What Do You Charge For… (Part Two)

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Part Two of our Thinking about our rates post.

(Part One)

Understanding what we are worth, and how to construct a pricing structure that we feel good about is quite challenging for many of us. But it is a necessary challenge for us to overcome – see previous newsletter. This week we will look at bidding a job for a larger entity – a corporation or ad agency.

Usual corporate assignment work will come from the Marketing / Communications department. Referred to as MarCom, these departments can be as small as one person or as large as an entire floor. Or two.

MarCom’s are like agencies that are in-house. In larger corporations, you may find C-level managers working with creative staffs that can dwarf many ad agencies.

Occasionally these MarCom’s will work with outside agencies on special assignments, or if a specialty is called for that they cannot handle… like TV or Radio.

The basic structure is the same as an ad agency. Creative leads work with art directors and designers on everything from cafeteria menus to annual report documents.

And they hire photographers when they need them.

Ad agencies can run from one-person shops to entire buildings devoted to making and creating advertising for consumer and B2B businesses.

The lead of the creative teams are usually called Creative Directors, and then you have Art Directors, Designers and Junior Designers. The largest will also have a position titled “Art Buyer”.

Creative Directors are the final approval point for most hired freelancers. Art buyers can be the most important influence on who gets hired when working with an agency that uses an art buyer.

Art buyers look at work. Think of them as casting agents. They steep themselves in the creative work that the agency is doing and then look at the photographers that come in as a sort of match maker. The Art Buyer will assemble a selection of photographers and the final decision will then be made by the Creative Director or the Lead Art Director for final hire.

In agencies without an art buyer, the senior art directors and Creative Directors will make that call.

Your job is to stay top of mind with art buyers, creative directors and art directors. And I personally think that special efforts should be cultivated toward the junior art directors as well… they don’t stay junior art directors for ever, you know.

Bidding a job for an ad agency differs from mom and pops because ad agencies and MarComs KNOW the way the business works, and are familiar with rates and rights and copyright.

That does not prevent them from asking for a buyout with no extra compensation and oh, by the way can you do the job gratis cause the last guy screwed it up and used up all their budget, but no problem they will make it up to you next gig…

Always remember you do not have to agree to anything, but they may ask.

When working with an agency or MarCom, I find the most efficient way to get to a price is ask questions. Lots of questions. The answers can make the bidding process go so much smoother. If you know this information, and you articulate the bid, they will understand that you know what you are doing.

Simply blurting out a price without asking a lot of questions will reinforce in their minds that you do NOT know what you are doing. Never a good position to be in.

Getting the answers to these questions can make the gig go so much smoother.

1. When is the shoot scheduled and when are the final files due? If you are already booked, it may not make sense to pursue this bid. Finding out what they have in mind can also help you look at your schedule with different priorities. If it is 30 below for the next month and the shoot is in the Bahamas for a week, it can make a difference… heh.

2. How did you find me? This can establish a lot of information. If they found you off the web, they may have been looking for someone in your area, or with your expertise or vision. The fact that they were looking for talent instead of working with someone they know is good information to have. If you were referred, then you are ‘endorsed’ and that carries third party weight that may give you an edge. (It also means a thank you note to the referrer.)

3. Are there layouts and are they flexible? As a former agency Creative Director, I can not stress enough how important it is to understand the process of working with clients to get approvals. The CD and AD and their teams may have gone round and round with the client for approval of the layout they have. It is the fruits of late night negotiations and lots of bitter coffee. Don’t take for granted that it is a guideline and you can do what you want.

Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. Find out before you bid so you can make the necessary plans to work within the approved layouts. Do the job for the client and if you can, give them an alternate or two. But again, ONLY after making sure you have their shot in the can.

4. Usage: What are the plans for this shoot? Is it for TV, print, web… all of it? Knowing what the final use is can help you bid the job. Not only from a price point, but from a gear and team point as well. Knowing what you are shooting for is important for creativity as well.

5. Who will be doing the legwork and pre-production? Will your studio be in charge of props, models, stylists, location scouting, craft services and transportation? Or are they contracting those out to their own vendors? Why bother bidding that stuff if they are going to provide it, and knowing how they work with the outside vendors in these situations is also good knowledge for future bidding. (Note: some of these may of course be broken out… the agency has a location scout, but looks to you for hair and makeup. Good to know so you can bid accordingly.)

6. Will there be a need for extra insurance? Jewelry, pre-release electronics, possibly dangerous locations may require additional insurance… who is purchasing that? If it is you, then you know that it must be searched for and purchased. This may require quite a bit of additional resources, and the agency/MarCom needs to be aware of those costs.

7. How will location costs be handled? Are they up to you to be on the final bill or will the agency be handling that through their own people. (NOTE: I am a photographer, not a friggin’ bank. The more of these upfront charges I must bear, the less capital I have to work with. And if the agency is going to take 60 – 90 days, my capital is tied up in a job I already completed… I personally do not front gigs, but there are some photographers that do. You will have to choose which way you go with the knowledge of how much capital you can work with.)

8. Who will be on set or location to approve the work? Will it be a senior AD, someone from the client side, both or will the work be done by the photographer without approval and supervision of the shoot. (Note: that rarely happens in big ad / MarCom shoots, but it can be found in some genres – adventure photography for one.) It is very important to discuss this – especially if you have not worked for them before. Approvals during the shoot are imperative on ad shoots – and you must be able to trust that the one doing the approving actually has the authority to approve.

9. Who will be handling post production? Will the studio be doing all of that post work, or will images be delivered for the agency to work with? On hard drives or FTP? Formatted or RAW? What level of post production is required? Some of this is based on your style. If you are a very manipulative photographer creating photo illustrations, it may naturally fall to your studio to do the post. If you are more of a ‘straight’ photographer, they may want to handle the post production themselves for consistency across their presentation.

However, if you feel that post processing is something that is indeed a part of your work style, then let them know that you prefer to do the post, and include it in your bid.

10. Options? There are always options. What kind of licensing do they want? What kind of licensing do they need? Sometimes the two are not the same, and it behooves you to help your client understand the best way for them to go to get what they need.

And not only in the licensing area, but in the entire shoot. Become an ally, a partner in the work. Help them see how something can be done better, or with more efficiency, or with a different spin. Showing genuine enthusiasm is quite important and can help tilt the scales in your favor.

When you know the answers to these questions, you will be able to look at that blank piece of paper and start to fill in the line items with much more ease and accuracy than if you had no clue. Eliminating the frustrating parts of not knowing, makes the tally simpler and more in tune to what they are asking for.

I am a big believer in lots of line-items for not only clarity, but for negotiations as well.

More on the bid process coming soon.


“In The Frame” is my weekly dispatch covering lots of tips and interesting points of view for emerging photographers. Some articles end up on Lighting Essentials, and some of them are only for my newsletter subscribers. No Spam, and we never give names to anyone.



Michael Clark’s 2014 Summer Magazine

I love these photographers magazines.

summer_2014_smFrom Michael:

This issue includes an editorial about why there was no Spring 2014 Newsletter, a review of the SmallHD DP4-EVF external video monitor, an article my recent expedition in the Amazon with the CauseCentric Production crew for the documentary film Tribes on the Edge, an interview with Peter Dennen of Pedro + Jackie photo consultants, a book review of “The Rise of Superman,” an editorial entitled “Great Advice and Hard Truths,” and much more.”

Get your copy here and check out his great portfolio

“What do you charge for…”

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Five scary words to a lot of photographers. There is so much of US wrapped into those five words. I think they may be the scariest words we self employed folks ever hear.

Although it is exactly what we want to hear… someone wants to hire us. All that marketing paid off. The emails, promos, tweets, status updates, pins, instagrams, and tumblr posts worked!!!

We have someone who actually wants to hire us… or do they? Maybe they are from our competition trying to weasel out our price points? Perhaps they are looking for someone to bid higher than their buddy so they can use our higher rate as a justification to hire their buddy? Maybe they are really some sort of corporate spy bent on destroying my business because of something I have no idea I ever did?

Actually no… they just want to know what it costs.

What if I am too high? What if I am too low? What if I don’t really know how to do what they want? What if they want something I cannot do? What if I fail to deliver? Do they have an army of attorneys waiting in the wings to sue me into oblivion at the slightest amount of sensor dust?

Do they have a goon squad?

“Go away or I’ll call the goon squad.”
“I’m on the goon squad.”
“You are the goon squad!”

As I like to point out… “It costs what it costs”. Now we have to discuss what it costs with someone who may or may not want to pay what it costs, and we have to be clear to ourselves and them on why it costs what it costs.

Relax… take a breath. Think about what you say next.

Because it can be very, very important… as it can become the ‘base’ of all that comes afterwards. It can become a touchpoint, and as such can hinder all attempts at negotiations.

Perhaps someone says “How much do you charge to do headshots?” You quickly respond with, “well, headshots are usually $200.”

You have just created your top rate. All negotiations will be focused on lowering that rate, and you simply tossed it out as a reference.

Now the client smiles… “That’s great”, he says, “I need a headshot of me in my office in Denver. When can you come up and do it?”

Remember that $200 you tossed out there… now it has to be changed. And the client is going to resist that change, as they have already gotten the touchpoint figure of $200 in their head.

Yes, of course it is a stretch story… all examples are stretch stories in order to make a point clearly. Most of the time the differences are more subtle, and the client expectations more nuanced.

Or not.

What if the guy was asking you how much for a headshot, and you blurt out $200 and he does a quick calculation that to do the entire office staff of 30 people it would be $6000 and that is a grand over budget. So he thanks you and hangs up.

You had no idea he was talking about 30 people. Surely that would have been a better ‘per shot’ price for most of us.

When we give a price, we usually base that price as our highest point in the mind of the client. What we want to do is ‘base’ that price as the lowest point. This gives us more room to negotiate as needed.

NOTE:

“My rates for heashots are $200.” Bad… it creates a base high point.
“My rates for headshots start at $200.” Better… it creates a base low point.
“My rates for headshots can vary according to the job, but they start at around $200. What are the specifics of your job?” Best… this one creates a base rate that then requires more feedback from the client. We call that dialog and it is very good for establishing relationships.

Number three takes care of establishing a price point by noting that they START at $200, and we indicate that there is room for negotiation based on the facts of the job.

Beware of being vague.

“How much do you charge for a headshot?”

“How much you wanna spend?”
“What is your budget?”
“I dunno, what do you have in mind?”

Vague means you don’t know, and are making it up as you go along.
(HINT… yeah, many of us do just that on occasion… shhhh…).

That neither instills confidence or trust, and we get down to negotiation stance before we even know what we are negotiating for.

I suggest for single off jobs you have an established “starting at” rate, and go from there to the inquiry of the specifics. If you have let them know that you are open to making considerations for possible special circumstances, and that you are also able to charge more for the work, you have a bit more of a platform to stand on when discussing the rates.

For larger jobs with lots of moving parts, it is ALWAYS better to get the specs for the job before even mentioning an number which could become a touchpoint for the client. They asked off the top of their head and you gave them a specific number… done. No… don’t do that.

Is there a time when it is OK to ask what their budget is?

Yes… once the negotiation has begun. Once the figures have been established as real, and fluid if necessary, you can then ask if there is some way to work within their budget.

But be careful not to give the farm away. That will not help you establish yourself as anyone of consequence in this or any business.

Bid:
Headshots for 20 people.
Shoot fee: $170 per person.
MUA/: $75 per person
Stylist: $50 per person
Digital Tech: $550 for the day
Assistant: $500 for the day
Travel to location: $200 for the day
Gear Rental: $200 for the day

Client comes back and says you are a bit over their budget. That is a tip that they want to work with you but of course want the best price they can get. If you are way over their budget, you will probably not hear back from them. That should not be a problem if you are indeed confident in your value.

I would then ask… what is the budget. “If we can get within your budget, I will be glad to work it out.”

By line-iteming each of the cost figures laid in the bid perhaps you can trim a bit. The client feels better about sharing the budget with you because you have just laid your prices out for him.

If you must trim a grand off… there are ways of doing that.

If you must trim five grand off, walk.

To trim off five thousand dollars makes a mockery of your bid. And if you do it, never expect to do anything of value for that client again, as they know that your bids are paper tigers, easily shredded by desperation.

And desperation fueled by fear is most definitely NOT a good place to be for negotiations.

Part Two of this will be posted next Wednesday, August 13. See you then.

Meet Josh Ross: Product Photographer, Portland, OR

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I met Josh several years ago on the stobist forum. We have stayed in touch and I am knocked out by his wonderful still life and product work.

I asked Josh to speak about his photography, and we chatted for an hour. Josh walks us through his transition from LA to Portland and from Portrait to Still Life work.

Enjoy this interview and make sure to visit Josh’s website: www.joshrosscreative.com

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Josh Ross on Twitter
Josh Ross on Facebook
Josh Ross on Linkedin
Josh Ross on Google +
Josh Ross on Flickr

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Thanks so much for spending some time with us Josh. I look forward to having you back in September to chat with the Project 52 students. See you then.

For some more insight on how Josh does retouching, see this page.