Where are we with the business? What's going to happen in 2021? Nobody can say for sure but.....

After a year of wearing a face mask every time I leave the house, staying away from people in general, and having been to a sit down restaurant once, and then only on the open air patio, I must say I am getting restless and bored. The recent winter weather with its version of enforced lockdown certainly didn't help my mood much either. So while I've tossed out the idea of winding down my commercial work here on the blog I'm pretty certain that a full stop isn't the way to go. I actually love the process of good photo shoots on assignment.

Tomorrow I'll get my second dose of the Moderna vaccine. In two weeks I'll be as immune as I'm going to get. I posted over on LinkedIn about getting vaccinated and three different clients (all companies I've worked with, pre-pandemic) immediately reached out to ask if this meant I'd be willing to work with them. All three are fun clients so I conditionally said yes. 

One job is for medical test equipment giant, Luminex. Another is for a large banking client, and the third is a for a tech company. All the projects revolve around people photos which is my preferred specialty. 

One job is here in Austin next Thursday, one project is in April in Sante Fe, and the third is in September in Gulf Shores, Alabama. In addition to these I've gotten several RFPs for ongoing projects from two ad agencies I've worked for consistently over the years. The new "get back to work" energy is all tracking back to people's perceptions about how ubiquitous the vaccine uptake is going to go over the next few months. I can say without hesitation that businesses are optimistic. 

If vendors are vaccinated and employees too it seems that we can all breath a collective sigh of relief and get back to the routines we've established through the previous years. Things will change; on the first shoot the client and my team will still be masked because we'll be working with models and can't be certain that we're not still liable to infect them, even if we're all vaccinated on the camera side. Each model will arrive and work in separate times slots.

We'll have lots of cleaning supplies and separated areas for make-up, and for models in waiting. I've worked with this client before and since one of their specialities is building advanced machines that detect viruses they are well versed on virus safety protocols and follow them rigorously in their business. 

I can't believe how great I felt when I booked the first job. It was with an overwhelming sense of relief after a year of relative isolation and stagnation, but there was also a thrill that I'd get to pull the gear out, devise a lighting design, work to get specific looks and reactions from my models, and also get to have socially distanced breaks with old friends/clients. An added bonus is that I'll actually get well paid for the jobs.

I add that mention of being well paid because so much of the work I did last year; both video and stills, was done "pro bono" for struggling non-profits and charities. It's one thing to give away free work but another thing altogether to have companies understand and pay for the value of what you do. Of what you bring to the projects.

Along the same lines, not everyone can just pick up where they left off and get back to work. I'm mostly a one person shop so I can start and stop with relative ease. But yesterday I got a call from the CFO of one of my absolute favorite clients; an international event company. This is a company I've worked with for 30+ years and the same five people at the top, and I, have been doing corporate work together all over the world. They've included me, as a photographer and sometimes writer, on shows in Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, London, Monte Carlo, Rome, Prague and countless other really cool destinations around the country and around the world. 

The CFO was calling to let me know, before the official announcement later in the day, that they were closing their doors. They are giving their employees three months of severance pay and will spend the next month liquidating a huge inventory of sound gear, industrial video gear, endless amounts of truss, drape, electrical cables, etc. etc. They've made the decision to close based on the reality (for them) that shows aren't going to come back in the same way and with the same budgets for quite a while, no matter how many people are vaccinated. They've calculated that the finance people in major companies can see, easily, the financial value of people meeting remotely, via Zoom et al, and the accountants look forward to throttling down "unnecessary" travel and hospitality costs. 

At some point in every business one has to run the numbers and understand just how much shrinkage can occur in the business before the venture becomes unprofitable. Or much less fun. Or just depressing. 

Fortunately for this event company the CFO was nothing short of brilliant, and a bit steely, over the last 30 years and more or less enforced the idea of saving and investing to each member of the top brass, as well as the other employees. Most are well positioned to transition into retirement, if that's what they want. 

But the impediment they didn't feel like they could overcome was momentum, or the lack of it. It's one thing for single freelance creative to come to a hard stop for a year. With some budgeting and paring down it's possible to get away with doing not much as long as you still have some liquid cash in the bank, but big event projects sometimes take months of planning and require dozens of employees and contractors to accomplish and when everything gets cancelled for a long time the company loses so much of the market momentum they've built up over the years. Trusted clients at big companies get furloughed, new faces arrive after the thaw and give credence to the old saying, "A new broom makes a clean sweep." People now acculturated to Zoom (on the client side) question the value of more expensive but more impactful live experiences, and the budgets get beaten to death with a shovel. I'll really miss these guys. They were like the lifeguards at the pool of at events; both for me and for their clients. 

I'm being choosy for now. I only want to work on projects that are a good match for my style and my way of working. But I'm not quite ready to step away from all the excitement and fun a photography assignment can deliver. 

Trying to figure out exactly how to best light a person on location is a lot more fun than trying to figure out which cable to buy for an accessory I will probably never get around to using...

I like to predict stuff. Sometimes I'm right. Usually, I'm wrong. But not totally wrong. Right now I'm going to predict that the second half of 2021 will be the busiest year for American companies (and their suppliers) in decades. Restaurants, hotels, airlines and photographers are about to get hit by demand we would have only dreamed of in the middle of last year. I'm not leaving a big pile of fun money on the table if I can help it this year. There are way too many Leica lenses still out there that need buying....

I checked in with my kid to see what he thinks about all this. He's too busy already to seriously entertain a light hearted discussion about economics with his father. But he's seeing opportunity blooming everywhere.

Hope you are happy and well. KT