Welcome back to the Community Table: Agents in Conversation with San Francisco Art Producers: Dessert, Part 1 of 2

Welcome to our 3rd series of posts where we share the results from our conversations held directly with community leaders about top of mind photo-industry issues.  Community Table was formed from the collective efforts of Matt Nycz and Kate Chase of Brite Productions and Heather Elder and Lauranne Lospalluto of Heather Elder Represents with the idea that there is nothing more powerful in our industry than education.

And we held this event in San Francisco, hometown turf for not only advertising luminaries with names such as RineyGoodby and Silverstein but also Elder, Lospalluto and Chase.   For this one, the Art Producers who joined us were long-time friends and neighbors that have been instrumental in keeping SF on the advertising map, who have played a key role in the creation of stand-out imagery for such national clients as Foster Farms Chicken, Sprint, GM, Comcast, The North Face, EA Games, Mini Cooper and Priceline.  So we invited them to start the year with us, add their hard-earned insights and voices on estimating to our series, and over a lunch in December and a breakfast in January they were more than happy to do so.

As a reminder, each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing.  Not surprisingly, many of the answers were similar to those of our LA and NY colleagues.   Therefore, rather than sharing the entire conversation, we included the original question and then the quotes and notes that were most relevant.  Please note, often times the person leading the conversation spoke most often.

To see the first post in the SF series, click here to get the Appetizer and Main Course portions.

And, with that, we welcome you back to our table.

Please note, there will be eight posts shared over the month of April.  Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments.

San Francisco Participating Art Producers

Owen Bly/Art Producer/Freelance

Kate Stone Foss/Art Producer/Freelance

Cameron Barnum/Art Producer/BBDO

Shayla Love/Art Producer/Razorfish

Suzee Barrabee/Art Producer/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Dan Southwick/Art Producer/ Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Kristin Van Praag/Art Producer/Heat

Jacqueline Fodor/Art Producer/Venables, Bell & Partners

Rebecca Lanthorne/Art Producer/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

Analisa Payne/Art Producer/Freelance

Justine Barnes/Art Producer/Duncan Channon

Marissa Serritella/Art Producer/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners 

CONVERSATION STARTER #10

Sharing the Budget:

Under what circumstances is it best not to share the budget? And, from your point of view, how is it helpful?

Marissa Serritella/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

As far as sharing the budget, I like to do so when I know we’re asking a lot for a very small amount because you really do want to see what is realistic to pull off with limited funds. Sometimes we get a budget that isn’t very specific, as in we have $400K – but we need to share it with print production, interactive, it has to cover hours, travel, etc – so really in the end we don’t have a real number, we just have to see what we can make work. I’d always rather be honest and know from you what you think it would take to do the job the right way and then tweak from there as necessary.

And of course not all agents are this way, but there have been times when if you say the budget is X then they come in right at X even if in reality they could have done it for a bit less – so I think that’s why a lot of buyers don’t want to offer it up too easily.

Dan Southwick/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

I have a hard time getting the budget. But when I have a budget, I will probably share it unless there is a good reason not to.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

I know it’s an obvious question, but how do you not know the budget?

Dan Southwick/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

I think it’s the way money is moving around. There are larger buckets and clients are still working off a quarterly budget and it’s supposed to do this, this and this and there are some outliers and for a short-notice print shoot, they might not know the budget. Even for approved concepts.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

There are certain larger clients with whom you may not know the budget going in. And we’ll just throw it out there to three to five photographers and see what happens. But ordinarily, I like going in knowing the budget and I like giving you guys some idea of what you’re working with.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

I’m honest about the budget when I know it. There are a lot of clients who say they don’t really know what the budget is. I think they do know or at least have an idea, whether it’s $100,000 or $50,000.

In this situation, I don’t do a triple bid. I go to a rep I’m comfortable with or the favorite and ask them how much they think it will cost. And I take this back to the client who will often respond that they want a triple bid and in the process of this discussion, the budget reveals itself and I have to renegotiate or change the scope.

It is hard when clients do this and I don’t know how to get around it. They’ve forecasted and know how much money they have allocated. If I come back and tell them it’s going to cost $100k and they push back, they have a general idea. Every client has a budget.

One approach is that I’ll give them a ballpark of $100k and ask them if they have this? Their answer gives me an idea.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

I know you. So when you say you don’t have a budget and I give you a number, I know you’ll come back to me. But if it’s someone I don’t know or haven’t worked with before, my gut tells me they only have $10k and I’m going to give them a bid for $75k. And it’s a huge waste of time.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables, Bell & Partners

I never call anyone I don’t have a relationship with. I call reps I know and ask them to help me figure it out.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

And that is great. I’m happy to help you. And to be quick about it and not to involve my photographers. It’s just you and me figuring it out. But the challenge comes when they want a formal bid and not a number.

Do you have any advice for a rep who gets a call like this from a client or producer we haven’t worked with and don’t have a relationship with and they have a project they want us to bid and they say they don’t know the budget, but we know in our gut they don’t have the budget.

Suzee Barrabee/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

The question I might ask is ‘What has the client typically spent in the past or do they have a range they have spent or are comfortable with?’

Kate Stone Foss/Freelance Art Producer

I’m finding that budgets are all over the place. There are so many different uses. When my clients ask me how much it’s going to cost, I have no idea. I have to go to the reps.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions

Is there an advantage to going through this process and not just throwing out a ballpark?

Rebecca Lanthorne/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

Yes, because if you ballpark and the scope changes slightly it can change the budget a lot. You have to go through the process. There are no shortcuts.

Analisa Payne/Freelance Art Producer

I know what goes in to a shoot so I can easily drop in the numbers without involving you guys. But what I’ve found is that there is one bucket of money and out of that has to digital, video and print and it’s a shell game of priorities.

So we find out what everything is going to cost and then piece together the budget. I work with a digital and TV producer and sometimes my budget gets chiseled d and some times digital gets pulled out altogether depending on the client’s priorities. I’m finding this is why I don’t always have a budget.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

This is also helpful for photographers to understand.

Kristin Van Praag /Heat

And just so you know, we feel the same way you do. Someone will come to us and say they want to shoot something and we ask for the budget and don’t get it.

They have big marketing departments and quarterly budgets. So they don’t put aside $20k to shoot something. They have a general budget and decide to shoot something and come to us.

Shayla Love//Razorfish

What I need is to know the range for the photographer’s fee. This can be the biggest chunk. It can be astronomical.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

Producer fees range as well. We have producers who work for $1,200/day plus an assistant and two PA’s and another who works for $800/day and just needs one assistant.

Is this a red flag for you or do you take comfort in working with a seasoned producer who is going to give you peace of mind that things are going to go smoothly? Is there a perception with this?

Suzee Barrabee//Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Depends on project. It’s OK to recommend producers. It’s not something we want to get too involved in. There are some you know and like.

Some you know and like who can drive up costs.

Cameron Barnum/BBDO

If a producer line item was too high it would throw a red flag on the entire estimate.

Analisa Payne/Freelance Art Producer

Especially if a producer is building a big team behind him/her. Is it really going to take an assistant, two PA’s and an errand runner to pull this off?

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

I question production expenses sometimes. ‘We’re on a closed set. Why do you need walkie talkies? At $250/day for five days?’ That’s $1,200.

Cameron Barnum/BBDO

Ballparking and creating production schedules are helpful. You do want to find out what the usage is going to be and what historically they’ve expected. I don’t find those fees are astronomical or change the bottom line that much. You can get an idea of what you are going to pay.

Rebecca Lanthorne/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

It does seem common practice now for account directors to be given a bucket of money that they then have to distribute among the different departments. Each team then does their own budget and comes back to negotiate so they all enough money to do what they need to do.

Dan Southwick/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

We’ve had instances where we have to do something similar. The producers meet and distribute the money across the departments. We work together as a team to make sure we all what we need. And do our best to keep production where it needs to be.

Shayla Love//Razorfish

Is this before or after creative has been assigned?

Dan Southwick/Goodby Silverstein & Partners

No, we are just ballparking so we can work as a team and be good to each other. We do our best to push back to maintain production.

We usually know something, but we have a meeting today for a project with no deliverables, no creative and a deadline. So we’re creating a spreadsheet with columns for previous campaigns, a column for this campaign with the deliverables and we’ll average what we spent on prior campaigns.

Every one will play it safe. But it goes back to the fact that I can’t know my photographer budget.

Lauranne Lospalluto/Heather Elder Represents

I work with a an art producer in LA who I’ve worked with quite a bit. When I send her numbers, she’ll frequently ask me to put in more money because historically the client is used to seeing similar projects come in around X and you submitted it lower than that she is going to be held to that number next time.  She wants to protect the budget so that there is room for changes etc. She’s trying not to handcuff herself.

Kate Stone Foss/Freelance Art Producer

If I can’t pad an estimate myself and have to present yours directly I add some extra cost because I know you’re going to bill actuals and it’s something I know we’ll need like an extra day of casting.

Suzee Barrabee//Goodby Silverstein & Partners

The Terms & Conditions from photographers allow for a 10% contingency. We don’t allow for any contingency so I make sure it’s in all our contracts.

It’s an old fashioned idea that there’s this 10% leeway, but there’s not. If the shoot goes over, I have to sign off.

CONVERSATION STARTER #11

Treatments: When requested and impact

How do you decide to request a treatment and are they still making a strong impact with the creative?

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

I rarely get treatments for stills. By the time the creative call happens, the creative and the photographer have already started talking and are working from comp that my creative have created. But sometimes they send a mood board with the types of images they’re thinking about from their collection, the location and wardrobe to really enhance the vision. This is the direction we’re going so we’re all on the same page. But it doesn’t feel like this needs to get done before the initial bid.

Owen Bly/Freelance Art Producer

No treatments. If we’ve given you a comp, this is more or less what we want.

Jacqueline Fodor/Venables

For an Intel shoot, we were trying very much to sell the photographer and their lighting that really conveyed what we wanted for this shoot. I called the photographer and put together the best set of images to do this. It was about the creative really selling the photographer.

Marissa Serritella/Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners

I do not agree with asking photographers for treatments unless it becomes a major client request. I think that’s usually more of a broadcast thing—they’re getting more money and have more support on their end to help with it. AD’s and clients have gotten used to seeing it on the TV side and now expect it from photographers but I try to discourage it – it’s time consuming and unfair. Also, it backs them into a corner – if they ask a photographer to lay out a nearly flushed out idea, and they like the idea but don’t want to execute it with them in the end then they have to understand they can’t use the idea anymore (or risk getting sued by executing with someone else).

And, the client starts to take it all very literally and you end up with less creative freedom. It’s tricky. If it’s a big complex project I can maybe understand if it becomes needed but I try to make them understand these issues. I think a creative call can often answer what the AD’s need to know without having to do a full treatment. Maybe a simple email with some visual references if needed as a follow up, but in my opinion that should be it.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents

Interesting, this isn’t our experience at all.  Maybe we need to work with you guys more!  We are being asked for treatments all the time.  We are hearing that creative teams, clients and account people are starting to expect them and when they don’t see them, wonder where they are?  They take A TON of a photographer’s time but I do notice that on jobs where we provide them our track record is pretty good.

Be sure to tune in Thursday to sample the Dessert, Part 2 of our meeting where we will be addressing Behind the Scenes value and Online Usage.

If you have anything to add to the conversation, please do email Heather Elder Represents or Brite Productions, we would be thrilled to keep the conversation going.

And, as always, thank you  Allison McCreery of POP Blog for your flawless transcription and partnership on this project.



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