A photographers rep/agent will generally handle all the estimating and negotiating for you. It may be the one activity appreciated equally by both the photographer and the client. Some photographers who have representation will tell you that the primary reason is the advantage their experience offers when negotiating with clients on estimates. When the artist isn’t directly involved in the conversation about the numbers, it’s often easier for both the client and the photographer. Clients will tell the rep that they have a tighter budget or need to eliminate cost in certain areas more quickly because it’s not personal to the rep. Many buyers of photography that I’ve spoken with have expressed how uncomfortable they are asking a photographer to lower their fees or consider a more efficient way of executing the job because they truly do realize the photographer is an artist. Likewise, photographers are uncomfortable not only asking for the project, but determining where the numbers should be without sounding either arrogant about their talent, or desperate to get the project. A good rep/agent can handle these conversations in such a way that maintains the photographers credibility and reputation, while making he/she obtainable to the client and their budget.
Another factor to note: the ability of the rep to ask the client questions effectively. In my personal experience as a rep and a producer, the one constant I see is that when an estimate request is presented to a photographer, the amount of questions the photographer has is much more extensive than the client can typically answer at this point in the process. Not all of the photographers I have worked with do this, but enough have that I have to mention it as something to be aware of. It’s as if the project has already been awarded and is a live project; the questions and comments about the production are so extensive that it is overwhelming to the client or buyer who just needs to get numbers together to present to their boss or client. This is probably something taught to the photographers. I’ve seen over and over estimating questions/lists that are provided in books and on photo association websites for the photographers to use when they get on the phone with someone looking for an estimate. Those lists are certainly comprehensive, but they can backfire on you if you ask every question at the beginning of the estimating process. A rep has the experience to do this well, and has learned how to read the client’s signals to know how extensive she can go with questions before turning the client off. This is also not the time to explain to the buyer or creative how you plan to produce the job, or what challenges there may be. There will be a time for this after the initial conversation(s). An established rep knows how to take all of the photographers concerns and questions and present it in a way to the client that helps seal the deal, and this will be after the initial conversation regarding the estimate. Trust me on this – I’ve seen more jobs lost in the initial conversation(s) with the client (when the photographer participates and asks questions) than in any other stage of the process. This is probably the most valuable step a rep/agent handles of all the tasks and responsibilities she has as your representative.
The Rep: Marta Aldriedge is an Artist Rep/Agent and owner of Big Picture Reps. From offices in Dallas and LA, the firm reps photographers, illustrators, and retouching/CGI studios. http://www.bigpicturereps.com