Rep Heather Elder has responded to photographer Erik Almas’s blog post in which he asked if a traditional agent is best suited to helping him market his still and motion work in today’s advertising market. Elder, principal in Heather Elder Represents, says Almas is right about the need for reps—and photographers—to adapt, but ignores how reps work with photographers.
As PDN recently reported, Almas wrote that, after three years of estimating and negotiating ad jobs on his own (with the help of a producer), he is netting as much income as he did when he had a rep. He admits that while working on both his photography and his negotiating, he has let certain tasks slide—most crucially, he says, his social media marketing. But he suggests that rather than finding a new rep to help him, he might be better off hiring a PR firm to handle the marketing and a production company that would promote his directing work.
In her blog post, “As the Industry Is Changing, Agents are Evolving,” Heather Elder of Heather Elder Represents pushes back on Almas’s “sweeping generalization” about the ways reps can help photographers. But she agrees that in the face of dramatic changes, both reps and photographers have to adapt.
She writes, “Clients are struggling with customer loyalties, and marketers are under more pressure than ever. Brands are responding in many ways: beginning to take their creative in house and looking for solutions other than ad agencies for their creative projects.” She notes also that ad agencies—where reps once sought most of the assignment work for their photographers—are changing too. “Add to that the shift from analog to digital marketing and the movement from creative-driven solutions to metric-based solutions and our industry is in the throes of a major disruption.”
She gives few details about how reps are evolving, but suggests each rep is figuring out a business model that works for them. (Check out PDN’s article in our Sept/Oct Photo Annual issue about the growing power of production companies to hire photographers. One rep says on a recent trip to New York, she met only with ad agencies, but says, “It’s probably the last time I do that.” As art buying departments are emptying out, production companies are picking up the slack.)
Elder says that when a photographer decides whether to act as their own rep, the question isn’t about relevance but about “opportunity cost”: “How much growth (and not just financial) could be seen with the right partner?” While Almas says he’s getting work now thanks to the 15 years he spent “building my brand,” Elder notes that for many of those years, he had a rep. “Did he realize that someone filtered what he really wanted to say and translated it into agency language? Or made sure he felt heard?” She wonders if a clients “like talking with the photographer about money or other challenging conversations about the job? How would it affect long term prospects?” Some art buyers may prefer to have creative calls and thorny money discussions with different individuals.
Building relationships – between photographer and client, and photographer and rep—is the main “toolbox” for any rep, Elder notes. That’s a task that photographers can’t farm out to “a branding company,” or some other supplier who doesn’t know the photographer.
There is no longer a fixed model for how the rep/photographer relationship should work, Elder notes. “We’re in uncharted territory here,” Elder says. It is still to be determined “what the future photographer/agent relationship could look like and how it could move our industry forward.”
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