A unique approach to portfolio shows that will help both art buyers and reps. Thank you Char Eisner and Leo Burnett.

Our office  has been hosting portfolio shows for quite a long time now.  I often say that between the two of us,  Lauranne and I have visited most every major agency around the country multiple times.  We feel fortunate to represent talented photographers and to have the relationships that allow us access to host these shows.

Having hosted so many shows, we have a very good idea of why shows succeed or fail.  So much of it is unpredictable and dependent on what the agency has going on internally.   Maybe there is a big meeting coming up, or everyone is gearing up for a pitch.  Maybe there have been too many shows scheduled and the creatives are burned out or maybe they just don’t have the time.  Regardless, even if the turnout is low, we know what a challenge it can be for art buyers and are always appreciative of the opportunity.  Besides, all we need is that one person to be interested, right?

We have had many art buyers brainstorm with us at shows about what could make a show more successful as we all realize that it is getting harder and harder to cheerlead for us.  Next time the conversation comes up, I will tell them about my recent visit to Leo Burnett with Char Eisner and the creatives in her department.

Here is what I would tell them.

I recently visited Chicago and Leo Burnett and was struck by how extra fantastic the turnout was for the portfolio show.  So much more so than at a typically good show.  There was an abundance of creatives who attended and  they all showed up on time.  They asked where the sign in sheet was to sign in, engaged me in conversation and took promos.  Some even asked me to make sure they were on the email list of particular photographers.  The energy of the show was very upbeat and I didn’t get the sense that anyone was trying to get in and out quickly so as not to have to engage.

When Char and I chatted afterwards, I could not thank her enough for how well she produced her portfolio shows.

I attributed the 100% of the success to

Expectation Management

 for me and the creative department.

Char explained to me that a while back, she realized that in order for her creative department to find portfolio shows relevant, she needed to make some changes.

Here are the changes that she implemented:

•   Portfolio shows will only be hosted on Tuesdays from 10-12 AM only.  There are no other times allotted, regardless of if you are from out of town or not.  You are welcome to come meet with individual creatives and art buyers but no exceptions to the show schedule will be made.

•  Reps are sent a detailed letter that outlines what they can expect from her department and other relevant information.   Receiving this letter up front answers all of the questions at one time and saves everyone a lot of back and forth later on.

Some things mentioned in the letter are:

-What will be provided by Leo Burnett; such as tables and other supplies

-What rep will need to bring on their own (portfolios, treats and as needed -music and AV needs)

-An idea of reasonable treat specs and quantities

-Permission to reach out to creatives on my own during the show

-Contact information and the role each person plays in the show

-Specific appointment information such as address, security information, contact person and floor information; which is important for caterer and rep.

With such a well oiled machine it is no wonder that the shows are a hit time and time again.

Here are some benefits of a detailed approach to portfolio shows:

1)   Creatives are not overwhelmed by shows scheduled one after another.  They do not get jaded or feel obligated to drop what they are doing to attend.  They do not try to avoid the art buyer when she/he wrangles them and they actually look forward to events.

2)   The art buyer does not feel obligated to squeeze someone in.  I am guessing this makes the job easier and allows the art buyer to let a rep know quickly whether or not they can visit.  I appreciate this because I know that I can move on and find another agency to fill that slot rather than cross my fingers and hold off until I hear back.

3)  Because spaces are limited, the creatives know that the art buyer will select talent to showcase that is relevant and appropriate to the agency and what they are currently working on.

4) Creatives can schedule their time accordingly and know that if they have to miss one Tuesday there is another one coming next week.  They no longer feel pressured to attend and the routine of it all makes it feel less like an interruption and more like a part of their day.

5)   Because it is a routine event, the art buyer is able to secure the same space for the same time every week.  She or he requests a space larger enough for different size rep agencies and even provides extra folding tables.  For those of us who have many books or large books, this is an ENORMOUS gesture.

6)   A rep can have a clear understanding of how involved the art buyer is able to be in the planning and execution of the show. When I know that an art buyer is not a resource for things like caterers, I know to work this out on my own without even asking.

7)   Having consistent and well attended shows also makes it possible for the art buyer to provide accurate insight into quantities for treats.  It is always helpful to hear that  treats work well and are very much appreciated but not required.

8)   I do not need to guess how my show will be promoted.  Knowing the deadline for the invite and how often it is distributed and how makes me feel confident that there is some promotion happening and this goes a long way towards a successful show.

9)   Being encouraged to reach out to the creatives on my own during a visit is a relief.  Knowing that the department wants reps to make their own connections makes making the call that much easier and less intrusive.

I share this with you not only because it was a positive experience for us and a  successful show for our group but because Char Eisner and her Leo Burnett team insist that it was the same for them as well.    Another example of a win/win situation.  Something we should all strive more towards nowadays.

If you have any other successful tips for how to host a successful/well attended portfolio show for both the agency and the agent, please email us or comment on this post.  We would love to hear what you have to say.

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5 thoughts on “A unique approach to portfolio shows that will help both art buyers and reps. Thank you Char Eisner and Leo Burnett.

  1. Heather,
    Your on to something here….I had to double check, and I found it! In the corporate world there is sometimes training on what is known as the COMMITMENT MODEL. There are four phases; 1) the request/offer 2) negotiation 3) performance and 4) assessment. In most cases this all lives in a circle of trust and care between the performer and the customer. I have a nice graphic to share if you want it. And, it sounds like Char’s integrity that sits behind the commitment is what is to be celebrated here! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pingback: Revisiting a successful portfolio show with Char Eisner and Leo Burnett « Heather Elder Represents Blog

  3. Pingback: Char Eisner: Old School & Still Cool! « Heather Elder Represents Blog

  4. Pingback: Art Buyer Insider: Char Eisner of Leo Burnett by Heather Elder | POP | Photographers on Photography

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