Exploring the Estimating Process With Energy BBDO’s Antoinette Rodriguez

Whether I am talking to photographers in our own group, potential photographers for our roster, other reps or even other art buyers, the same questions about estimating come up and have been for quite awhile. So much so that whenever an art producer is open to contributing to our blog, I often share thee questions with them first. I was thankful when Art Producer,  Antoinette Rodriguez of Energy BBDO  in Chicago,  agreed to share with us her insights.

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?
Most every project is a triple bid.  There are times when there is a favorite based on the portfolio we’ve seen online or in their book – other times we’re completely open based on the three we’ve chosen.  I do not let anyone know they are the recommended photographer until after the creative calls.  Preference can always change based on how the creative calls and the treatments go so I wait until I know for sure my team feels comfortable with their photographer.

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 honestly can’t say why that would happen.  Nobody wants to have that conversation, but it needs to happen for numerous reasons.  I will always make a point to call the photographer or the rep and let them know how it went.  If I can’t speak to them directly I will follow up with an email – I hate leaving voicemails saying they didn’t get a project.  Somehow I feel like it’s better expressed over email vs voicemail.

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?
Hands down the creative call is THE most important part of bidding the job.  This is where the roster shifts in order of preference. It’s basically your interview for the job and every photographer should sell themselves for the position.  I’ve been on jobs where my team had a preferred photographer, but they were a dud on the call.  They didn’t sound interested in the work and they didn’t bring anything exciting to the project and so they fell to the bottom of our three.  If you’re not into the work then how am I or my team supposed to get excited about how you’re going to work with us? 

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Photographer: Alan Powdrill // New York City

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?
Every client has different production guidelines that outline the various steps – some are more prescriptive than others which can take up time when getting approvals.

Some clients also have cost consultants so it isn’t as easy as giving your estimate to me to then get approved by the client.  The cost consultants often need more than a few hours to look over everything and get a good sense of what the estimate includes for the production.  Clients really value their POV when it comes to cost savings so that’s not a step we can skip easily.

Client availability can hold up the process as well.  We may get verbal approval at the time of our award meeting, but they may have to show the work and the estimate to their superiors to then work through finance.

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?
Behind the scenes we are building our case for our preferred photographers – that can be anything from buffering the treatment and finding the right images that we feel get the idea and outline our creative process for the production.  We’re often times running our account teams through the same discussions so they can accurately back us up if the clients have any questions regarding our recommendation.

Do you share budgets when they are available? Why or why not?
Yes. I’ve learned that the days of having unlimited budgets are long gone and what’s the efficiency in not giving a budget?  At that point everyone is shooting blindly and then I’ll have to come in and dramatically lower expectations after receiving the first round.  That’s not ideal and I’ve found that the more upfront we are about our budgets the easier to is for us all to work towards the end goal.  Some people may not hit it at all, but I at least did my best to put everyone on a level field.  We pick three photographers because we liked their work and so I think it’s best if all three bids are somewhat close.  I’ve only had a few instances in where we were forced into a budget friendly photographer – but I truly do my best to make sure numbers are close enough that it’s never about the money, only the creative decision. That’s if the negotiating goes well.

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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?
As an agency we always strive to get an advance going as soon as possible.  Some of our clients don’t pay us until we bill them so we may pre-bill our client for a ballpark number to get some money flowing before we officially award the job.  We work to get that advance to the photographer or production team before the shoot date but it can be difficult on those shoots that have expedited timelines. Once we get the sense of who we’re working with for the job we’ll look into vendor info and preemptively get them set up in our system to hopefully avoid a delay in issuing paperwork.

What mis-perception about the estimating process from your end would you like photographers to have a clearer understanding of based on your experiences?
Budgets aren’t at all what they used to be.  Clients want everything cheaper and faster so be prepared to really work for the job.

It’s a multi-step process.  I’m not the final approval and we have so many layers when it comes to getting the numbers approved.  Also keep in mind, it’s never personal – we have to make the numbers work so don’t be surprised if there are times we have to bring your fees down to keep the production solid, but still keep you in line with the other bids.  It’s all relative and if you’re not willing to negotiate someone else always will be.

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