What does an art buyer do and how do you become one? We asked art buyer, a.k.a. creative content producer, Agatha Maciejewski to explain how she became successful in her field and how it's evolving with changes in technology and the market.
Photo by Tony Gale.
If you're a photographer, she's that person whose eye you're always trying to catch. And if you're just about anyone on set at an advertising shoot, you'd better know who she is. She's the content producer, a.k.a. the art buyer, a.k.a. the eye of the hurricane that is a large-scale ad production—the person who finds the right photographer for the job, musters all the resources for the shoot, and manages the whole process, from budget to delivery. What is it like to be this photo production mastermind, and what does it take to get the job? We asked 31-year-old McCann Erickson Creative Content Producer Agatha Maciejewski to explain.
Aimee Baldridge: What is your educational background?
Agatha Maciejewski: I have a B.A. in psychology from Vassar College. It’s a liberal arts school, and while there was no photography major when I went there, I was part of the photo club and acted as treasurer my sophomore year.
AB: Describe the path your professional life has taken, from your student days to the present.
AM: Right after I graduated from Vassar in 2001, I moved to Berkeley, CA, in the hopes of finding an internship in advertising in San Francisco. I ended up interning in the new business department at what was then Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners West. I quickly moved into the account management/services department, where I was hired shortly thereafter as an account coordinator. I moved to NYC in 2003 to pursue account management at Lowe Worldwide, but after about a year, became disgruntled about not having enough of a creative outlet. I realized that what I wanted to do was a mix of production and organization, creative development, and photography. So I spoke with the head of the art buying department at Lowe (then Teresa Rad), and she helped me start my career as an art buyer/producer.
AB: What was the best advice you were given while trying to launch your career?
AM: Follow your instincts. If you find yourself detesting going to work every day and if you find that what you do doesn’t motivate you or put a smile on your face, change it. As they say, follow your bliss.
AB: How much did financial considerations play into your career choice?
AM: Honestly, I knew that I’d probably have to take a pay cut or at least a less accelerated pay raise if I moved from account management to production, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
AB: Where do you live and work, and how do you think your location has influenced your career?
AM: Outside of New York or L.A., I don’t think I could do what I do on such a grand scale. I’m not saying there aren’t agencies and opportunities for production in other places (such as Austin, TX and Boulder, CO), but not at the level in NY or L.A.
AB: What do you do during a typical day?
AM: My job has evolved from sourcing photographers and illustrators, creating budgets and estimates, and preparing for photo shoots and productions, to now sourcing and producing a wide variety of creative content, including voice-over talent, digital artists, editors, etc., etc. My day-to-day involves a lot of e-mailing, talking on the phone, having creative and production meetings, and unfortunately, paperwork.
AB: How does the process of sourcing photographers work?
AM: We meet with art directors and copywriters on our creative team. They go off and they concept and get something approved by the client. Once they have a concept, we work with them to find the best artist for that concept. So if it’s a print ad and it requires photography, we look at the style they’re looking at, and it’s my job to know who’s out there and who does what.
AB: How do you stay on top of what’s available?
AM: A lot of it is just reading regular consumer magazines. There are some magazines that I personally like to read that I think have good photography—Nylon magazine . . . New York Magazine always has some good portrait people. There’s obviously Vanity Fair and Vogue, although they tend to use the same people over and over again. But you pick up on a lot of stuff that’s going on in the editorial world. There’s also trying to go to events and openings, and figuring out who’s big in the art world. There are creative events like Adhesive, and Resource has a lot of parties . . . just trying to meet new people that way.
We do sometimes take meetings with photographers. Or reps will call us and ask us to look at portfolios of the photographers they’re representing. Sometimes we look at e-mail that comes in. It depends on the timing and if the e-mail is compelling, if the image we see is good.
We have to keep an eye on what’s going on in the world outside of advertising. But we also look at who shot what. There are a lot of advertising-specific magazines out there, like Creativity and Lürzer’s Archive, where you can see who shot a cool campaign recently.
AB: Is looking at sourcebooks a big part of the process of finding people?
AM: We don’t go to sourcebooks every time. We don’t say “Oh, we’re looking for a portrait photographer—let’s go to this directory.” I think we use those only as kind of a last resort. We do pick up something like the 200 Best Photographers when it comes out. But a lot of it is going to our trusted resources—either our reps or people we know or have worked with in the past or are just familiar with. I definitely don’t go to a directory or a sourcebook right away.
AB: How does the process of producing advertising photography work?
AM: It’s split into the bidding process, then the preproduction process, then the production process, and then postproduction. Bidding is looking at the photographers, speaking with them, speaking with their agents, and then putting together a bid. They’re usually competitive bids. Sometimes we try to triple-bid. And if not, even if we’re single-bidding, we try to scrutinize the bid to make sure that it’s within industry practices. And then once the job is awarded, it’s all about the preproduction . . . the casting and wardrobe and styling—we’re involved in all of that. Then we’re basically supposed to make sure that it’s all running on track and that our creatives are being represented. We’re also making sure everything’s kept on schedule and on budget. And then in postproduction, it’s just managing the retouching process.
AB: Your job title recently changed from Senior Art Producer to Creative Content Producer. Does that reflect developments in your field and not just your job in particular?
AM: I think a lot of advertising agencies are integrating roles, especially since the rise of digital technology. It’s no longer super-segmented, with really expensive television commercials and photo shoots being completely separate. A lot of clients want to just combine everything into one big production, so they get the most bang for their buck. So now a lot of TV productions will have B-roll components for the Web and photo shoots happening at the same time as the larger TV production. That has come into play with agencies structuring the jobs of integrated producers or creative content producers versus strictly photo producers or TV producers.
AB: What do you think are the most important qualities and skills for a person to have in your line of work?
AM: You have to be on top of everything. This is not a job for procrastinators or disorganized folks. You also have to like people and have a thick skin. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
AB: What do you do on an extraordinary day?
AM: In the last month I’ve traveled to Buenos Aires to shoot a celebrity, and I’ll be traveling next month to Australia for a TV and photo shoot. I love everything involved with production!
AB: What do you love and hate most about your work?
AM: I love collaborating with talented and creative people. I love traveling. I love problem-solving. I hate paperwork.
AB: What other significant endeavors have you undertaken since you graduated?
AM: I helped organize an incredibly successful art auction to benefit Haiti earthquake survivors and Doctors Without Borders. I helped with the organization, publicity, curating/hanging, and event management of the HeART for Haiti benefit auction. I’ve also spoken on a lot of panels giving advice to new photographers and illustrators trying to break into the business. I enjoy doing this very much, as it makes me feel like I’m giving back to an art community that is so important to what I do.
AB: What are the biggest risks you’ve taken?
AM: Art buying is and was a small field when I took the leap from account management, so there was definitely the fear about job security. But I knew that I would love it and figured I’d take the risks that came. So far, no regrets.
The "Breaking In" series asks successful young professionals in photo-related fields about what it took to get into their line of work, what it's like to make a living doing what they do, and how they made the transition from student days to working life. You can find more "Breaking In" articles and a wealth of other resources for photography students, educators, and emerging pros at PhotoVideoEDU.com.