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, two here, and three here.
Part four of this series is my conversation with Doğan Dattilo, a Senior Art Producer at TBWA\Chiat\Day who’s been in the business for five years.
Seckler: Please tell me your process for finding a photographer, what’s the first thing you do when you receive a layout for an ad?
Dattilo: Our department is constantly looking for talent. Not only photographers but illustrators and other artists. Even motion has creeped into our world a little bit, so we’re constantly exploring what talent is out there and what they’re capable of. Much of that happens by way of shows. We get a lot of promos by mail and by e-mail. Gallery openings. Essentially, we’re keeping up with the pulse of the industry. When we do get a layout, we converse with our creatives to get their thoughts on a concept. Kind of get their take on things. Once we’ve done that, we go back to our resources, have conversations with other art producers in the building who’ve done similar productions.
Seckler: So tell me, how large a list of photographers are we talking about?
Dattilo: That can depend on time, and the creatives’ approach to things. Sometimes it could be a list of ten to twelve, and other creatives want to explore a little bit, see what’s out there, don’t know exactly what direction they want to take it because they obviously realize a photographer’s going to take it to yet another level. So that list can be as big as forty or fifty. The one benefit I’ve noticed, especially over the last five or six years, is that we’re going much more digital now in terms of reviewing portfolios.
Seckler: So tell me a little bit more about how you construct your lists. You mentioned word-of-mouth, do you ever look at source books?
Dattilo: Occasionally. We have a lot of rep shows that come through, so we’ll all individually bookmark different reps that we like to work with. Honestly, I bookmark every rep. And I go back through that. I use a Firefox tagging system to tag the links of these photographers. If you tag them properly, you can very effectively search for what they may be looking for. Other people will, you know, still get all the promos from their mail. And keep them in a big box, and kind of flip through it. More like a postcard kind of thing.
Seckler: Do you look at sourcebooks online or in print?
Dattilo: I look at them online.
Seckler: Do you like print promos?
Dattilo: Yeah, but I would say we’re a tough audience to reach, because there are many, many photographers and artists who are trying to reach a small pool of art producers. I get, thirty or fourty promo e-mails a day. And then when I go to the mailroom, I probably have twenty, twenty-five printed pieces in all. I mean, to be honest I can’t look through all of them, much as I’d love to. And the other thing is, keeping them all would get ridiculous. You could build a mountain out of it. We use our interns to look through a lot of stuff. Other people that have different interests in the photography world will point out a promo that they’ve seen, throw it up on the island. So we’re all kind of communally continually looking for things.
Seckler: That’s a good idea. Do you know what percentage of, for example, e-mail promos you actually open, versus what you have to delete because you don’t have time?
Dattilo: Unfortunately, I’d say it’s pretty low. Maybe ten or fifteen percent. And that also depends on how crazy things are. If I’m involved in a shoot, I hardly look at any. And then when things slow down a little bit, then that’s a moment of trying to catch up on some of that stuff.
Seckler: What about print promos? Is it about the same percentage?
Dattilo: Print promos, for me, go a little faster, because they’re isolated away from other work. You know, when you get a new e-mail promo, a bunch of them are scattered within a bunch of other e-mails you’re getting from everyone you’re working with in the building, or if you’re on a production.
And they almost seem to get in the way, more than the ones that end up in your mailbox, because we don’t get any mail or correspondence that really has to do with our jobs anymore except for promos. The occasional invoice, but even that’s all digital. So when I go check the mail, it is a box full of promos. So I can, at that point, at least flip through it. If I see things I like, what I normally do is put them on a pile on my desk, and then ideally go back through them and put their websites into my bookmarks.
Seckler: What really unique promos have you received that have left a mark on you?
Dattilo: I once got matchboxes with matches in them. I believe it was from a rep. I unfortunately don’t recall who it is at this point. This was two years ago. And it was an image — on the edge was a website of the representatives, and then on the larger face side of each matchbox were images of the photographers and artists they represented. And I think the key thing with that was, those promos actually permeated into my personal life because I ended up taking them home. Maybe by the grill or with the candles. So those promos actually lived at my house for six months.
Seckler: Did you end up hiring any of those photographers the rep represented?
Dattilo: No. I don’t necessarily think a promo will lead to a hire for specific job. It’s more like you end up on a list and maybe get selected for a future job. I think the key thing is, what it does for that photographer or those reps is… it keeps you top-of-mind. And the other thing is, we have a system here where each art producer works on a collective of accounts. For instance, I work on a sports brand, so I’m constantly looking for more sports-related photographers. And that’s not to say that we won’t get concepts that deviate from just sports photographers, but more often than not, knowing who shot professional athletes, those are the ones you turn to first.
Seckler: What about award annuals…first off, do you look at them?
Dattilo: Sure, we do get a lot of those books. We flip through them, we keep them around for a while. Although I try to live as digital and clutter-free as possible. A lot of other guys keep books around.
Seckler: Does an impressive award list make a difference for you in terms of pulling out a photographer, deciding whether to bookmark them? Does it have an impact on you?
Dattilo: I think it could, if from a conceptual standpoint it was their creative vision. Then yes, I think that would have an impact on me. And I think we see that more often in younger talent, that’s still finishing up school, that has not only had to shoot their own material but actually come up with a concept. And then you kind of see their entire brain working. Not that photographers aren’t creatively involved without a concept, but if they’re winning awards for ideas from agencies, I don’t know if that’s going to have as much of an impact on me.
Seckler: That’s an interesting delineation. So, talking about younger talent, are you open to working with “emerging talent,” people who’ve been in the business only a few years?
Dattilo: Sure we’re definitely open to that. In certain circumstances it warrants it, and in other circumstances we can’t: you know, we do live in a world of creative and financial and client compromise. So if an opportunity presents itself where we can use young talent, we’re definitely open to that. We’ve looked for talent at various schools, sometimes help to connect them with industry professionals. Ideally when we use younger or inexperienced talent, we surround them with a team, such as an experienced producer to help them through the process. Shooting for yourself is one thing, shooting for a major brand with expectations is another.
Seckler: Let me ask you about motion. Have you have been working with more motion projects recently?
Dattilo: We haven’t worked with, necessarily, motion. I think it’s something that we’re keeping an eye on as the photography industry evolves, and technology evolves.
Seckler: So no real work in that area yet?
Dattilo: No, I think right now it’s an exploratory phase. Obviously we have a broadcast department that does all of our motion, but we are noticing a trend, especially going back to photographers’ websites, where they’re starting to do more motion. Delineating between whether or not that’s going to be in a broadcast capacity, or interactive and online, is something we’re continually keeping an eye on. I think, in the near future, there will be projects that lend themselves to a photographer not only shooting the photography but shooting some of the video as well, and I say video in a non-broadcast capacity. Then there are others that are more than capable of directing or being DPs on a broadcast level as well. That level of integration is slowly starting to happen.
Seckler: If you were a photographer what would you do to get in touch with an art producer at an ad agency?
Dattilo: Well, you know I have the luxury of not being in that position. It’s a hard question to answer. Honestly, probably a lot of what they’re already doing. I mean, much like any industry, it’s relationship-based. If we could have relationships with every great photographer or great talent out there, we’d certainly try to do that. We try to set up as many shows as possible. We have individual photographers who come in, just discuss what they’re working on, understand their personalities. But, you know some of that stuff needs to remain objective. We’d hire based on what we’re seeing on the page, instead of personality.
Seckler: Would you say that, of the photographers you hire, most of them come from having previously met them or their rep?
Dattilo: Yeah, I think at least having met their rep or us having had interaction with that company, sure. I think that’s pretty common.
Seckler: Could you throw a percentage on it?
Dattilo: I would say more than fifty percent, including those who we haven’t worked with directly but we have a strong knowledge of. A producer that’s worked with this rep, that’s worked with this photographer. You know, at the end of the day it’s really not our call. We definitely help with the decision making process, but it’s ultimately the art director’s call most of the time, and then again money and time. And clients will dictate some of that as well. We just at least try to put together a list of talent that will satisfy our creative needs while keeping in mind client needs and coming to a happy balance. Ideally the happy balance is as creative as possible. That’s the goal.