Marketing. Just a side note because it all happened in 24 hours.

The sharp eyed readers of VSL may have noticed that I put up a strange post on Ripe Camera yesterday. It consisted of a lot of images from food and beverage shoots and some copy about my experience and qualifications shooting food and drinks. You can read it/see it here:


So you may be wondering what the heck that was all about. Well, I thought we'd take a break from the holy camera wars and the intriguing dives into the icy waters of lens lore and optical sorcery to discuss the plain nuts and bolts of the photo business. (Ooops! We just lost half the readers.....).

Yesterday morning I got an e-mail from an account person at an advertising agency I've worked a lot with over the years.  The e-mailer asked me to bid on a job. The agency is working on a alcohol makers account and needed to commission some well done product shots of nice drinks made with Tequila for their client's new website. The request laid out all the details nicely.

They wanted me to come and shoot at their location. They would hire a drink stylist directly. They would be in charge of assembling props and product. I would come in, design the lighting and shoot 12 mixed drinks, in various glassware, individually and deliver beautifully post produced files against white for use on posters, some collateral and on the client's website.

I pulled together a list of questions and a preliminary, "ballpark" estimate that would qualify them as either 'serious', 'fishing', or competitive bidding. I thought the project would take a day to shoot and another day to post produce the files. I already knew the rights package they needed.

After I sent along a ballpark estimate that was essentially one number with a dollar sign in front of it.  I got a "hey we're definitely in the ball park and we need a detailed quote with terms and conditions." The one thing they requested that sent up a little warning signal was the request to break out my photo bid into an hourly cost. That always scares me because if I am good and do the job cleanly and quickly I should benefit from the application of my years of hard won experience. Because of this I always try to bid based on the value of the needed usage for the images but I am happy to break out hard costs that are external to my licensing fee.

While I came highly recommended by a senior creative director, and also a well known art director another firm, the person who requested the bid also wanted to see some F&B shots I had done. She wanted to be able to share them with her client. I handled that request by quickly assembling some fun, recent work and making the blogpost you see at the link above. They liked the work and we jumped over another hurdle in the process. We were getting closer to the purchase order. I could almost taste the tequila in my glass.

The one thing left to handle was the requested price breakdown. I handled it by walking the person through my thought process. It went something like this:

"We don't, as a rule, work by the hour in our advertising projects because it's the work itself that has value to you and the client, not how long it took or how difficult it was for me to complete. You've already agreed that the pricing we're offering is what you were looking for so we know you'll be happy with the budget. The downside for you, if I estimate this by the hour is that there's no real cap to the costs. No way to know exactly how long it might take if everything goes slow, if the beverage stylist is slow, if we go over on time. Say we agree on $300 per hour and our estimate is based on an eight hour day of shooting. What happens when the ice machine breaks down and we have to send someone out for ice and wait for them?  What if the chosen glassware adds complications and it takes longer for us to figure it all out? What if I'm just stupid that day and I have to do things over to get them right? What happens if the creative director and the client are on different pages and have to work toward some shared vision----and that process takes time? If we estimate by the hour that clock keeps ticking and you may end up spending more than the job is really worth. 

Another thing, say every photographer you ask quotes you "a day rate" based on eight hours of work.  If I'm in the groove and I work well with the stylist, and the food and beverage gods are with us. I might get the whole thing done in six hours, while it might have taken Joe or Steve ten to twelve hours. If we get your images done in six hours they still have the same value to everyone as if I had taken the full eight hours to get the work done. But since you heard, "by the day" or "by the hour" you may think that you are entitled to get a full eight hours of work from us. If you are like some clients we've worked with you might decide to add three more drink shots to the mix. But this isn't what you asked for in the beginning and you need to understand that there will be an additional usage charge of each of those three additional image licenses as well as an increase in the retouching and post production charges. A better idea would be to use those extra two hours that my skill and efficiency bought you as a gift to get something else done, bill someone else more money or take off early and spend more time with your children.

And there's the flip side. If you accept my offer and it's based on the value of the final, supplied images in the uses that you have specified then you know exactly how much you and your client will be paying. It's a fixed amount. If I'm having an off day then I eat the overage. If I need to send out for something then I eat the delay. If one of the images is a doozy to retouch and takes me a full five hours then I eat the miscalculation. If I didn't figure out that cherries and olives require different approaches to styling and lighting and have to spend more time on set getting stuff right then I eat that and you end up paying.....exactly what we said you would at the very beginning. You get the exact value that we calculated the images had for you. I can even tell you, right now, how much more a buy-out would be. And if I do go over my bid I pay for the assistant's extra time right out of my pocket. It's such a win for you to have this all locked down! There's so much incentive for me to do it efficiently and right.

So, how did it all work out? Well, the creative director called to tell me that he loved the bid, loved working with me and had approved his end of the paperwork/permission routine. As far as he was concerned we were a go. His one caution? The only uncertainty would be the client.

I sent along the long (4 page) agreement form which outlined usage, how we would work, delivery schedules, pricing, rights package, and (most importantly) when we would get paid. The account supervisor was happy with the paper work and got ready to send it along to the client for final approval. Then the phone rang on her desk. It was the client. "Good news!" he said. "One of my friends, who is a photographer, owes me a favor and is willing to shoot the whole thing for free!!!"

I got a sad e-mail back from the account supervisor. She filled me in on the terminal glitch.

End of the story? Nope. In my experience many of these "friend" deals don't work out and we get the job anyway. In the meantime I got to educate a critical, new person at an agency I've worked with for a long time. Next time the bidding process will be even easier. I was gracious with the news and didn't complain. That's just good marketing. Finally, it gave me something to write on the blog that didn't include a paean to yet another winsome and flirtatious camera. Gotta like that.

Now, someone tell all those non-commercial photographers that it's safe to come back into the blog....


Anonymous said...

It cometh and it goeth. That's life in the business.

Lane Pelissier said...

Good post Kirk. Though not a professional I do have similar experiences in other fields. I used to work in construction. This happens frequently. It is amazing how many times all the work that goes into a lost bid turns into new business due to your professionalism. Sometimes customers have 20/20 hindsight.

Mike Rosiak said...

Same things happens in the software and IT business. I bet they will be back.

Anonymous said...

You'll be fine, your business will be fine.

It's still a kick in the 'nads though

Gordon R. Brown said...

A suggestion: When you add a post to the Ripe Camera blog, please add a one-line mention of the post on your VSL blog.

I would have missed the interesting post about Leica/Samsung/Nikon if you hadn't referenced the most recent Ripe Camera post.

Kirk Tuck said...

They come back more often than one might think...

Kirk Tuck said...

Will do Mr. Brown.

Kirk Tuck said...

Anonymous, yes, occasionally client take a well placed, though mostly unintentional, swipe at the soft spots..

Alex said...

If "the friend" manages to get stuff in focus his job will most likely be accepted. Too many people just care about money...

David said...

How big is that favor his buddy owes him? Shooting 12 mixed drinks in a day is a very tough job.

Everyone and especially the food stylist has to be playing their "A game." If real drinks are being used, you're dealing with a lot of prep and everything has to be shot fast due to the condensation.

If the shot is faked, you're dealing with stuff like dulling spray and corn syrup mixtures for the pseudo condensation. Lighting can also be a headache if drinks with different translucent properties are being used. It takes a surprising amount of light to pound through a Jack and Coke.

Everyone wants to save a buck, but there are still parts of the business that require a high level of photography science and experience. That knowledge and experience has a price tag.

Thanks for sharing the story. Judging by your portfolio, I'm sure this job will be coming back your way.

Kirk Tuck said...

David, exactly what I thought. Thanks. I appreciate also the "Thumbs Up" on my work.

alexander solla said...

Kirk, you manage to capture my interest with most of the stuff you write. I could care less about the tech reviews...except for the PERSONAL aspect. I like knowing WHY you care. The gear itself is just stuff.

This post was perfect! Exactly what I needed to hear. I have never been in quite this level of dialogue with a client, but I can see where it could have happened. It shows me how incredibly unprepared I am for such things (so far!). Very insightful... and most of all, VERY eloquent. You said it all in a way that could be received graciously.

Rock on!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your best blog post in a long time. I bet it was helpful for many.

A humble request for the future;
More stories like this, and less sermons about the righteousness of the mFT system and the blessedness of shooting with an Olysonic GH-whatever, please. :)

As for that reply to the (no doubt mostly bureaucratic) request for an hourly/daily rate, it makes perfect sense, and it's pretty clear to us, but it's nice to see someone actually putting that in writing and sending it over to the client.

One can only hope that the bureaucrats that get to handle the paperwork actually understand and acknowledge it. Sometimes they don't. The bigger and more bureaucratic the client, the more likely they are to insist having things their way. It's not that the companies couldn't handle a package deal, they could, but the bureaucrats in their cubicles won't.

Andrew Johnston said...

Hi Kirk,
I may only be a hobby photographer, but this was one of your most useful posts in ages. I'm a consultant and although I do sell my time by the hour or day, I often have to explain the benefits of my relatively short hours and high rates policy. You've given me some great arguments.