Continuing the Conversation with NYC Art Producers. Part II: The Main Course

For those of you just joining us, welcome to Community Table  NYC  – the latest series of blog posts sharing conversations held directly with our community leaders about top of mind 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.

To see last week’s post , the Appetizer portion, please link here.

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As a reminder, each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing.  Not surprisingly, many of the answers were similar to those of our LA colleagues.   Therefore, 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. The first question in the Main Course portion of our series was addressed to Jamie Appelbaum of  mcgarrybowen.

CONVERSATION #3: The Value of Photography

It used to be that print was often a strong choice for clients when it came to promoting their brand.  Now they can choose from so many other vehicles for their communications and often times other media rather than photography is the chosen solution.  Knowing this, how do you see clients utilizing photography most nowadays?  And, along those same lines, how important is it that the photographer be able to shoot video?

“Each client has their own set of circumstances so I can’t generalize. Photography as it stands now is used in every medium: I’ve bought stills for broadcast, a photo library that is a QR code and for an interactive website. So I think photography is more vital now than it has been in a long time.”  Jamie Appelbaum, mcgarrybowen

“An image sells a product. And what photographers sometimes lose track of is that we are in a commercial industry. And as much as we’d like it to be fine art, there are those moments when it is the perfect storm and you get to create art. But basically we have big corporate clients with big budgets and you need to facilitate the product’s need. We are the middle person and are caught between art and commerce.” Jamie Appelbaum, mcgarrybowen

The art directors want to use the best photographers they can find and they are not often applicable to the project. The value of photography is a single image as opposed to broadcast where people are moving and telling you. But a photographer has to tell you in one image. So the impact of a visual if it’s used in online gaming, a Facebook application or social media or a web banner, it’s still a still image.”  Jamie Appelbaum, mcgarrybowen

In terms of the value of video, it is valuable but not for every shoot. You still want to wind up with that single image that is saying what the client needs you to say. And this is the strength of an agency. How closely they can interpret what the client wants and how forcefully they can make the image beautiful.”  Jamie Appelbaum, mcgarrybowen

“I come from video and I hear the rumblings that print is dead and dying, that you can pull a still from the video. Omnicon tells us that video is the future and should be sold into all spaces—the iPad can hold a lot of video. There is a ‘sell the client video’ push at Omnicon. So I loved your message and hope it continues.

And contrary to what I’ve just said, creative directors feel the way you do to the point where we have discussions with our clients about whether video or photography should be the lead. They often feel they don’t want video on the shoot because it compromises the photography.” Trish McKeon, The CDM Group

“It depends on the project. Sometimes you need all of it. We did a project for Razorfish for a Facebook app and it was almost all video. They needed behind-the-scenes, b-roll and video. What sold it through was the still images that the photographer took that relayed the power of the moment. They hired me as a print producer to come in and make it look like what they wanted it to look like, only moving.”  Jackie Appelbaum, mcgarrybowen

“We’re sometimes asked for video and they’re not sure what they’re using it for. They want it but don’t know where it’s going yet.” Lauranne Lospalluto, Heather Elder Represents

“I was strictly an art buyer three or four years ago. Half of my income right now is from producing industrial videos. There are two different things. Video and motion capture. What’s being used now is being used on the website and these are these motion capture ads. So motion capture is something a photographer should be aware of.” Robin Daily , The CementBloc

“Two years ago clients thought there would be no print or broadcast and it would be a purely digital campaign. We’ve had a financial client for two years. When it came time to executing the first campaign, they needed someone to actually create the content, a bunch of still photos for banners and their site. The challenge was not trying to convince my creatives about who to use, but about the cost because of where the images were going to be used. Because digital photography is seen as disposable, clients don’t want to put in the same amount of money they used to.”  Jenny Read, kirshenbaum bond + partners

“When it comes down to executing a print campaign, it comes down to cost. Everyone comes to me and asks how we can do it really cheap. I just got a request to do a BMW campaign for 14 shots in 14 locations for $50,000. My boss said ‘we can do that’ and I said there’s no way we can do it unless I’m shooting it.”  Jenny Read, kirshenbaum bond + partners

“When it comes to automotive, product and beauty clients, photography has weight and value to them. If the photographer can bring more to the table in addition to that, and I think everyone has to be able to do several things in order to stay relevant, a photographer who can come in and bring something additional to the table can help the agency and the client succeed and will be somebody who stays in people’s minds.”  Jenny Read, kirshenbaum bond + partners

I am the only traditional art buyer at my agency and rarely do print these days. I do a lot of TV and not video. I’m doing broadcast. We’re completely integrated now and we’ve been this way for four years. When my boss came in, he let my art buyer boss go and brought in everyone else from a broadcast background. So because of that I’m the person everyone is coming to and it’s hard because I don’t have anyone to bounce anything off of.” Jenny Read, kirshenbaum bond + partners

“Everyone is multi-tasking now and breaking into new territory. We’re asking for broadcast teams who can shoot stills because that happens unsuccessfully a lot of the time. Photographers need to be able to learn video or offer it. And to offer quality is another thing. They need to have their own resource to ‘have a guy.’” Cheryl Masaitis, Deutsch

“I don’t mind an integrated shoot, but I do mind if a photographer says they can do video and they don’t know how. If the photography is the lead asset, you should hire a skilled cinematographer that makes everyone comfortable on set and have the photographer take the lead and act as DP.  That will make you comfortable and protect you as a producer. I’ve had the experience of having a photographer say they shoot video, seen their reel and then when we’re on set realize he couldn’t do it.”  Trish McKeon, CDM

Photographers are very hands on and used to being involved in everything. Directors are used to having a staff beneath them. I think photographers have a hard time letting go. I’ve talked with art buyers who passed on a photographer who rushed to get motion up and it wasn’t top notch.

Also, the client thinks they can save money by shooting on the same day. But it’s best to use shared props and print/video over two days. The client will think the photographer can show up for 15 minutes but the quality isn’t the same.”  Matt Nycz, Brite Productions

Andrea Kaye, Jackie Contee, Betsy Jablow

The bottom line is that what has made a bid for a beauty client I’m working on more difficult is that we’re shooting a video. Our talent manager went to a SAG class and came back and said “I saw a beauty client shoot a video for $10k last summer.” But this year SAG changed the rules. If the video is selling something, then it’s a commercial and no longer just a video. So the cost went from $683/day to $14,000 per video for a video that is going on the internet. My talent fees are $30k for two actors/models.” Jackie Contee, Uniworld Group Inc.

From a reps point of view, based on everything I’m hearing, the more conversations we as reps and producers can have up front about what the client is valuing (inexpensive, big production, or a photographer who can accomplish something specific) the more information we have about how they perceive a positive shoot and how we can deliver this.” Heather Elder, Heather Elder Represents

“You’re assuming we know that. (laughter) Can I respectfully ask for patience on that notion? I just had three months with a client discussing “Should it be a print lead or a video lead? 50/50? 70/30?” And they ended up with a print lead because I had brought in a print producer and she had recommended a cinemagraph which allows for a small amount of motion. So it can be a print project with some motion. It took three months to analyze what photographer and what producer.

It’s a disservice to the client if there are budget and quality issues. A lot of times there is competitiveness between the broadcast and print producers. Broadcast has huge budget and if there’s a print component, they have the director hire the photographer. It depends on the client and what they expect from the print assets.

Sometimes there’s not a huge savings and it’s sometimes a disservice to the client to do them as one. The director’s job is to get as much footage as they can. If they’re running behind, the photography gets cut.”  Lisa Oropallo, Digitas

Kate Chase adds:  “Show of hands – of those who feel that photography still has value.”  [Unanimous show of hands]

CONVERSATION STARTER #4: Cost and Usage Awareness

Since you have joined the industry, has there been a shift in clients’ awareness of the costs of shoots and usage?  Has your role changed when it comes to educating clients on costs and usage?

I think things are moving quickly with digital. I can’t speak for everyone, but at my agency I think that young people are being put in front of the client and without the right experience don’t understand how to talk about the value of photography. I also think that because we’re in the digital age, every client that has a digital camera thinks they are a photographer. That sort of commoditized things a little bit in terms of the clients. I have one who expects everything for cheap and shows up on the shoot and asks for a million more things.

At Digitas we are involved and explain everything to the client and are involved earlier in the process. It wasn’t true at Y&R. We never got in front of the client until the job was sold. The industry has changed and is moving quickly and I’m not sure people are slowing down enough to really understand. It’s just about getting it out and doing it quick and I think this impacts the client’s value and usage.” Lisa Oropallo, Digitas

“I’m definitely getting more in front of the client and am actually demanding it because it’s getting lost in translation between the account team and the client. I usually direct this to the Account team and they support it. They like having me there. And I love talking with clients because you’re the expert.”  Julia Menassa, TBWA Chiat Day

“There’s a huge difference between working with an art buyer to sell a photographer in to a client than working with an account person to sell a photographer to a client. The questions, approach, strategy and needs are different. The account person is very me focused.” Robin Daily, The CementBloc

“What’s nice about having an art buyer in that meeting is the same reason photographers want a good rep because the producer is the expert, they can be the buffer. You don’t want to have the creative or marketing team to have a tenuous relationship with the client. They trust you and respect that authority. It keeps the relationships in the right place. The client trusts you and it keeps the other relationships intact.” Lisa Oropallo, Digitas

CONVERSATION STARTER #5: Cost Consultants

How often are you required to work with Cost Consultants?  How has the role of a consultant changed (if at all) in the past few years and how has that affected the bidding process?

I only used them at mcgarrybowen.  That was new for me – I never used them at Chiat Day. About half of our clients use them. So far, I’ve had pleasant experiences mostly. I feel like our budgets are what they are and it’s easy to figure out what’s going to happen and fit that in the budget. You form a relationship with them and figure out how to work with them.” Amy Zimmerman, mcgarrybowen

I’ve had both sides. We see a more global view of it. The cost consultants who are former art buyers are the most reasonable and go after the places where they see cushions: cheaper hotel, rental car, etc. The broadcast guys sometimes come in and remember from broadcast and assume you are raking them over the coals. They don’t deal with video, but know print.” Matt Nycz, Brite Productions

“Pharma companies have procurement department approve the budgets. So that’s the difference between the nice marketing person who is our client and the procurement department. We recently had a budget held up for two weeks and were told to allow more time in the future for this. We explained we’d never had anyone review every line of a budget before. You can’t challenge a client, but how do they know this stuff? I have to explain the costs of crews to them, that wardrobes and stylists differ from country to country.”  Trish McKeon, The CDM Group

“Cost consultants have no business sharing costs. I got into something with a cost consultant a few years ago with a photographer who bid jobs for me for one client while bidding the another job for another client. The same cost consultant reviewed the estimates and came to me and questioned the different costs for C-prints on the two estimates. I said ‘How dare he share that information with me?’ Martha Stewart went to jail for that type of thing. I don’t care what the photographer charged another client.”  Unattributed

My biggest pet peeve with cost consultants is that when I have a budget of $100k and a triple bid and each photographer comes in under $100k: photographer A is $98k, photographer B is $92k and photographer C is $94k. We want photographer A and he is under budget and now the cost consultant will want photographer to meet photographer B’s budget.” Unattributed

I can explain that to you. They don’t have a job unless they are doing this. A lot of consultants ask us to send the estimates to them at the very beginning. With triple bids, sometimes they’ll just say the bids have to come down 15% and I’ve already reviewed the estimates and compared them and they’re all in the same range across the board. I ask them “Where would you like me to cut?” I’m not going to jeopardize the job by telling them to skimp in certain areas that are really critical. And usually they back right off because they don’t want it on them.”  Lisa Oropallo, Digitas

We had a shoot with a difficult cost consultant a few years ago and I said I would cut the budget if they came on the shoot so they could be there for the cut catering and all the stuff the client would be upset about and they would have to be there to justify it and they backed down.” Matt Nycz, Brite Productions

I don’t want to play art director and decide $100 per person less for wardrobe. They have to own it. You have to call their bluff. I think our direct clients say that if the cost consultants are getting difficult, let us know. A lot of them have the authority to over-ride it if it’s holding up or impacting the quality of the project.”  Lisa Oropallo, Digitas

CONVERSATION STARTER #5: Evolving Producer Relationships

With the needs and expectations of shoots/productions expanding (video, digital, image libraries, etc) while working in a production environment that seems to become faster paced every day, the selection of the production company/producer looks to be an ever more crucial decision. As the producer’s role has been evolving, how has your relationship with shoot producers/production companies changed? Does your agency ever request that photographers work with a specific producer?  What do you see as being the pros and cons of agencies selecting the producers independently of the photographer/rep?

Additionally, when a photographer does select the producer, is that choice one that you could see affecting the agency’s choice on which photographer to recommend for a project?

“So I’ve only been in art buying for 5 year and before that I was in video. There wasn’t a relationship with producers on the art buying side. I worked with shockingly horrible print producers. By horrible I mean, “We just didn’t give you directions in the book because we figured you knew how to get there.”  And this would be for a location 2.5 hours away and you have to drive yourself. No directions to the middle of the woods. So I would find it myself and get to the hotel. But this times 100 was what my first experience in 2007 was like.

At the time I had a big staff of five and we gathered that there were not a lot of great print producers. So we started a list so we didn’t all get burned. It was that bad. I’ve been burned twice and had other people who’ve been burned. They weren’t thorough, not detailed oriented.

So yes, we do request producers because there are so many bad ones. This is happening now and is a scary area. And as art buyers and producers we have to steer towards this possibility. With all due respect, most creative people are not good judges of who is the best producer. As it is, most creatives don’t want to touch producing. They don’t want to know the budget and the schedule. They just want to go on the set and be creative and figure things out. That’s what they want.” Trish McKeon, The CDM Group

You mentioned that some of the creatives at your agency had become friends with certain production companies and push for them.” Matt Nycz, Brite Productions

Which can be hard because the agency will be fighting for the producer and not the photographer.” Trish McKeon, The CDM Group

“The photographer wants to know they have a partner who wants the same thing they do. If they’re going in with someone who has been recommended and their arm has been twisted, sometimes it works out beautifully and some times it doesn’t.” Matt Nycz, Brite Productions

“Let’s ask you guys. What if we say “You have a photographer and we want to bid him. But we say you have to work with this production company.” Trish McKeon, The CDM Group

I think if the photographer is open-minded then sometimes the answer is ‘yes.’ It depends on the production – are they traveling together for a long period of time.” Kate Chase, Brite Productions

“Is there any other criteria?”  Trish McKeon, The CDM Group

The rep is the best person to recommend a producer because they are looking for the same things I’m looking for. I will trust a rep more than a photographer.” Unattributed

“If I’m working with someone on a complex project with a big budget, I will ask about the producer. I think it’s our right as the agency to be a part of this discussion.” Jenny Read, kirshenbaum bond + partners

“It can also be different for everyone. You are not going to click with everyone and someone might have a bad day. So I take opinions with a grain of salt. Everyone’s experience is different.

We train clients and junior art directors. We worked with a client who treated the art director terribly, but at the end of the shoot she hugged us both. This is what we do. We deal with personalities. They aren’t always the best. But if it’s someone’s entourage or if the glam squad isn’t working for you, I will still respect their choices.” Jackie Contee, Uniworld Group Inc.

I have never not had input on the producer for a print shoot. Unless I’m working with Mario Sorrenti or Patrick DeMarchelier, I’m always been asked by a rep who I’m thinking of for a producer.  Early on in my career, my ECD came to me and my boss and said that the print productions didn’t stand up to the broadcast productions, that nothing was as tight. From that point on, we started interviewing other production companies with a goal to make it as tight as the broadcast productions.

I’ve been extremely disappointed with some of the higher-end producers. It might have something to do with the more money you give someone, the less work they put into it. A producer makes or breaks a production. It’s not that you make it, but you save it. It’s up to you to make sure it doesn’t implode around you and to tie it up.”  Jenny Read, kirshenbaum bond + partners

“There’s a comparison in creatives’ heads. Creatives work with print and broadcast. When they have a bad experience with a print producer, it stays with them and they will blame the art buyer and producer for not having a stronger voice.  So I have a question for all of you. Are you ok with an art buyer telling you that they have a producer who knows photography and will you work with them, regardless of your photographer?” Trish McKeon, The CDM Group

“We have had multiple experiences with this recently. The stronger the relationship is with the agency, the more positive the experience is for us when asked to use a particular producer. So if we are asked to work with a producer and that producer is in with the agency in a very creative partnership, then that experience for us is tenfold. But when if we don’t know the producer well and much of the control and access with the agency is put in his/her hands, it is very challenging.  It means we are leaving it up to the producer to help sell us in and show our value.  This way does not often end well as the producer is often trying to sell in who they think it best. ” Heather Elder, Heather Elder Represents

“One day in a business class, we talked about how remote offices are successful.  Meaning that if you send someone out to the other coast and the relationship starts breaking down, it’s usually because they want to build their own thing.  Best is when someone is tied to the home office in an administrative style. So if you have a producer who is tied to someone inside the agency, he could be more an administrative leader; not as easy to foster the creative relationship between the photography and the agency. He’s working for one more than the other. So in order to be successful it is typically best to know this ahead of time.”  Kate Chase, Brite Productions

“The art producer works for the agency and the photo producer works for the photographer.” Lisa Oropallo, Digitas

If you would like to read  insights from the Community Table LA or our first week’s Community Table NYC, please link here.  And, stay tuned next week for the Dessert portion of the Community Table NYC  where we share insights on The Power of Pay to Play Events, Email Marketing, Pro Bono Work, and the Keys to Successful Collaboration in one word.

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