The Photographer’s Rules of Thumb for Successful Negotiating

In a nutshell, yes, the opportunity to negotiate still exists. But it depends on a few variables – budget, timing, the client’s priorities, your relationship with the negotiator and, mostly, how badly they want YOU on the job.

Determine Budgets and Other Details

It never hurts to ask if a project has a specified budget. Often, the art producer has information about the budget, past creative fees, the weight of this project, how negotiable the usage might be, etc. Often they don’t. But ideally, the artist will discuss the layouts with the art director/designer prior to creating an estimate. If that’s not possible, it’s likely that you’re not the recommended person for the project.

It’s always best to ask questions – to arm yourself with as much information about how to approach the job as possible. An inexperienced art producer or client might be suspicious that the agent will always come in at the revealed number, so as not to “leave money on the table.” I have known very few reps who would do that consistently. It doesn’t build trust, and I often won’t call them to bid a job because of that experience.

Most agents are honest and try to be flexible, and require the information to know how to approach the job accurately. I know I do.

From the Agent and Producer’s Perspectives

As an agent, I need to honor my photographer’s creative fee whenever I can. However, I would like the opportunity to do my best to meet a “special needs” budget. I know I have lost a job or two because I didn’t reduce costs, including fees, even though I was never asked to. My experience tells me that artist was probably not their first choice for the project anyway.

As an art producer, I do my best to be sure our top-choice photographer comes within budget. However, if there is a second or third artist bidding, I often won’t have the time to renegotiate with each – especially with long shots – or to review new estimates, re-enter them in an Excel doc, etc. We just don’t have the turnaround time like we did in the past. And since my time is billable to my client and my client is the priority, it’s not ethical to spend extra hours negotiating with second- or third-choice artists. That sounds a little harsh, but them’s the facts!

As for the rules of negotiating – as mentioned, ask questions to gain a good understanding, and keep the extra fluff out of your bid. Ask for layouts, and always provide caveats for any TBD creative or production elements. Consider “package deals” when negotiating, such as extra usage, additional shots or variations, and the like. How far you can take negotiating estimates really depends on many variables – so gain as much knowledge as you can! Keep asking questions, and good luck out there!

Bonnie Brown

Bonnie Butler Brown recently became a Partner/Producer/Agent for the wonderfully talented Graham Brown Photography. Prior to this, she wore a Sr. Art Producer's hat for 15 years. She was fortunate to produce great work for some fantastic agencies. The most recent position was at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, and a good many years at Carmichael Lynch. Among my Freelance arsenal are Goodby Silverstein, Apple, DraftFCB, Olson, Y&R, Cutwater, BabyCenter, and Pereira & O'Dell. She enjoys facilitating portfolio reviews, and participating in workshops, panels and blogs for APA, ASMP, and Agency Access.

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