I have always said that it would be nice if we had a handbook when it came to estimating. Of course though we don’t and because of that, everyone seems to approach the process a little differently. I actually think that is one of the greatest things about our job and just one more area we can put our own mark on a project.Knowing this, I have reached out to many art buyers for their opinions on the estimating process. Barb Hanson contributed our last estimating post and it proved to be a very popular one. Our most recent post is by an anonymous art buyer. And while I cannot share with you her name, I can tell you that she is one of the most professional and well respected art producers out there. Her dedication is evident by the amount of time she has committed to this industry and the time she has spent at one agency. They are fortunate to have her.’
Be sure to link back to Part 1 of this post for other information from this interview.
Do you share budgets when they are available? Why or why not?
Consider this example: We have a very low budget for an assignment. First I spec out the expenses on my own and have a good idea of what the real bottom line will be, minus the creative fee. If you know you can do the job for x, but you have a lot less, then asking a person to submit an estimate for a production when you know you only have 50% of what a standard cost would be, sets up a weird dynamic. And, then if the photographer submits a bid for more it becomes a bit of a challenge.
For the AP to then say ‘ well, we only have $15K” seems unfair. Actually, it’s not smart. What would be the appropriate response, ‘Ok , I’ll gladly do it for 50% less than what you quoted” ?
What is your client’s/agency’s policy surrounding advances on projects?
Photographers must receive advance monies before a shoot, perhaps now more than ever. Not only can a photographer not be expected to shell out his or her own money for production expenses, the condition of ‘sequential liability’ is prevalent. Sequential liability means that agencies do not have to pay vendors unless and until they have been funded by their clients . It has been in practice for years, but was recently written into most contract purchase orders with stronger enforcement.
Historically, sequential liability was created to protect agencies against unpaid media bills. More recently, it was Detroit that took a hard hit , and credit being what it was, the practice of sequential liability took on a stronger voice. So yes, we are advocates for advance monies for productions. We advance at least 80% of expenses and sometimes 100%, provided the creative fee is substantial enough to support our having some collateral as safety.
Sometimes on costly productions we will pay 50% before shoot, followed by the balance of 50% right after, and fee to be billed with final invoice ( with back up ).
What do you do as an art producer to help facilitate that process?
What a lot of photographers don’t realize is what we need to do in order to issue that expense check. Rushing an invoice to us doesn’t help. It’s a matter of the agency having to bill client immediately after signature of estimate. And each client has its own billing procedure, which can be cumbersome. We put enormous pressure on the account team to get these monies. ‘No money, no shoot’ is the mantra. And I think I’ve had to resort to that threat twice.
Until client funds have landed at the agency, the agency will not issue the expense check to the photographer. So we are constantly nipping at the heels of the account group, then finance, then the folks in finance who issue the check. After that, however, checks are not released until the agency partners sign off. Then and only then is a check released. And then, still after, we need to either wire the money or fedex the check.
And, what can a photographer do to help it along as well?
Know to whom you are talking when you work with an AP. The seasoned AP is dealing with a host of disciplines: supporting creative team, communicating with the account group, answering to cost consultants and clients alike. Cost consultants will often require itemized details on such things as batteries, challenge the need for ex: an RV on location.
Years ago on a late Friday night, trying my hardest to gain approval for a shoot in order for the photographer to fly to Europe on Monday, I answered to a cost consultant who challenged the price of film and processing (which agreed , this line item was often fraught with a heavy mark up ). This person requested that film be taken to the drug store to be processed so as to save money.
Rare one, but it illustrates the level of frustration we are often confronted with.
What misperception about the estimating process from your end would you like photographers to have a clearer understanding of based on your experiences?
Common sense will confirm when you are looking from the outside in, and you do not get that assignment, one’s mind can run amok. There are no conspiracies I know of, there are probably no deals being made to get work these days. The industry is highly competitive and it is now a buyers market. Still, with that being the case, clients are expecting much more for far less than the previous years. One take away would be to know that the AP stands up for and is the voice of the photographer (within the agency and client). Traditionally and currently, the AP is your ally.