on the phone and she was so surprised they did this. I followed up with the photographer and said “They’ll never use you. I’ll never work with you and you need to know how to do this.” And she said she couldn’t do it.

I remember that day and it was a huge lesson to me. With client service you have to make them feel good and explain to them why this is a better way to go and be sensitive to that. It was too bad because they loved his work.

Solving problems is the mindset and my job. To do this in a methodical way without any emotion. Take a step back and count to 10 and ask “How am I going to solve this?’

Sometimes the production can be a moving target and ebb and flow. Talent is added which adds shots. I’ve had to add more production people and days. And this comes down to communication with the client and the rep. You have to communicate very specifically. You have to be able to roll with the punches. So my experience as a rep comes in very handy in these situations.

I like feeling part of a team. Pulling together the right team is so important and ensuring everyone is on the same page and has all the information and appreciation they need. I want everyone to feel that they are getting compensated for it and we’re all in it to do a great job together.

You’ve been involved with shooting video from all sides: rep, art buyer and now producing. You must have a good idea of what clients are looking for and best practices. How does this inform your production estimates and how you work with reps and art buyers?

I have a good feel for it now. I’m shooting a print job down in Austin next week – a very big commercial and film town. I’ve been talking with people and I’m talking in print language and they are talking in film language. I know how to interpret what each of us is saying.

I’ve had to build video production budgets as a rep and an art buyer and now as a producer. I’ve been in the business through the evolution of video so I know how digital photography came around –it’s digital and free and the clients didn’t know what you could and couldn’t do. The photographers are able to shoot more video with their 5Ds or a Red, but we’re still in the position of the clients not knowing what the limitations are. I find myself being the diplomatic middle person educating the clients to get the most from their money in the timeline they need without sacrificing quality because you cant’ always shoot it all on the same day. You can but it depends on what you are shooting. It makes for a longer shoot. You can’t take a three-day shoot and get video with the same look on the same day. If your photographer is also your videographer they can’t be two places at once and the lighting is different.

What are you seeing in terms of budget trends? And as a producer and former rep and art buyer, what insight do you bring to this?

The budget has never been more important, but I do see them loosening up lately. Clients have never had more input than now and no one wants to rock the boat with their client. I’ve seen this from years of repping and especially in the last five to seven years.

The client doesn’t always understand why changes in an estimate affect the budget. I’m learning how to educate the art buyers and clients I work with. Communicating it now to the rep who communicates to the client. I used to be the one who did this. It’s nice to just go to the rep now.

Relief that I’ll never have to make appointments and take books around. But now I have to promote myself which is a change. I can promote others and could do this all day, but promoting yourself is a different story.

Pet peeve?

Using the term “buyout.” To me it implies transfer of copyright. I think it should be stricken from the art buying lexicon. I prefer unlimited Usage/Unlimited Time or “In Perpetuity” and also specifying what it does not cover such as broadcast or outdoor.

As a long-time rep and then an art buyer, you must have a lot of insight into current marketing outlets and best practices.  Any advice for photographers?

I felt there was a backlash towards some of the sourcebooks. Workbook. At-Edge. FoundFolios now as well. I personally maintained that being in a sourcebook like Workbook was a good place to start and they’ve really grown with the changing market and it’s good to be there more than a book that lands on an art buyer’s desk. I felt that if photographers had money and were at that point in their career, they should invest in a sourcebook (Workbook or At-Edge if they were invited) and make this the top of their marketing pyramid.

The website has also become all important. I haven’t sent out a book in years. If they are calling in your book, they are down to the final selects for the job. The website is a key marketing tool. After this, I did a lot of email blasts and they had to be current and regular. And having sat on the other side of the desk as an art buyer I understand why being very target conscious with eblasts is so important. We didn’t do fashion or beauty or automotive at the agency, and would get these promos and I would wonder why. I know it’s hard to get the information, but dig a little. I would delete it and sometimes send an email back and let them know we didn’t have those accounts.

Direct mail was also important. But as an art buyer, I had a mailbox and maybe I went there once a week. And I would go through it and if it wasn’t A) a photographer that I knew, the imagery HAD to be compelling so it didn’t go straight to recycle or B) If it was someone I knew and I liked the image, I would keep it.

Did the expensive, high-end direct mail have more impact?

I did some of those as a rep and honestly, I never saw the ROI on this. It was a great way to get your name out there and start a conversation, but I am not sure that there was a great ROI. One of my photographers did a fabulous promo – she did two. Before I started repping her she did a series of little fun playing cards for kids. Squirrels, kids, … even envelopes were printed with an egg on them. Stunningly gorgeous. I called her and started repping her based on this promo. But I am not sure that we could trace a job to it. But also, you never know who is holding on to stuff for that one great job that they call you on but they don’t know exactly where they found you.

Together we did a “Virtual Portfolio Review” that was a box with Polly Pocket dolls of me and her, mini portfolios printed like a flip book of her portfolio in the same size as a leave-behind notepad, mini lattes and donuts from Kid Robot, a card that said “Welcome to my virtual portfolio showing,” and a thank you card. Sent to 33 art buyers and most of them loved it. One said it was “too precious and sweet” and another said “Why would I ever go to Charlotte?” Another loved it. But we never had one call from it either. Sometimes I don’t know if that stuff is worth the investment. We got more from WorkBook.

Photographers seem to want a silver bullet, the one marketing solution that is going to take their career to the next level.  What are your thoughts on this?

It’s about building a brand. Think of it like Pepsi and Coca-Cola. They do advertising because it works. You’re in advertising so you have to advertise because it works. It’s the same message. A consistent brand. You know what Coca-Cola and Apple. And they don’t just stop. You have to keep doing it.

Do you have one piece of advice for photographers?

To make sure you have a consistent message and to keep it simple with your advertising. A postcard with one dynamic image on the front. We don’t have a lot of room. Or one smaller image on the back. But it’s still simple.

How important are personal projects?

Viable trend. My photographer Tamara Reynolds shot some really compelling images. She did a project on the south that was featured in the Daily Mail in London. Most ADS and CDs want to see what someone will shoot for themselves.

Current creative interests?

When I get away from this, I ride my horse. My daughter has a horse and we go ride. That is my thing, my outlet. I used to garden and I love English gardens. I’ve created English gardens. I love music and art and dance. I used to do a lot of hip-hop and funk dancing but now my outlet is riding. We used to do demonstrations but no performing. We called the class Shut Up and Dance and I did that for maybe 7 years.

I know art buyers who have become painters and food stylists. But I will never do that. I like the putting it together side of the business rather than creating the art.

Thank you to Allison McCreery of POP Blog for conducting this interview.  You are a master!

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