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How Art Buyers Find Photographers Now

Business was good; now, not so much. Clients want everything triple-bid, they want more for less, and they want it yesterday. Photography is everywhere, and there are more places to look for the right photographer than ever.

IS HAVING A REP MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAN IT HAS BEEN IN THE PAST?

The short answer is no. "If I get a great promo from someone it really doesn't matter to me if they have an agent or not, because in the end we're looking for the right person for the job," says Celeste Holt-Walters, an art buyer with McCann Erickson in New York.

The long answer is that running a good business and being a savvy networker and self-promoter are key. If you aren't business-minded or good at marketing yourself, you probably do need a good rep.

Simply having your name and portfolio on the Web site of a major rep is great promotion, because buyers know that when they're looking for photographers they can see top talent shooting a variety of styles with one tour of a big agent's site.

"Having a rep with connections has always been good because I want to be able to send someone an e-mail saying, 'It's 11 at night, I'm brain dead. Who do you know who can shoot this? Can you send me some pieces?"says Kat Dalager, manager of print production at Campbell Mithun.

On the business side, now that triple-bidding jobs is the norm, reps are used to handling a high volume of bids. "A lot of the process stuff can be taken care of" by a rep, says Julie Ahlman Sanders, a senior art producer with The Martin Agency.

Assuring clients you can deliver has always been important, but reliability is on the top of art buyer's minds in these days of tight budgets and client demand for return on investment. In today's market, reps can bring a sense of stability to buyers amid the turbulence. "Jobs are getting harder and harder to produce given the timelines and the budgets and the expectations," says Sanders. Though she is "always looking for the next best thing and the new upcoming thing," if she has a client who she has worked with before, she may be inclined to work with a rep she's familiar with, especially if they also know the client and the outcome was great in their previous work. "If I've already been through it with them it certainly makes the learning curve a little easier," she says.

"Having an agent can add a little bit of credibility if the job's larger, because we know that these big agents have been around, they know who the great producers are, and we know that the job's going to get produced properly," says Holt-Walters.

"What's more important is having a good producer," says Dalager, who also notes that a bad rep does more damage than not having a rep at all. "I'd rather have a good producer than a rep in terms of getting the job done."

Holt-Walters says she has run into "tons" of photographers who've signed with reps in the past year who are disappointed and expected more business. "What I've been saying to them is, 'It's probably the worst time in your career to be judging whether an agent is doing a good job because the amount of jobs has declined so much.'"

HOW HAS YOUR PROCESS OF DISCOVERING TALENT CHANGED?

In the past decade the promotion options for photographers have evolved and enumerated almost as quickly as technology. The process of finding the right photographer for a brief has decentralized since the heyday of sourcebooks, and while many in the advertising business may still look at those yearly photo behemoths, just as many skip them altogether.

"I literally used to memorize the sourcebooks from going through them so often, the bindings were cracked," Dalager remembers. Now she looks at sourcebooks online, as well as e-mail promos, photoserve. com, portfolios.com and the ASMP directory, and does searches on Google. "I have my favorite sources depending on what I'm looking for," she says.

Rather than sourcebooks, Holt-Walters looks through magazines. "Getting paid 50 bucks to shoot a portrait for Paper is great promotion. We look through those magazines and know who the young, hot photographers are," she says. But magazines aren't the only place she looks. "Nowadays you have to go everywhere to find your photographers."

Because art directors are judged by the awards they win, photo annuals and archive magazines remain relevant to many. "I'm always trying to think about where [the art directors] want to be and trying to find new and upcoming talent and stay in front of the trends," says Sanders.

Some buyers and print producers like well-produced e-promos, others trash them immediately. Most remain print-promo devotees. "Every single person that receives promos responds differently," says Holt-Walters.

Since Sanders spends so much time online, the rise of e-promos has helped her. She also notes that an increasing number of photographers are creating their own iPhone apps. "Part of me feels like my whole life is being taken over by the need to manage [electronic promotions], but that's how I felt about email a few years ago and look how much I've come to depend [on it]."

"Like anything else it's having multiple touch points that is important," says Dalager. "If people aren't easy to find [online], a mailer itself isn't going to work. It has to be a marketing campaign."

Buyers and print producers are now finding photographers as a result of the changing shape of agencies. As production departments at agencies become integrated to meet their clients' demands for multichannel campaigns, the likelihood is higher that a buyer or producer will hear about a photographer through a TV director, production company, digital effects company, or CGI or post-production shop. "l find that photographers are also getting in contact with them, which is really smart," says Sanders.

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