This series provides answers to questions that every photographer has about marketing themselves and their work to ad agencies. Each part in the series is an interview with a different art buyer or art producer about how they find photographers and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing and self-promotion. Their answers are completely candid and oftentimes surprising.
If you read the whole series you’ll find tons of useful nuggets plus some interesting differences in opinion on what many (myself included) may have assumed to have been clear cut issues. Read part one here.
Part two of this series is my conversation with Sandy Boss Febbo, a fourteen year ad industry veteran who works as an Executive Art Producer at Carmichael Lynch.
Seckler: Please take met through your general process for finding a photographer once you receive a layout for a potential job.
Boss Febbo: I don’t think there is necessarily a general process. You know, I’m constantly on the prowl for talent. It’s a daily thing of looking at stuff that comes in via e-mail and promos to searching out some favorite sites and blogs and keeping a pulse on what’s going on out there. The hopeful intent in making it a daily task is that when we’re working with our creatives as they’re developing concepts they’re already starting to put artists against it – which is ideal. There are definitely some jobs where we’re retrofitting a concept, where something will hit our desk and we need to figure out who would be best suited to execute the idea. I think it’s a better collaboration if you can get ahead of it and commission artists that will have more of an opportunity to do what they do to elevate a campaign. The hopeful goal is that the work that somebody’s shooting will inspire part of that campaign.
Seckler: So tell me a bit more about how you find the talent that might shape a campaign.
Boss Febbo: What happens is I’ll fall in love with somebody’s work, and either by bookmarking them and going back to their site and seeing new work, or contacting an agent if they have one, or putting something that they’ve shot up on my wall, it kind of becomes a wish list. And then you’re hoping that a campaign’s going to come through where that work’s going to make a really good fit. And it happens at times, even in other genres that we produce within art production, if it’s typography or illustration or design. I’ll have someone on that list for a number of years before I find the right collaboration. And then when you do it’s kind of like ‘score!’ I finally get to call this person and work with them. You know, I just discovered in a couple other conversations I’ve had on a similar topic that it can be that this artist may not even know that I’m looking at their work. Because until I have the right project I may not be calling in a portfolios, because it’s kind of expensive to do that. I don’t really make that move until it’s a live project that they’re suited for.
Seckler: And you may not want to get their hopes up too much, if ultimately nothing does come through for them.
Boss Febbo: Yeah, exactly. That’s kind of the way I think about it, but I get mixed comments on that. That maybe it’s really rewarding and adds some hope to know that people like your work. To know I’m looking at it and trying to find a good project for you. But it can take a while, and maybe that’s discouraging.
Seckler: Do you ever use sourcebooks?
Boss Febbo: Not as much as I did earlier on in my career. I think sourcebooks aren’t always the best way to find talent. The talent in a certain sourcebook might not be of a consistent caliber or what I’m looking for. And honestly I’m just not satisfied having five known places that I go to look. I always want to know what else is out there, and take the path that might not be the clear one for commercial commissions.
Seckler: Are you interested in working with emerging artists?
Boss Febbo: I’m definitely interested. I won’t say I’m more interested, I’m just equally interested. It’s really rewarding…chasing down who’s shooting what, in different publications, just finding a really great editorial shooter and then seeing that they’ve got the right pieces for us. [But] I know I will need to have a conversation with them about production, because for a commercial job it’s often sadly kind of a dog and pony show. If I need to be a little bit more involved in the process to make sure the production value is what it needs to be, or make a recommendation for a line producer that the photographer could work with, to me that’s an easy part to resolve.
Seckler: Let’s talk about promos.
Boss Febbo: I get absolutely bombed with them, but I don’t mind. I would rather have an opportunity to see somebody’s work than have them hold back or not send it.
Seckler: Do you look at all of them?
Boss Febbo: I do look at all of them. I was just out on a production for a couple of weeks, and when out on the road they absolutely stack up. But I still look at all of them.
Seckler: And what percent of them do you find to be relevant to the accounts that you work on?
Boss Febbo: Relevant to the specific accounts that I’m working on, maybe 25%? But that’s okay by me. My primary account right now is Subaru, and then I’m also fairly dialed into what’s going on with Harley-Davidson. And we have a number of other clients that don’t produce the volume of those two. But I don’t want to receive promos from people who just think “I’m a car photographer” or “I’m great with bikes and lifestyle so I should contact CL.” I want to see all of them, because you never know what’s going to bubble up in a campaign or what creative need is going to come through.
Seckler: Do you prefer print or mail promos? Are they equally effective for you?
Boss Febbo: I think they’re equally effective. I don’t have a strong preference. If I have a strong preference for either one, it would be to see a single really solid image. You know, it’s about the image before anything else. And if it’s a really compelling image, I’m going to want to go to the website, or I’m going to want to hang onto that piece and watch for the next one to come through. You’d be amazed with the number of e-mails I get that just kind of announce like ‘Hey, I have this new thing, and you should go to my website to check it out.” And the e-mail doesn’t have an image. There should be a teaser, something that my eyes are going to go, ‘Oh, yeah!’
Seckler: What about award and competition annuals? Do you look at the major ones like Communication Arts and so on?
Boss Febbo: I do look at all of those.
Seckler: And does that make an impression on you? If you go to a photographer’s site and you see that somebody’s got a long list of big awards, versus if someone’s got good work but they don’t have any?
Boss Febbo: No.
Seckler: Doesn’t matter?
Boss Febbo: No, honestly it doesn’t. I think it’s a really great nod from the industry, to get an award and to be in that company. But if I’m looking at somebody’s work, and they don’t have any awards, but their work is amazing, it doesn’t matter to me that they haven’t won an award yet. Because I just figure that hopefully when we collaborate it might lead to something great.
Seckler: Does whether or not a photographer have representation matter to you?
Boss Febbo: It doesn’t. No, we’ve commissioned photographers over the years that don’t have reps. It might be their first project commercially or it might be that we’ve commissioned their first project in the States if they’re an overseas shooter and they don’t have U.S. representation. I think it’s a more telling thing to have a creative call to see if there’s a nice rapport in the conversation and if they could be potentially really cool to work with. You also learn a lot when you estimate a project. So much comes through when you figure out how they would approach it and what kind of thought they put into the process to deliver the image. That says volumes. I think reps can be really helpful, for sure. I know there are some that I’ve worked with that I have vast amounts of respect for, and I think that they’ve done a lot to further their artists’ careers, but it’s not a requirement.
Seckler: You mentioned hiring photographers where it may have been their first commercial job. Has it ever been difficult to convince the client to work with someone that hasn’t done a big commercial or high production job?
Boss Febbo: It hasn’t been difficult to sell it through. We’ve awarded full campaigns for large clients to shooters who’ve never done a commercial project before. And sometimes the point of selling that through is that the photographer might be so firmly tied to the work that they’re shooting and the lifestyle that they’re capturing that it gives credibility to the campaign. We would never do it just to do it, to say that we’re the first ones to shoot with somebody. But when it’s the right project, it’s right. And usually we’re successful in selling that through.
Seckler: Have you had occasions when you’ve had to find somebody who shoots stills and motion?
Boss Febbo: We have. We’ve done that a few times, some with more success than others. It depends on what needs to be captured. Like if we’re doing a still campaign and then adding an online video. An online video definitely carries less weight than doing a broadcast spot. Some things are really going to have a higher level of finish in the work. Last year we did a mix where we shot still work and then did product video on motorcycles. The intent was to do something that was much more rough in feel, so we had a mix of high-def video and super 8, just to give it the effect we were looking for. Which worked really well, and was already evident in this particular photographer’s portfolio. That kind of capture had already happened, and it wasn’t something that we were forcing. Personally, I think that still imagery and motion capture are two different mindsets, and to have someone who does both really well is kind of a rare instance. When it works, it’s really great. But we have, fortunately, an agency that’s nicely committed to making sure that we have the right talent for what the material’s needs are.
Seckler: Can you give specific examples of blogs, websites or editorial media where you find your photographers?
Boss Febbo: Here’s a very partial list of photography links I have bookmarked – can’t give up the whole story though!