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Q&A with an Agent: Norman Maslov

PhotoPolitic was recently contacted by a young photographer who was intent on actually making money as a photographer. He did all the right things, a lot of self-promotion, a great blog, industry events, etc. His work was technically excellent as well as very marketable and his attitude was even better. The problem was is that he was still struggling to sustain a livable income. He sent over a series of questions that I decided to pose to San Francisco agent, Norman Maslov.

CA: What classification of trade should I be targeting the most? Advertising agencies, in-house corporate marketing, magazines, etc?

NM: All of the above but that does not necessarily mean you always send the same things to all of those groups. Each one never only hires one particular style. You can have parallel promotions that have some sort of connection to each other. It’s easier for some photographers and others have a more difficult time doing it for a variety of reasons.

CA: Should I make myself look more successful than I am? Would anyone hire me if they really knew the truth?

NM: HA! Illusion works a bit as long as you don’t bullshit your potential audience. I was on a conference call the other day with one of my photographers who hasn’t been that busy lately. It was with several agency folks for a potential project. At the beginning of the call, the art buyer kept swooning over my photographer about how busy they must be as she had seen and received all these beautiful promotions from me and the photographer over the past year. I had been sending great test images, smaller projects and revisiting some older work that hand’t been shown for a long time. The work was consistent, so it all seemed like it hadn’t been seen before. It gave the illusion she had been busy all of this time. But being successful isn’t that necessary from their end. But they do want to see production value (depending on the project) and to feel that you can handle the entire production. That’s why you need to build a relation and/or discuss projects with independent producers. They want to make sure you can handle it all.

What’s generally more important, a clear artistic vision and the ability to execute it or the price?

NM: Forget price. Never promote price. I used to get email blasts from a photographer who offered % discounts every once in while — Spring 20% off, Valentines day 50% off, and so on. It was ridiculous. Having said that, you can be open about being negotiable depending on the project. There are ways to produce a shoot cheaper or more expensive. You should suggest solutions if their budget is small.

A clear artist’s vision is great to begin with. A narrow style and not a book or site that is all over the place. Your work (especially in the beginning) should have a more pointed direction but maybe you have two or three pointed styles. It can be tricky, but it can work. It is more about how you promote and display the work on your site. If you send cards out (and you should), keep one consistent style in them for 3 or 4 in a row to the same recipients so they get to know you…and remember you. Also, keep the look the same. Branding IS important for you too, but stay away from those big logos some guys use. Choose a nice type face and stick with it on your site, book, and promo pieces.

CA: I keep hearing about bids and how to win them. I don’t even know who puts out bids. Are we talking about ad agencies, magazines, corporate art departments? Who puts them out and how the hell do I get involved?

NM: Magazines don’t bid. They usually just have an all inclusive budget or a day rate and a limited expense amount. Some have contracts and come back to you when shoots are in your area. Corporations usually have a shit load of paperwork to get you in their system as a preferred vendor. Sometimes it is easy and other times it takes weeks or months, it is crazy. I just completed getting in a third party payroll system for one of my photographers for a large Tech company. I kept getting automated emails asking for the same documents over and over and over. OY!

Ad agencies (usually from art buyers or art producers) are usually the ones sending out specs and bid requests. They frequently suggest potential photographers to their creatives and then select several to bid on the project. It is usually a triple bid situation but they don’t always choose the lowest bidder. Sometimes they have a first choice. Sometimes they tell you if that happens to be you, but it’s not always the case. Some art producers will come back to you to modify your numbers if you are too high (or sometimes too low). They also may make a selection based on your entire presentation (i.e website, estimate and if you are smart, your submitted visual treatment containing a written essay along with your images that relate to the potential project). Your vision of their project. This is very important.

How do you get invited? Well isn’t that the question? Your work, your promotions and your agent (if you have one) help grab their attention. Awards, books, directories, social and in person networking — it all helps. It is more difficult to meet buyers one-on-one these days since many are doing the job of what 2 or 3 people used to do. Word of mouth helps a lot. If you do get the chance to work with an agency, ask for them to refer you to others. If they really like you, they will do it on their own. You need to do you homework and research who these people are and what they work on. There are no easy 3 step answers here.

CA: How in the world do I set prices. I’ve seen software that gives me national averages but to be honest, the prices are very high for the small companies we’ve been working with. What’s the formula?

NM: You might be referring to BlinkBid which is the best estimating software I have found. Buy it, but I don’t suggest you use their (or any other) suggested pricing guide. I don’t believe they work or are accurate. I frequently have conversations with several of my other agent friends about pricing. We don’t always know what to charge because it is NOT an exact science and even the large companies have client sectors with reduced budgets.

I always ask the buyer or client what their budget range is. Maybe half the time I get an answer and the other half I do not. I also ask who else they are considering and usually get the same response. If I know who we are up against, I might have an idea of their budget range if I know the other artist, but not always. If I don’t get an answer about budget then I submit what we think is appropriate and go from there. We can adjust if needed depending on a number of factors. Not simply slashing costs for no reason, but we think of a different way to handle the production (fewer locations or talent, fewer days, a revision of usage and so on).

When I estimate, I begin with the production expenses. Myself, the photographer and his or her producer, how many days they need to shoot the project. Then I create a my SCI-FI estimate within about half an hour. I send to my artist and producer and then they make reality changes. Then I review the bottom line, look at the requested usage and come up with what I feel the fees should be. Unfortunately this is something I can’t just share with you because again, it is not an exact science. Is it a day rate for a library of images? If so, I want to limit the amount of images per day. But sometimes they ask for everything. Can I charge more when that request comes in? If there are a specified number of hero shots, I always go with the per image fee and then add in prep, pre-light, tech scout, and travel days if necessary and appropriate. A large estimate for a photo production is like a puzzle and at times more like a Rubik’s Cube®.

So did I answer your question? ;-)*

CA: Cold Calling potential clients. Should we be calling every potential client and asking them for an opportunity?

NM: Good question. Again it is hard to get one-on-one meetings. Maybe it is easier with direct clients and magazines rather that ad agencies. I’ll call agencies to try to set individual appointments when my artist visits other cities and maybe I get call backs 50% of the time. Some people are open to it and others don’t have the time. If you do call, be sure you send them a visual first. A card or email with your work. Calling without a visual connection will never work. But as hard as it may be, don’t take rejection personally. I am sure it is easier for agents since we are not the creators of the work but that’s a whole other issue.

— Photographers Currently Represented by Norman Maslov —

David Allan Brandt

©2016 David Allan Brandt

Michelle Clement

©2016 Michelle Clement

Deborah Jones

©2016 Deborah Jones

Emily Merrill

©2016 Emily Merrill

Harold Lee Miller

©2016 Harold Lee Miller

Ransom & Mitchell

©2016 Ransom & Mitchell

Sue Tallon

©2016 Sue Tallon

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