Anonymous Art Producer Offers Tips on Estimating

This behind-the-scenes post comes anonymously from a source well ensconced in the industry and offers a bunch of insights into the life of the art producer.  From the complications of bidding to assessing creative attributes this interview provides info that anyone in the art production world might find useful.

How often are you asked to triple bid a project? And, is there ever is a clear first choice, do you let that person know they are the recommend?
The majority of the time we’re asked to triple bid. It’s a client requirement. Many times we go in with a strong feeling on the recommendation but I’d be hesitant to offer up that information to the preferred photographer upfront.  Creative calls are a crucial part of the process and can shape opinions along the way. I go into each bidding process knowing that we could end up with any of the three shooters. Work alone probably won’t get the award; it’s very much about what you bring to the table on the creative calls & development, and of course how the numbers fall. I don’t think it would be doing anyone any favors to say they’re recommended shooter only to have a job potentially award to one of the other photographers also being considered. 

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?
Honestly, no. I can’t speak for others but if I’m going to engage you in the bidding process I’ll be sure to let you know the job has been awarded, killed, on hold, etc. That said, schedules get nuts, producers jump into a job and are frantic with all the details. I could see how there could be a potential break in communication but I wouldn’t understand the need for deliberately not divulging the outcome. It’s a common courtesy for the rep, photographer, producer and other handful of people that are tied to the production and / or have spent time presenting the bid. 

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?
Please keep in mind more often or not it involves a committee of people that are making the final decisions. Creative Directors, Art Directors, Producers, Clients…maybe even some Account folks can have a hand in getting a photographer awarded to a project. You were invited to the project because your work was a good match. The bidding processes takes it a step further as it’s an opportunity to feel out personalities, understand approach and overall production and post know-how.  Come to creative calls with enthusiasm, be opinionated in your approach and show your value. The creative call is incredibly important. A treatment speaks volumes on interest in the project, thinking things through and presenting solid ideas that will be passed along in the process. Even sharing a handful of your images that you think are particularly well suited for the project gives more insight as to your frame of thinking. Have a solid rep or producer that accounts for things accordingly, coming in to trim, not accounting for schedules accordingly – those are all red flags. The short of it is that the bidding process is your opportunity craft your case for the job, the more buttoned-up you are with your treatment and bid, the more likely that will translate to all of those along the way that can have a hand in the final decision.

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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?
As you’d expect, we’re looking at the numbers and approaches and in most cases trying to get things as even as possible across the three bids. Part of the triple bid process it to break down the various sections of the bids (creative fees, production, and post). Very likely the approving creatives, account and client will be looking at three side-by-side columns for each shooter. 

As far as process, once I get bids in a solid place with all three and scrub with cost consultants, I’ll share the numbers and treatments with creatives for their final review. We talk through each, pros and cons on approaches, where numbers are high or seem to be coming up short. From there, often take one more pass on the bidding to make any last adjustments before bringing account and clients back to the table. The final presentation to the client will likely be a simplified comparison on numbers along with any treatments or reference items for each shooter. I advocate for a call to present numbers to clients rather than just sending the pricing and treatments over line. The call will likely involve little Q&A with clients and their cost consultants, then likely some time for clients to talk internally before a final award is provided. 

As far a client decisions – the shoot is probably one of a handful of projects on their plate and probably only a portion of the overall campaign production that they’re managing. They’re looking for efficiencies across their media needs. Overall budgets, internal conversations on creative and other selections are all in play.

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?
Defending your numbers with cost consultants and steering them to make tolerable cuts while fending off others. Often this includes explaining production approach to cost consultants, clients and account folks. Pulling reference and fine tuning presentations to aid in the award decision also occur regularly. 

Do you share budgets when they are available? Why or why not?
I understand the need to steer the bids but am hesitant to give an exact budget figure. Often we don’t have one. Unless the budget is prohibitive, I try to steer the bids with thoughts on production approach. Bid the way you think is right and fair. Justify the approach. We’ll be talking about areas that are high (or low). 

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?
Generally 50% on upfront production expenses. We need signatures in place on the client side and to navigate our own accounting debts to get funds released. The agency likely won’t be releasing funds until they’ve been paid for the job by the client. On the photographer side, issue the advance invoice upon receiving the PO so we can get the process stated. 

What misperception about the estimating process from your end would you like photographers to have a clearer understanding of based on your experiences?
There’s a clear recommended must: have photographer straight out of the gate and the other two bidders on along for the sake of getting the client comparative numbers. It can happen, there are times when a certain shooter makes sense but more often than not the decision is made throughout the bidding process. Even if you are a long shot for the job, solid connections during the bidding process can be incredibly valuable in calls for future opportunities. 

Thank you Andy Anderson for the use of your images. And Thank you Jimi Stine for help with the post.

5 thoughts on “Anonymous Art Producer Offers Tips on Estimating

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