Welcome Back to the Community Table: Agents in Conversation with Chicago Art Producers. Appetizer Part 1

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Welcome to our 4th series of posts where we share the results from our conversations held directly with community leaders about top of mind photo-industry issues.  Community Table was formed from the collective efforts of Matt Nycz and Kate Chase of Brite Productions and Heather Elder and Lauranne Lospalluto of Heather Elder Represents with the idea that there is nothing more powerful in our industry than education.

With the founding of Lord & Thomas, the city of Chicago would put itself on the advertising map in 1881. Beginning as a space broker for newspapers and magazines, L&T evolved slowly into an agent for advertisers. By the early 1900s, L&T was the third-largest agency in the U.S., creating advertising for blue-chip clients such as Sunkist, Van Camp, Quaker Oats and Goodyear.

And while we can’t tell you when the first art buyer job was created and at which Chicago agency, we can tell you that we recently had the pleasure of having 8 of the City’s finest art buyers join us at the Community Table.

While we also know that we must keep an eye on what’s ahead, we believe it is equally important to have a strong understanding of the past – it really wasn’t that long ago that we were mailing, Fedexing, and faxing estimates around, calling agencies to ask for creative lists and actually picking up the telephone to get things done.  So with all these beliefs in mind, we came up with our roundtables topic:  “The Art Producer, Past, Present and Future”. 

And with that, we welcome you back to Community Table, Chicago.

 As a reminder, each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing.  Rather than sharing the entire conversation, we included the original question and then the quotes and notes that were most relevant.  Please note, often times the person leading the conversation spoke most often.

And with that, we welcome you back to the table.

Please note, there will be 7 posts shared over the next few weeks.  Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments.  

Chicago Participating Art Producers

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

Liz Miller-Gershfeld/VP, Senior Art Producer Energy BBDO

Antoinette Rodriguez/Art Producer mcgarrybowen

Meghan Pearson/Senior Art Buyer Ogilvy

Emily Hoskins/Art Buyer Upshot

Sheryl Long/Art Producer Y&R

Lisa Kunst/Producer Leo Burnett

Ken Zane/Producer Leo Burnett

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CONVERSATION STARTER:  WHERE WE ARE COMING FROM/REMEMBERING THE PAST

As we look into the future, we think it is important that everyone have a strong understanding of the past. It wasn’t long ago that we were mailing, Fedexing, and faxing estimates to each other, calling agencies to ask for creative lists and actually picking up the telephone to get things done. During that time, how would you define the position of art buyer and what would you see as the major responsibilities of an art buyer?

Lisa Kunst/Producer Leo Burnett

The responsibilities were varied; everything from sourcing talent, reviewing layouts, and everything in between including developing specs, creating bid packets, estimating, knowing industry pricing and usage terms and understanding legal.

When I was at Frankel we had to do our own POs. At Leo Burnett we have business management and they facilitate our POs for us. So not only were we at that time coming up with the language for the POs and contracts, we were actually inputting them into the financial system.

 Group

We still do!

Lisa Kunst/Producer Leo Burnett

And don’t forget negotiating, taking  projects from concept through production,  knowing your deliverables and of course knowing what it is you are going to need from an artist.  Just to name a few.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

How did you find artists before websites?

Lisa Kunst/Producer Leo Burnett

We looked at sourcebooks. I still have some of my old ones. We used to keep files and we had file cabinets and we filed everyone’s mailed promos in categories.

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

Back when we had space. Now we have to share. The files are gone.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

At this time, how did you become an art buyer? Were systems set up or did you have to set them up?

 Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

At Frankel there was an art buying department in place. There was an art buyer from the 80’s named Bonnie Lenckus and she was the one who trained all the new art buyers.

 Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

Did anyone start at an agency without an art buying department? Did you have to start the department?

 Liz Miller-Gershfeld/VP, Senior Art Producer Energy BBDO

We had an art buyer 7 years before I started, but when I started they weren’t doing a lot of print. I had been working for a director as a producer so I had eight years of solid production experience. I went freelance as a broadcast producer for an agency with a client that had a complicated, high-budget print campaign – first in many years – and they asked me to help. It was an incredible experience. They were working with David LaChapelle and it was a crazy production and I loved it. I had studied photography along with journalism. I thought “Art buying? You mean I’m not going to Sotheby’s and buying the art for the agency? This seems really great.” They offered me the job and at first I didn’t have a phone, or a computer. No one knew I was there. I went knocking on art director’s doors and said “Hi, I’m the art buyer.” And they would say “Oh, we have an art buyer?”

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Does anyone know when the position of art buyer originated? In the 70’s when the copyright laws were first in place?

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

The art directors used to do it themselves and they realized they couldn’t.

Matt Nycz/Brite Productions

An art buyer told me she got her start in the 70’s. She had been working as an art director but she always knew who to call to execute a fellow art director’s ideas. He kept her under his wing but once word got out she then started working for the other art directors and transitioned to an art buyer position full-time.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

How did the position of Art Buyer come into being (at your agency or in general)?

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

I’ve been at DDB since ’98 and art buyers were there prior to myself joining the agency. We have since switched our titles to art producers and so there were people art buying years before I came. But a couple years back, the head of our department decided producer was more appropriate because the art producers are problem solvers and help get things done rather than just buying art. It’s more about what we can do to get it done.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

What is your typical day like?

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

It’s still very much talking to the creative team to see who they have mind once an idea is sold through and work on things that need to get done. I would love to say I shoot all the time, but I don’t. I miss that. I’m researching stock or things that have to be done in the next couple of hours. I don’t have the luxury of asking stock agencies I work with to send me lightboxes.

 Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

And is there no time because you have so many other things going on or is that your schedules are so condensed?

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

It’s just condensed. I also hear about things for the first time after ‘they’ve’ been talking about them for weeks. So when it plays out like this, we are forced to buy something rather than shoot it.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

Why do you think that is?

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

Agencies are understaffed and overworked with the industry the way it is. The account people aren’t getting the training they once did. It’s got to start somewhere.

I’m trying to do my job as well as educate the account people.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

I’m surprised sometimes with the client questions that make their way to me.  Many of them can be answered by the account people and should not even make it to the art buyer or as far as the agent.

Matt Mcyz/Brite Productions

It surprises me as well at times. We get requests that are impossible or questions whose answers are obvious.  It is clear that someone is asking so that they can go back to their client and say they asked.

Sheryl Long/Art Producer Y&R

When I was at DDB years ago, the account people started in traffic so they knew how things worked. And at some point, they just started hiring account people directly without having them start in traffic and they’re thrown in the deep end. And we would have to train them. The best account people know about what we do.

Liz Miller-Gershfeld/VP, Senior Art Producer Energy BBDO

I have PPTs “101” for junior account people, project managers, young clients, interns. We have given so many trainings and tutorials for people and teams. They don’t always take it in at first, but we’ve given it to them because it does pay off in the long run.  

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

There are account people who are head nodders and there are others who are fantastic and know the questions to ask and say “I hear you. Let me get back to my team and see if it’s feasible” before promising anything. They do the best work because they are not afraid to say “No” and don’t pretend. They tell the client they have to go back to their team and have a discussion about how we can solve this problem. The head nodders don’t want to upset the client. They don’t want to say “No.”

Liz Miller-Gershfeld/VP, Sentio Art Producer Energy BBDO

If you say “No” in real-time, you are asked “Why” in real-time.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Is this a problem that existed in the past or is this a new problem?

Karen Blatchford/Executive Art Producer DDB

It did exist in its own way I am sure, but over the last few years we’ve all been asked to do more for less. The Mad Men days are gone. There’s no booze. No smoking.  :)

Ken Zane/Producer Leo Burnett

In the Mad Men days, the client came to the agency with a need and the agency still had to create a campaign or an Ad and the agency would dictate how long it would take and realistically what they could accomplish X, Y, Z  in a month, or two months.

Now the clients are coming to us and saying they want it in a day and we’re saying “We need to produce and give you the final product at the best level. Can we have more time?”  It seems so obvious that we need more time but there is often push back.

Meghan Pearson/Senior Art Buyer Ogilvy

I see it also as  a quality issue. The client is valuing quality differently lately,  It makes me wonder if the account people could manage them better.  The questions we are asked often put us on the defensive as if we can change the cost of things.  Just because I am gathering the numbers doesn’t mean I can get a make-up artist for $350 – not when they are 2 and 3 times that.

Emily Hoskins/Art Buyer Upshot

I don’t know if it’s a poorly managed account person or the fact that they may be inexperienced in the art of the ‘quality’ conversation with the client.  Either way, when the client suggests cutting the budget, I often find myself justifying the quality of the art and the value of production to not only the client, but the account team as well.  Not with every account person, but some.

Meghan Pearson/Senior Art Buyer Ogilvy

I feel that our clients are savvy when it comes to production and they understand numbers so when they ask us to cut the budgets or come in lower, we are put into a difficult position.  They know what they are asking for yet still do it.  This happens with timing too.  They know they are  proposing crazy deadlines yes they still do.

Matt Ncyz/Brite Productions

We hear this all the time. A classic is,  “The clients bought media for two weeks from now so we need to shoot yesterday.” It happens all the time.  It makes me wonder if production conversations are happening when they buy the media or are agencies just promising things they aren’t sure they can deliver?

Tune in next time for more information about the evolution of the art producer over the years and how important the relationship between art producers and account executives have become.  To see previous Community Tables posts from Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City  please link here.

And, as always, thank you  Allison McCreery of POP Blog for your flawless transcription and partnership on this project.

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3 thoughts on “Welcome Back to the Community Table: Agents in Conversation with Chicago Art Producers. Appetizer Part 1

  1. Pingback: Welcome back to the Community Table: Agents in Conversation with Chicago Art Producers: The Appetizer, Part 1 | POP | Photographers on Photography

  2. In New Zealand there were no art buyers when I started as a rep back in 97, and actually, no agents or producers! I found myself acting as a go-to resource for overstretched creatives who desperately needed to find photographers, and that’s exactly how I found my stable- through live briefs. Now there are many reps and most ad agencies have someone who acts as art buyer. But throughout Australia, New Zealand and Asia most ‘art buyers’ still contact reps with a brief and ask ‘Can you send folios which meet this brief?’ I think this all comes from the fact that us pioneer reps were there before they were. It is a great position to be in and one of trust. It shows how important the back story and history is to today’s working culture. Thanks for the post and your initiatives Heather!

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