Welcome to our 6th 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.
L’Étoile du Nord is a French phrase meaning “The Star of the North”. It is also the motto of the US state of Minnesota. It was chosen by the state’s first governor, Henry Hastings Sibley, and was adopted in 1861, three years after admission of Minnesota to the union.
And so it was that after years of projects and portfolio shows with many a Minnesotan, we bundled ourselves up and went to Minneapolis to host a Community Table for 7 of our industries “star” Art Producer’s. And true to their motto, they were stars indeed, giving generously of their time and expertise to help us dig deeper around a subject that seems to be on everyone’s minds these days: “The Art of the Portfolio Show”.
As a reminder, each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing. 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.
So with that, we welcome you back to the table, and our 1st installment from this series. Please note, there will be 5 posts shared over the next 2.5 weeks. Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments.
Minneapolis buyers in attendance:
Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch
Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness
Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Producer, OLSON
Dave Lewis/Photography Production + Art Buying, Freelance
Mark Pakulski/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON
Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy
Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones
Question 1: What are the steps in your current process of scheduling an agency portfolio showing ? How does this differ from 5-years ago?
Mark Pakulski/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: There are 5 of us in our department so we try to do as many shows as we can. In theory we try and route them through one person, Allie, so they’re more centrally scheduled and we don’t overbook. But, sometimes different reps will reach out to different producers because of their current relationship. That producer will end up scheduling the show then.
Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Producer, OLSON: We try to communicate with the rest of the team to make sure we don’t have 5 in one week. Too many showings runs the risk of poor turnout. We probably should limit them a little more than we do.
Have they evolved from where they used to be?
Mark Pakulski/Senior Integrated Producer, OLSON: I’ve been at Olson for 9 years. I used to do all the scheduling and everything else. I was the only producer for the first 3 years but I would still host as many shows as I could. There wasn’t a person in my role before so the agency didn’t have a capacity to run a show. I helped set those systems up. They didn’t do nearly as many or hardly any before I started and now we can accommodate a lot more and schedule them accordingly.
Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle + McVoy: We try to host 2 per week. More than 2 is hard. When a photographer comes in, we want to spend quality time, look through the work and get to know them. So, if you have more than 2 shows/appointments per week, that’s 1-3 hours. You try to limit your non-billable time.
Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Producer, OLSON: I have the same point of view. We try hard to keep it to 2 shows per week. Other than that I have problems getting creative to come to the show. They get overwhelmed by all the books.
BUT, we recognize that shows are really important; especially if a photographer comes. We get to meet them, gauge their personality and level of enthusiasm. This is where we can start to develop a relationship with them. And this goes for the reps too.
And, we know that people are traveling from all over the country. It might be the only time we get to see and meet them for years. So, if we’ve already had 2 in a week, I try to schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with my associate so we can go over the books on a face-to-face level. We try and not turn anyone away.
Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy: I want to see the books that are relevant to our accounts. I’ll ask, do you have motorcycles, animals, travel? I don’t need to see fashion work. Whatever our needs are at the time. It saves everyone time.
One of the most obvious ways to get creative to come to a show is to serve food and drink. When the rep arrives, I make a point of asking the teams to go right to the show. If the rep put in the time (and money) to come to our agency – it’s important for the creative to come get the exposure to the new work. Creatives do find new photographers at the shows and many times all because they took the time to attend.
The biggest differences from my point of view are iPads and more reps.
Kate Chase, Brite Productions: How often should a rep come to your agency? Yearly, 18 months, 6 months, 2 years? Some people want to come in every 6 months.
Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle + McVoy: I’d say every year or two. The photographers don’t update their books enough to come in more.
Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: Updating books is so time consuming that many photographers choose to wait a full year before adding the new work into the portfolio. They may be shooting lots but it just isn’t printed but once a year.
I should add though that I have brought portfolio back to an agency a year later that haven’t been updated and that isn’t favorable. I never go sooner than 1 year for this very reason.
Kate Chase/Brite Productions: How many times should a rep email or call to request a show before giving up?
Kat Dalager/Direct of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: I would say after 3 tries.
We’re in a different life cycle as an agency. We’re at the very early stages of developing ourselves as an agency. We have 50 people and 19 different brands within our brands. A lot of work goes on and it’s very high-level work. If people come every 6 months, our people are just eating it up. We haven’t been on the radar so our teams do not mind the visits.
We had a showing today of someone who was here 6 months ago. People thank me for bringing people in. I know that that doesn’t happen often elsewhere. We haven’t gotten to that jaded point yet.
We have hired people who have come in to see us. It used to be hiring the same people over and over because it was easy. Now we’re introduced to seeing what the possibilities are and we’re acting on that and listening to advice about working with different people.
People don’t realize how many different businesses we actually work on so I am trying to get the word out. Of course, I’m not publicizing it too much because I don’t want us to be inundated. But we are far from that being an issue.
Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy: I think 2 or 3 times is fine. But I try to not overlook portfolio requests even if I’m busy. I know reps are trying to schedule their time in Minneapolis and hit as many agencies as possible so I try to respond and let them know if and when I’m available. If I don’t get back to you, then things must be crazy but I’ll still try to respond, even if it’s a week later.
Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: Our agency operates a bit differently than most. We’re a strategy shop by trade and utilize creative and production only as it supports brand actions. Many times we are not the agency that executes on the creative that comes out of our strategic frameworks. We conduct full audits of businesses and then work with clients to find the best path forward. Our founders came from the ad world and were fed up with it, they’ve worked very hard to create a new alternative for brands.
As we began to build relationships with our clients we (us and the brands we work with) realized that there is a lot of value in having the same people that create brand activations execute against them so we’ve seen our production grow over the last three years, bringing a lot of this work in house and working very hard to find great partners to help us out. It was in this direction that I was hired. In all honesty, Sorry for the ramble, but this is not an easy question, it’s extremely subjective. Personally I have no problem with people reaching out many times. I get super busy and timing doesn’t always line up so I appreciate the tenacity of an agent that keeps in touch. I’ll let someone know if we’re not interested
Kate Chase/Agent: How do you decide who gets to come see you?
Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: I vet them on a phone call. It’s me talking to them. Knowing there’s a limited amount of time and I can only say yes to a few people – I do a phone interview, scroll through their site while I’m talking to them. If the fit is right, we schedule a half hour to meet each other. If I can get others to come I will, otherwise it is likely just me and another producer or creative. Then into the rolodex you go. I don’t mean into a black hole. The rolodex is something I prize greatly.
Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: The one thing about Minneapolis – it’s a very special place full of very amazing people. It’s very easy to get a show here. We are all friends. We have a very special atmosphere here, full of people very welcoming and kind. It’s an easy place to come and we want to meet with people. It’s the nature of this market. We have trouble saying no so as a result we will probably have 4 showings in a week even when we should have 2.
Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: We try to see absolutely everyone and when the books come in we try to look at absolutely everything. I agree 2 times a week is ideal; any more than that and we aren’t getting our work done. Sandy and I are the two producers that work on still projects. But, we also do content work, so there are those screenings to attend as well. The amount of time requested to review work is very intense.
When we schedule a show, we never know if we will all of a sudden become busy during their visit. And, since there are only 2 of us, we don’t often have someone to back us up.
I think of myself as a border collie. I send invites, but never too early. Creatives won’t pay attention to them if I send them too early. I’ll get everything situated and set up then I’ll go upstairs, make the rounds, carry a flyer. It’s important.
Booze helps. So do cookies. As the producer, they look to you to define what is worth coming out for. That’s why we really try hard.
Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: From the rep point of view cheerleading is key. At a show today, the receptionist was integral. On my way out she told me that she told everyone that my books were amazing and that they needed to go check them out. She was an influencer. I really appreciated that. She could have just hit send on the invite but she motivated people to come.
Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: Enthusiasm is contagious. If you’re fired up about what’s on the table then other people will be as well. That’s how we do it.
Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: There are a couple agencies in the country where the message about attending portfolios shows comes from the top, teams are expected to attend. Attendance is taken. And, people do go. They are motivated and enthusiastic. It’s part of the culture and the learning at those agencies.
Kate Chase/Brite Productions: As a rep, how do you think we should convey the value of a portfolio show to a creative team?
Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: It’s recognizing there is value to be found at that moment. Any moment.
Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: We go into 80-90% of the major agencies within the course of a year. In the last 5 years, we’ve seen a huge shift in what makes portfolio shows relevant. One of the biggest changes is that creatives can see work online any time. They’re inundated a thousand ways with media. And, most importantly they can do so at their computer and be anonymous.
Before, reps were a huge resource. When I would show up at a show, people were hungry to see new work, excited to see what I brought. They hadn’t been able to see what my photographer’s had been up to for at least a year. They were super excited to come to the table and see that.
Because the teams no longer have to come to the shows to see the new work, it is harder to inspire them to come. So, the agencies with the most rules and process in place are the ones that are the most well-attended; especially if the Creative Directors are promoting and cheerleading as well.
Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy: I can pick out the people who will or won’t come depending on what is being shown. It’s, hey, there’s a kickass motorcycle photographer out there. Or, hey, there are donuts out there. It almost becomes a social gathering, a group mentality where they’ll all go up and look at the same time. You are right; they don’t have to stop what they are doing to come see the work. They are busy and they can see it on line. Therefore, the other reasons are important as well. Is there food? Is there someone relevant for a project?
Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: Isn’t it about quantity vs. quality ultimately. You can see unlimited photographers on a website but it is a very different experience to see fewer photographers at a portfolio show.
Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: I’ve never hired someone from just going to their site. Unless I meet you, I’m not going to hire you.
Dave Lewis/Photography Production + Art Buying: It’s also about connecting to the rep. There’s richness to a portfolio show. Though going from one blog to another can be a rich experience too.
Tune in Thursday, February 19th for more information about the appointment process and some insights on promo-pieces.
And to see previous Community Tables posts from Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City and Chicago, go here: please link here.