Community Table Talks with Photo Agent Marianne Campbell


Last spring, The Community Table hosted a lunch with Photo Agents to discuss topics that were top of mind in our industry.  The response was so positive, we decided to keep the conversation going with other agents we know.  First up, Marianne Campbell.  An agent for over 20 year experience, Marianne offers wonderful insight into our ever changing business.  She shares with us what keeps her motivated, what she thinks is the key to a photographer’s success, reasons she would part ways with a photographer and other must read notes for anyone interested in the agent perspective.

Thank you Marianne Campbell for your point of view, your friendship and your support.  And, thank you Matt Nycz and Kate Chase of Brite Productions for your continued partnership on the Community Table. 

Do you still believe that in order to be a professional, commercial photographer, all you need to do is work hard at making great images to stand out in today’s marketplace?  Does it differ for emerging photographers vs those that are more experienced?

Without a doubt, the industry has changed immensely since I started my agency in 1989. It is no longer enough to just create great images. The photographer has to be fully engaged and a 100% partner with his/her agent in marketing efforts.

Sure, there are differences between established photographers vs. emerging photographers, but the most successful photographers are those who understand the industry and what is required of them. For established photographers, that means understanding that the industry landscape has changed and they must be willing and able to adapt to the changes without holding on to how things were in the past. Successful photographers also acknowledge that to be a viable player, they must evolve. That evolution is multi-faceted; the photographers must continue to grow creatively, constantly pushing their own boundaries and they must adapt to new ways of doing business. Take social media for example. Obviously, it has become an integral part of photographer marketing and in my group, everyone has found their own individual ways (in their distinct personal timelines) to utilize social media to give clients a holistic view of who they are beyond the images he/she creates.

What do you think is the key to your success as an agent?  

I have built this business by cultivating trusting long-lasting partnerships in every aspect of the industry; with my clients, with my photographers, with my associates and with my vendors. We also choose great artists to represent, those with unique talent, business acumen, adaptable personalities and most important, photographers with whom we share mutual respect. I think the combination of representing the right talent, being ethical businesspeople and the high value we place on relationships contribute to our longevity and reputation in the industry.

How do you stay inspired?

After 25 years as an agent, I am still inspired by great work, from my photographers and the community in general. One of the things I love about social media is that I can see an image posted by a photographer I don’t represent and I can let them know with the click of a button that I ‘like’ the image. The level of community that exists in our industry inspires me.

Why do you sign talent? Why do you part ways with talent?

My business model has always been to remain a small boutique agency so Quinci, Vanessa and I can be fully engaged with the connecting of photographer and client. We sign talent when we have an opening or when there is a corner of the market not already covered. For a long time, we did not represent any lifestyle photographers until we found that authenticity and organic and real approach to lifestyle we had been looking for. As for parting ways with talent, we don’t have a lot of experience on that front but I always say when starting a new photographer relationship, if it is not working for one of the parties, then it is not working for both. Communication and expectation management are key, as is the aforementioned mutual respect. It is paramount that a photographer understands what an agent does to truly appreciate all that goes into it. We feel so lucky to represent the talent we do, as they all get it – our photographer relationships are very collaborative.

Before you sign with new talent, do you discuss potential conflicts with the others in your group?

Being a small agency, there isn’t a lot of crossover. I think our photographers trust that we know what we are doing when signing new talent. In addition to being the right photographic fit, there also has to be the right personality fit. The MCA family is very tight; we travel, do portfolio shows and marketing parties together. Any new talent we bring on has to fit in.

Do you think the photographers usage model should be changed to fit today’s more common requests for libraries as well the unlimited time, use request?  If not, why not? 

While the request for library usage is more common, particularly in pharmaceutical advertising, I do not think the usage model should be changed. The library shoot is not appropriate in many usage scenarios. With good communication between experienced Art Producers and Agents, the ability to grant the usage a client needs with fair compensation for the photographer is fairly easy.

There are many mixed messages between clients, agencies, photographers and agents in regards to advances.  What is your position in regards to advances?  How do you handle it when one is late?  Are you ever not given an advance and is that ok?  Are there consequences to letting an advance slide?  What would you like clients and agencies to understand about advances that you think they may be misunderstanding?

Our position on advances is that it is absolutely necessary to provide a percentage of the estimate total prior to the shoot commencing. An exception might be granted for a smaller studio project without a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, or a repeat/regular client you know pays in a timely manner.

When an advance is late communication is key, we need to understand exactly what the timeline will be if it is not delivered upon expectation.

We have worked with a few agencies whose clients do not provide advances, and without fail these are some of the biggest corporations in the world. In these select circumstances, we were told by the Art Producer prior to bidding the job that we would not be paid an advance and decided the jobs were worth pursuing despite the no advance policy. In these instances, we build in money to finance the job.

In our experience, most Art Producers truly understand the burden it places on a photographer to have to finance a multi billion dollar corporation, and without exception we have felt supported. One of our photographers recently shot a campaign for one of the biggest companies in the world and the advance was slow to arrive. We were in the middle of shooting the second ad of the campaign in Europe when we still had not received the first advance. The Art Producer got so frustrated on our behalf, she walked our advance invoice over to the president of the ad agency and jumped through hoops to get it pushed through. On a recent project with another photographer, the arrival date of the advance kept getting delayed. On the day before the shoot, the Art Producer offered to write a personal check to cover a portion of the advance. We have always felt that the Art Producers are on our team.

What would you want agencies to know about scheduling portfolio shows? And, what suggestions can we make as a group to help them be better attended.

I would really have all agencies look to the examples set by Leo Burnett in Chicago and The Richards Group in Dallas. Both agencies have instilled policies requiring the creatives to attend portfolio shows. Portfolio shows require a lot of time, effort, planning and money. When we are traveling from the other side of the country and have planned for catering and all of the associated costs of the trip, it is very frustrating when a show is canceled or not well attended. Another good example is Mullen in Boston. They only host one portfolio show per month and as a result, the shows are well attended and the creatives look forward to them.

Is there any accountability for the creatives attending? Does it matter to anyone if they do not attend?

Again, I reference Leo Burnett and The Richards Group. The creatives are required to attend, they must sign in to prove attendance and in that sign-in there is accountability.

What would you want agencies to know about our email blasts and direct mail efforts?  And, what suggestions can we make as a group to have the intended effect and not be seen as an annoyance.

Again, all of our marketing efforts require a lot of time, planning and money. There is a parallel between what we do to stand out and get noticed by the creatives and what the creatives are doing in creating ads and content for their clients to stand out and get noticed. We are all in advertising.

What one word would you use to describe the industry?












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